How to Market Fee-Based Programs and Services

The 'solution' is it's not enough just to create fee-based programs and services. You have to market them in order to produce a profit. Here's how.

Fee-based programs and services in fitness centers are nothing new. It is estimated that more than one-third of a facility's revenues should be coming from profit centers or non-dues revenue. That is why we are increasingly seeing more retail services and programming that involves sports training, special populations, and more advanced fitness and motivational training programs making up fitness facilities' offerings.

In the following pages of this special report on profit centers, we provide ideas for growing your non-dues revenues in three areas: special event sports training, disease-based programming and retailing. Yet, while offering these profit centers is the first step, the second is ensuring that your current members take advantage of them, and that they are also bringing in new memberships, both of which will bring in additional dollars. This means that the most effective way to market your fee-based programs is to combine both in- and out-of-house, as well as web-based, strategies. Here are some ideas from two industry professionals that provide some promotional ideas to start producing a profit.

In-house marketing

Jennifer Mayer, associate partner for New Paradigm Partners and the previous regional programming director for Mercy HealthPlex in Cincinnati, Ohio, believes that 80 percent of new members should come from referrals from current members or program participants. To achieve this, a participant referral campaign needs to be in place that rewards participants for referrals. Rewards should be in the form of gifts, such as T-shirts, gift cards that can be applied toward programs and services at the facility, or a free month of membership dues. Justin Tamsett, president of Active Health Club, a corporate health program consultancy based in Sydney, Australia, agrees. In his seminar, 21.5 Marketing Strategies to Produce Profit, Tamsett says that by providing rewards for word-of-mouth marketing, you give members a reason for telling others about your facility. He suggests giving them a two-week free membership card or a $40 gift voucher to spend in the facility.

Other ways to reward your members are to host a friends and family appreciation week, and events designed around holidays. Mayer suggests that the appreciation week feature a calendar of fun and educational special events, to which participants can bring guests free of charge. These events can be created around programs that are included in membership, plus fee-based programs, acting somewhat as a teaser. "It's a great way to add value to the membership by offering special events to the current participants, bringing potential new participants into your club in a non-intimidating way, and promoting your programs and services," says Mayer. Some event ideas include chair massages, couple massage classes, nutrition and/or exercise lecture series, blood pressure screening, gait analysis, body fat percent screening, a world's largest Pilates mat class or a parent's night out.

Holiday events can also be tied to programs, and are a great way to add extra revenue. "Design packaged promotions for programs and services, including massage, spa services, personal training, tennis lessons, swim lessons or Pilates reformer [classes]," says Mayer. Almost every month of the year has some sort of holiday around which you can plan a program, including the Thanksgiving/Christmas season (November/December), Valentine's Day (February), Bosses Day (October), Sweetest Day (October) and Nurses Day (May). Mayer suggests going to the Health Observance Calendar at for a list of special events.

Out-of-house marketing

Out-of-house marketing begins with your staff. According to Tamsett, "the business card is a mini-brochure." Each one of your staff members should have a business card, on which the backside can offer a complimentary workout. Encourage your staff members to hand out their business cards. If a prospective member uses the card, reward that staff member. For instance, Tamsett says, you can give that employee $2 each time someone comes in for a complimentary workout. If the person joins, add another $5.

Tamsett also suggests creating an ambassador program. To do this, recruit area businesses to recommend your facility by providing them with cards for a free visit. Depending on the business' clientele, you can tie in your complimentary workout offer with a special program. Better yet, provide gift vouchers at these businesses for Christmas, Mother's Day, etc. You can also provide complimentary gift cards for businesses to include in their mailings to customers as a "thank you" for doing business with them. Another idea is to provide "Welcome to the Area" packs. Much like the Welcome Wagon packs, you can provide complimentary trial memberships to area realtors.

Web-based marketing

Of course, all of the above strategies can be combined with your web marketing. For instance, both the participant referral campaign and appreciation week events should be featured on your website's homepage, and a teaser should be emailed at the beginning of each month to your members, says Mayer.

Success stories are an especially effective web marketing tool. "Design a storybook of testimonials of program participants who have participated in programs/services at the club, and who have successfully achieved their health and fitness goals," Mayer says. You can have a different success story each month that can be on your website, sent through direct mail, or as an email teaser or e-blast. And, "the webmaster can design an electronic inquiry form that is automatically redirected to the club and contact person for that program/service," Mayer says.

Partnering with local medical establishments is another idea. Mayer suggests contacting your local hospital, rehab facility, surgery center or physicians group to see if you can include a link to your website or offer a box on an online registration form to request additional information for any service offered at the facility that targets patients who are registering for specific medical services. These services could include gastric bypass, birth/delivery, diabetes education, joint replacement and cardiac/stroke rehabilitation. "Each time the participant clicks this box, the email is auto-generated to the club with the name, phone number and email address," says Mayer.

Another idea is to provide downloadable health and fitness tools on your website. These could include a "Healthy Daily Recipe" featuring a theme each month, a master's swim "workout of the week," a 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon training plan, or a comprehensive weight-loss program, including healthy tips, a food journal and workout calendar. Not only does this drive traffic to your website, but, if you are offering similar fee-based programs, these tools can be seen as additional services that tie in with those programs.

Tying promotions to programs

The goal of these marketing ideas is to grow your membership base, increase member participation and, most importantly, increase non-dues revenue via profit center programming. All of the in-house, out-of-house and web-based promotional ideas can be tied to specific programs you are running. With that in mind, you'll be on your way to successfully creating and marketing profit centers in your facility.
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