When I conduct workshops on formulating the right marketing plan for the operator's specific market, I always ask the attendees if they know the difference between advertising and marketing. Usually, I get some strange looks, but I go on to explain that advertising such as print ads, billboards, radio spots and the “yellow pages” are just elements of marketing. Advertising is usually a “hard dollar” item, meaning you usually write a check for what media you use. Not all marketing works that way and to the benefit of the operator one of the most effective and most economical means of marketing is what I call relationship marketing.

Simply said, we know that clubs don't sell memberships over the phone or by an ad. A membership is sold only when the prospective member visits the club and can visualize themselves as members of the facility.

When you advertise you design the ad to entice prospective members to visit your facility. It becomes a numbers game of sorts. You try to measure your success by how many people respond to the ad and actually visit, and then there is the closing ratio. Usually, you've spent several hundred dollars, if not thousands of dollars, for any true sales that the ad may have produced.

Now I would like to make it clear that I'm not opposed to buying advertising. It produces an awareness of your business, if not more immediate results, but it is a way of delivering prospects to your club by forming relationships in your community with other businesses and organizations. Quite simply, if you have available space at a convenient time for your business to make that space available to community and civic groups, i.e. the local Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, etc., they will “deliver the goods” by inviting their members and invited guests to your club for a meeting or gathering. The key is for you to view this as a marketing opportunity and be prepared to capture the attendees as leads, offer some “special” for those that visited and toured your facility and get them back for a close. Many times you can partner with other business with less attractive facilities in order to be the site of their marketing efforts.

As you can see this is an out-of-the-box concept, but it is one that can pay big dividends. Open your mind and your club to your community and don't be surprised with your success.

Frank J. Margarella is president of Tampa, FL-based Premier Club Consultants Inc.

Setting an Example

A new insurance agency opens and wants to attract clients. They have a hefty marketing budget and want to purchase a remote live radio broadcast. The prospect of attracting people to their office wasn't as attractive as coming to your club. You provide the location with some inexpensive perks (trial memberships, a drawing for a year membership, etc.) and they pay most if not all the ad cost. The best example of the benefit of providing an attractive location is once several years ago a local chamber group held a breakfast meeting in a funeral home. When it wasn't well attended, I pointed out the value of an attractive facility to host meetings at little or no expense to the host's marketing budget. The key to maximize your success is to have a plan to capture leads and invite them back in order to have a true opportunity to market them. The sky's the limit on how creative you can be. Charity events such as aerobics marathons or hosted runs that begin and end at your facility cost little, but build community credibility and eventually community recognition. Soon, you'll be getting prospects referred to you by people in the community who are not even members, but are aware of your club and its reputation.