Thriving in a Tough Town

For every business, there is an ideal type of town and clientele that fits with the business’s services, positioning and pricing. Having your business in its ideal town will significantly help your overall success and sales. But…what happens if you ended up buying or opening a fitness business in a town that isn’t the best fit? What if your town doesn’t seem interested in your exercise program or they can’t afford it? Perhaps you didn’t know what the town was like when you opened your studio or you were driven by a passion to bring them something new. Whatever the reason, if your business doesn’t fit with your town, you have a steep hill to climb.

But there’s no need to panic. This is a hill you can climb! There are still ways to build your business in a tough town. The key is to address each challenge you face, be flexible and be willing to adapt to your town. Here are a few of the challenges you might be up against and ways you can tackle each one.

Challenge #1: Your program is unknown to your town.
If you are the first to bring a specific fitness program to town, you are going to carry the burden of educating your community about that program. In never having experienced it, there will be misconceptions and apprehensions keeping potential clients from trying you out.

What To Do: Get to know what your town knows and develop a marketing program focused on education and trial. Find out what is commonly known, not known and misunderstood about your program. Then get to work setting the record straight! For example, if people in your town tend to think that pilates is an advanced exercise program only for fit people:

  • Use your marketing materials to show and tell how pilates isn’t only for those already in-shape. (call it out, feature intro classes, avoid photos of athletic students and advanced exercises).
  • Get local influencers like business owners, radio hosts, teachers or doctors to come in and try a session so they can help debunk the “pilates-is-too-advanced” myth.
  • Offer several ways and opportunities for your town to sample intro classes at no cost and in a low-risk environment so they can see the truth for themselves.

Challenge #2: Your program doesn’t fit your town’s exercise interests.
What if your town doesn’t seem interested in what you’re offering? Your exercise program may not be fitting their demographics or psychographics (personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles). For example, your university-centered town filled with college students isn’t crazy about your tai chi program. Your blue-collar, working class family town isn’t jumping at the chance to try aerial yoga. Or your upper-class, beachfront town isn’t drawn to your new gym.

What To Do: Find a specialty focus or variation of your program that is more appealing to your town. Observe what exercise programs are appealing to your town and evaluate their characteristics. If your town doesn’t like to exercise, consider that too. Then examine your program to see how you could modify your approach without compromising its integrity. This is partly about program design and partly about positioning. To adapt the program design, select exercises, props, class format and flow that would be most appealing to your town based on their characteristics and interests. To adapt your positioning, rename the program or class and describe the benefits to fit your audience. Then market the program specifically to that audience and use visual or interactive advertising tools whenever possible (i.e. photos, videos, demonstrations). So using my examples above: For your tai chi program, offer meditation workshops positioned to help students relive stress from studying and better prepare for finals. For aerial yoga, offer a hammock-assisted stretch class that will relieve the aches and pains of people who work on their feet all day. And for box gyms, create a boot camp sculpting program featuring waterfront workouts.
[NOTE: You may only need to take this approach at the beginning. As the town’s interest grows, you can take a wider and more liberal approach with your services.]

Challenge #3: Your program is “too expensive.”
If you get negative feedback about the price of your program (and you know your pricing is appropriate for your services and industry), you’ll need to determine which scenario you are facing:
Scenario 1: Your town HAS the disposable income to afford your services but is unfamiliar with your program, used to lower-priced fitness options and doesn’t see the reason for your higher prices.
Scenario 2: Your town DOES NOT have the disposable income to afford a higher-price exercise program. To live within their means, they must opt for low-priced exercise options.

Scenario 1 What To Do: Educate your community on how much more they are receiving from your program than from lower-priced options. In all marketing communications, clearly break down the difference. Go toe-to-toe if you want to (i.e. compare features and benefits with cheaper programs) or just stay focused on yourself. Use charts, photos, videos or any other creative tools. Whatever you do, keep it clear and easy for people to see why your program is worth the higher price. Offer trial opportunities for your town to experience the difference themselves and don’t forget about the role of partners and spouses. Whenever finances are shared, if one person wants to spend money on an “expensive” program, the partner or spouse will question if the expense is worthwhile. You can overcome this by:

  • Offering an electronic and hard copy flyer that your potential client can share with their partner to educate them on the value of your offerings.
  • Getting the partner in to your business to see for his or herself how great it is! (i.e. offer an introductory bring-your-partner promotion or other events where they can be included)

Scenario 2 What To Do: Adjust your offerings to be available at your town’s income level. Focus on ways you can offer lower price points while maintaining your profits. Examples: different programs or classes, larger classes, shorter classes, less equipment, online classes, discounted packages [NOTE: it may be better to sell larger packages that offer a lower class price, or it sell smaller class packages for clients budgeting in 2-4 week increments.] With this scenario, avoid any temptation to offer frequent discounts or free classes thinking it will trade-them-up. If clients can’t afford your lowest-price services, then they simply won’t be able to be a client. It is absolutely still wonderful to offer complimentary classes as a gift to the community and way to give back. Just don’t expect it to be a vehicle to grow your business.

If you feel like your business is in a tough town, use this guide to help you tackle the extra challenges in your way. You can still grow a strong business if you take the right steps and will find it all the more rewarding when you succeed!