The pre-sales process is one of the trickiest and most important elements in determining whether or not your new club will be successful when it opens. The steps to a great pre-sale (the time prior to a club opening when you market the club and begin to accept members) are many. If this is your first club, I would highly recommend hiring a consultant to help you. However, if you are determined to do this on your own, you must keep several things in mind.

Perhaps one of the most important first decisions you will make is when to start the pre-sales process. Here are some things you must complete before you begin pre-sales:

  • You have done your due diligence.
  • You have signed your lease to your club.
  • Your architect has started reviewing your program needs and measuring them up against the floor plan.
  • Your architectural plans have been completed and submitted to the township for final review and approval.
  • You have hired a general manager.
  • You have talked with your general contractor, architect, landlord, equipment manufacturer and interior designer to determine the dates they say they will be finished.
  • You have set an opening date, factoring in unforeseen obstacles, such as bad weather, misrepresentations and miscalculations, that could delay the opening.

Most clubs start selling memberships at the end of construction because having a prolonged pre-sale is not advisable and will turn off potential members, especially if you have delays that require a lot of new projected opening dates.

Pre-sales is beneficial in several ways. It:

  • Creates excitement in the market.
  • Enables the club to begin marketing efforts and get a head-start on building the membership base.
  • Creates a membership base to market to.
  • Begins building a solid reputation for the club.
  • Helps “brand” your name.
  • Builds teamwork.
  • Allows you to evaluate staff before actual opening.
  • Gauges marketing and advertising venues and efforts.
  • Gets the word out that the club is close to opening.

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After you have determined the opening date and understand why pre-sales is beneficial, you must prepare for pre-sales. Set up your pre-sales office at least 30 days prior to accepting memberships. This will give you time to apply the five basic principles of business, which are:

  1. Planning. Write up a plan for pre-sales, starting with writing down the planned opening date. This date should be as close to 100 percent accurate as possible because you want to start selling memberships no more than three months prior to the club opening date. Your next step is to determine the membership rates and project the number of new membership sales required. Develop a three-month pre-sales marketing, advertising and public relations plan to back up the sales effort. Make sure to include fixed costs (set budgets) on all initiatives. Decide where the pre-sales office will be located and what staffing is needed for pre-sales. Do your homework on fitness software and sales training tools. Make a list of everything needed to begin pre-sales.
  2. Organizing. Gather all items needed in the planning stage. Divide up and assign job tasks. Make a calendar of dates and times of events. Determine the personnel needed to operate the pre-sales effort. Set up sales offices, the reception area and marketing material.
  3. Staffing. Decide on the management structure needed to operate the club, then start hiring beyond your general manager. You must hire a sales manager and sales associates. You may need to hire a receptionist if you experience high traffic. After you hire your staff, you need to train staff on policies and procedures, role playing and reviewing scripted presentations and greetings. Then, you must make a master work schedule and keep to it.
  4. Implementation. Implementation is when you start your pre-sales effort, following your marketing plan and selling memberships. You and your general manager must set the example, doing everything in accordance with your plan. If something needs to be adjusted, write up an amended plan, communicate the adjustment with your staff and make the change as a team.
  5. Control. Hold everyone accountable for their individual responsibilities and sales goals. Make it clear that all budgets must be reached and maintained. Track and measure all marketing, advertising and public relations initiatives. React to market conditions and make adjustments as needed.

To do all of this, you must have a good marketing plan. The goal of the marketing plan is to develop market awareness and to brand your new club so everyone knows what your club is and why they need to join. Good marketing plans require a realistic and well-managed marketing and advertising budget. Because you have finite dollars dedicated to pre-sales, make sure your marketing plan is developed within those limitations.

The basic formula for pre-sales marketing is a combination of direct mail, newspaper ads, radio spots, billboard displays, lead boxes, door hangers, guest passes, social networking, email blasts, internet/ecommerce and general outreach.

A well-thought-out and executed pre-sales campaign has many benefits, the best of which is that you open your new club with 1,000 or more new members sharing with their contacts what a great new club they joined.

Tony Santomauro is owner and president of The Santomauro Group, a health, fitness, martial arts and sports consulting and management company. Santomauro, a 35-year health and fitness veteran, was co-founder and former president of Can Do Fitness Clubs in New Jersey for the past 12 years. He has extensive direct/corporate sales and marketing experience as well as expertise in advertising, public relations, martial arts and kids programming, equipment layout and design, class and fitness programming and all operational aspects in the field. He is an internationally certified Kukkiwon black belt. He can be contacted at tonysantomauro@thesantomaurogroup.com or 973-396-2100.