Unique partnerships create unique opportunities

"Co-marketing is an opportunity for multiple parties to economize and to collaborate on marketing strategies that will be mutually beneficial to each other's cause," says Scott Chovanec, regional director for MedFit Corporate Services, Inc, in Florham Park, N.J. " It's a cost-effective way to reach larger target markets than you might be able to reach on your own. You basically use the strength of others to reach markets that you might not normally be able to reach on your own."

And the prospects are endless. There are the obvious partnerships that can be formed with area doctors or physical therapists or equipment companies. But don't overlook the possibilities, or underestimate the pay-offs, of collaborating with a business whose mission is light years away from yours. Some examples of unusual potential partners in co-marketing: an auto detailing business, a local restaurant, a retail clothing store.

"If members come in and see that there is always something extra being offered for their exclusive use, that they didn't necessarily figure on when they joined your facility, that becomes an added value for them," says Chovanec.

That said, don't rush into the brave new world of co-marketing with your eyes closed. Whether you plan to align yourself with a kindred spirit such as a purveyor of gym equipment or hook up with Jeb's Car Wash, you need to tread cautiously and do your homework:

* Determine how the partnership would benefit both parties. "You can't just look at it from your perspective," says Chovanec. "What's in it for the other party?"

Other questions to consider: Do both of you have enough of a market that you would be able to be beneficial to one another? Is your potential partner perceived as a company that people want to do business with? "That's something people often overlook," says Chovanec. "A fly-by-night organization can bring down the credibility of your club. If anything, you want to be able to align yourself with somebody who's on the same playing field as you are or at the next level."

* Do some fact finding. Chovanec had a plan that would refer club members who wanted to buy home fitness equipment to one particular vendor exclusively. In return, the store would give members a 15 percent discount plus free installation and delivery. The vendor also would put the club's flyers in its windows and at the counter.

"Everyone who purchased equipment at the store would have the opportunity to come to the club for a personal fitness profile," explains Chovanec. "And the club would have the opportunity to convert these people into utilizing our facility as an adjunct place to work out."

But before Chovanec partnered with the vendor, he first viewed the facility and assessed several things, including the quality of the vendor's customer service. Once he was satisfied with his findings, he approached the vendor, saying, "We narrowed down the field and determined that your facility is the one we want to do business with and here's the deal."

* Invite the candidate to your facility. "The business owner needs to see what you are about and whether you have an image that would be suitable for his company," says Chovanec.

* Make sure the opportunity is limited work for your prospective partner. "He may not need the partnership at all," says Chovanec. So the less work he has to do, the better.

For example, when a restaurant opened up near Chovanec's facility, the club worked with it to promote heart-healthy cuisine. "We took care of the reprinting of menus - which was good for the restaurant - and placed a heart next to the healthy meals," says Chovanec.

Diners who ordered a heart-healthy meal received a break on services at the club or a membership. In addition, any member who patronized the restaurant received a 10 percent discount.

* Come up with a unique angle. When considering a potential partner, "I would sit down and determine what I could do for him that he couldn't do on his own," explains Chovanec.

If you're eyeing a local department store, ask your-self, "What unique angle could I provide?" For example, a Nordstrom's could offer a 10 to 20 per-cent discount during the month of June, and customers could receive a club flyer that said something to the effect, "Now that you've bought your summer clothes, here's an opportunity to get a discount on a fitness assessment or initiation dues."

* Provide a tangible incentive. When a new restaurant started up in the same building as his fitness center, Chovanec's club worked out a coffee deal. Members who bought four cups of coffee in the restaurant got a fifth one free. And in return for the traffic the club sent its way, the restaurant displayed posters of the new facility. The alliance "raised the visibility of both places to different markets," says Chovanec.

* Go for exclusivity to make your co-marketing alliance a success. "People want to feel special," says Chovanec. "If you offer something that only they can get - such as a T-shirt - then they want it more. Any time you create a sense of rgency - that something's limited - and you are true to your word, it's a unique way to capture people's attention."