I signed up for an innovative new program at the gym the other day. While I was filling out the paperwork, I asked the owner how things were coming along–it certainly appears to be successful from my side of the treadmill. She said good, hectic with increased activity, but not nearly as successful as she had hoped. However, she couldn’t understand with a thousand plus members on the books why only handful of members had signed up for one of the most advanced exercise programs in the industry?
I learned over the next twenty minutes there was more going on than just a new exercise program; she had changed the mission of the gym. As a former health care professional truly dedicated to making a difference in someone’s life, she just couldn’t sit back any longer taking monthly fees and watching members bailout after eight weeks. She made a radical decision to move beyond the traditional business model (circuit training, cardio machines and exercise classes) and build a health center elevating the concept of exercise to a whole new level.
I asked if she had done any market research prior to decision-making. She said no, adding she didn’t really see what a difference it would have made given the scientific evidence on the approach. Besides, she wouldn’t even know where to begin.
We discussed the difference between having a passion and building a business. In order to have a successful business there must be a quantifiable need. Market research is a management tool for helping any business, even one as small as hers, determine if the product or service is actually desired by customers. At its core, market research brings information into the decision process, indicating potential courses of action. It also prevents decisions from being made in a vacuum or based solely on gut instincts. And no matter what the size of the company or budget, there are tools to assist.
It didn’t take very much convincing to make her see the value in querying members with two specific objectives: to gain a better understanding of why they come to the gym in the first place and to evaluate the behaviors and conditions under which they might respond to change. She soon realized that hard numbers and comments could tell the story she desperately needed, “leave me to my treadmill or I’ll quit and go to another gym,” “I’m only here to lift weights,” “I am unfamiliar with what the new program has to offer.”
Finally, we chatted about another crucial step, messaging. The layout of the gym provides wonderful space from which to communicate. We brainstormed fliers on machines and in locker rooms, insertions into member orientation packets and mini promos at the beginning of an exercise class.
I give this woman credit. It takes courage to admit things aren’t going as originally planned. Hopefully a little market research and messaging will work out in her favor. The owner’s issue is one for us all of us to remember, that without a strong demand for product, an idea is nothing more than an idea.
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