Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops across the country on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products. Visit his Web site at: http://www.fmconsulting.net.


Health club owners are often so busy putting out operational fires that marketing and advertising programs tend to end up on the back burner. In turn, all health club owners tend to make the same mistakes over and over. Here are seven of those mistakes:

1. Emphasizing features in the ads rather than the benefits that can be achieved at your club. So many ads talk about what a club has—not what it does. Do people buy a 1-inch drill bit because they want the bit? No. They buy it for the 1-inch hole it will give them. That’s the benefit. While prospective new members need to know about the features of your club, the potential benefit of membership is what motivates sales. Also, selling solely on features and price is a sure way to invite comparison with your competition.

2. Failing to establish a unique selling position that differentiates your club from the competition. Understanding such differentiation and creating a unique selling proposition will show how your club is special. Answer these questions: Why should I join the club? What makes it so special? Be sure that your answers are unique and not something such as “good service,” which most clubs brag about and something customers should expect anyway.

3. Not tracking results of your marketing efforts. This is a significant error made by many health club owners. In many cases, club operators have no idea how to track results and adjust their advertising and marketing efforts to be more productive. Be sure and have a telephone inquiry log sheet at your front desk, and write down the source of every call. Be sure your guest register has a space for the source as well. Always determine the total dollar amount of sales that marketing generates so that you can determine the campaign’s effectiveness. This will help you understand your club’s cost per sale.

4. Changing your marketing too frequently. Remember that you look at your ad every day. To you, it’s the most important thing in the world. However, prospective members need time to assimilate your message. It’s estimated that potential members need to see an ad seven times before the marketing begins to register in their awareness. Also, don’t have different campaigns running at the same time, as it will confuse your customers.

5. Failing to target former members. Your former members are one of the best resources you have. There are currently more former members of health clubs than current members of clubs. They’ve joined before, and there’s a good chance they’ll join again. Reach them through special promotions and sales. In many clubs, the former member source is right behind member referrals as the No. 1 source of new member sales.

6. Giving up on marketing before it has the chance to work. Many new clubs advertise only three to six months before deciding it’s not worth the cost. But most new clubs need a year or more of well-placed, well-thought-out advertising before substantial results can be seen. About the only time we can really guarantee results is when you don’t advertise or market your club.

7. Choosing wrong media to attract your target members. The majority of your new members will come from a three-mile radius around your club. As a result, most health clubs will find that TV, radio and newspaper outlets don’t work at all because of the “pull” area being too far outside the target area of their club. Choose the right media or you’re wasting your time and money. Such things as direct mail, door hangers, referral campaigns, local corporate programs and lead boxes will allow you to properly target your market.

Avoiding all these mistakes boils down to one simple thing: think and plan before you act. Make sure that you have identified your target market. Make sure the media you have selected will reach that market. Take one last look at your message or offer. Does it really say what you mean? Are the benefits there? Lastly, learn from the mistakes of others. Watch what advertising works and what doesn’t work with other health clubs. What are other clubs doing that you can adapt or change to fit your club? Now, go market your club.