Recently, when I found myself in search of a new health club, I was surprised by the process I went through to make my decision.

Over time, my club had degraded to the point that I no longer wanted to be a member, so I embarked on a quest to find the perfect health club.

As I began my search, I noticed the marketing approaches vying for my attention — colorful print ads, inspiring TV ads, attention-getting direct mail postcards, funny radio commercials, informational yellow pages and educational web sites.

While some attempts to capture my attention were better executed than others, I'd like to say kudos to those clubs that take a consistent and integrated approach to their marketing, using several venues simultaneously while bringing a consistent image and message to the consumer. From a potential buyer's perspective, it makes a statement about the business.

IT'S ABOUT THE AMENITIES

Now that I'd narrowed my search based on driving distance from home or work, price range and the club's amenities, it was time to roll up my sleeves and compare apples to apples.

I was drawn to new, or recently renovated, clubs that had state-of-the art entertainment systems, the latest cardiovascular and strength training equipment, group exercise programs, a running track, a pool area with a hot tub, sauna and steam room, a nice locker room, and all the latest amenities like on-site massage therapy, personal trainers and day care.

I found the perfect club. It was in the perfect location, with the perfect amenities, at the right price. My job was done, right? Well, not quite. A powerful dynamic came into play.

THE POWER OF REFERRAL

My chiropractor informed me that I'd won a two-week pass to the health club across the street. My instinct was to give it to someone else since I'd already decided to join the “perfect” health club.

Despite my resistance, my chiropractor encouraged me to use the pass. He said, “There's something special about that place, and you won't understand it until you've spent some time there.”

As I walked into the club, I was awestruck. The staff greeted me with warmth and gratitude. As I toured the facility with my guide, I felt as though these people were here to serve me.

While I worked out, several long-time members approached me and welcomed me to the club. And personal trainers roaming the floor came by to offer tips and encouragement. I thought, “Wow! This is different!”

When I came back the next day, several people greeted me by name. I hadn't joined yet and it was as though I'd been welcomed into this close-knit family. I also learned that almost every one of them had been working out there for at least five to seven years.

MORE THAN AMENITIES

During those two weeks, I went to the gym every day. Something about that place made me want to be there.

I ended up passing on the “perfect” club and joining the one that offered that something special.

I wish I could package that and give it to every health club in the country. I believe it would help people join and stick to their fitness programs.

Advertising and promotions can't give your new members the experience that the people there can. Look at your culture and figure out how to create that something special.

Laura Capes is founder of Fitness Communications, an ad agency dedicated to marketing the specialty fitness industry. She can be reached at 888-692-4200 or lcapes@fitnesscommunications.com.