Peter Sosa, L.M.T., began his career as a personal trainer in 1983 with New York Sports Clubs and his own company, BodyCorps, Inc. The past 15 years he has focused on the spa industry, working as a massage and spa therapist, trainer and manager with Disney, Westin Resorts, the Marriott Corporation and the Ritz Carlton. He has worked with celebrities and athletes and has been featured in health publications, radio and cable TV. With his new company, SpaFit Consulting, Peter now focuses his experience on bringing the best of the spa industry to the health club. He can be reached at Spafit@cfl.rr.com

I’ve been in health and fitness for more than 20 years, first as a fitness and personal trainer and the past 15 in the spa industry working with successful companies such as Disney and the Marriott Corporation. These companies, leaders in customer service, understand the idea that marketability and emotional influence play a vital role in creating a strong image. As a formula, this concept would look something like this: Marketability + Emotional Influence = Brand Image

The amount of marketability your products and services have and their capacity to generate positive feelings in your customers directly affect consumer appeal and brand loyalty. In the highly competitive resort and convention business, the companies I’ve worked with strive to create memorable guest experiences by offering first-class amenities and superior customer service. To this end they recognize that services such as massage and spa treatments strengthen their image and give them an advantage over the competition.

Before continuing I’d like to point out that the focus here is on massage because, of all spa services, it generates the most income in the same space and well-matched fitness benefits. This gives you the best return on investment when space or funds are limited and can easily be expanded to include additional spa services, such as facials, body treatments and nail services, as needs warrant.

Marketability. A marketable product or service is one that your customers want or need.
The success of the companies I mention depends strongly on the ability to offer products and services that satisfy the needs of their clientele: overstressed business travelers, indulgence-seeking resort guests and fitness-minded vacationers. They realize the value in the appeal of massage and other spa services to their guests.

With regards to the health club industry, Baby Boomers are making up the greatest segment of gym memberships and bringing with them more disposable income, which they are more than willing to use on treatments that help fight the stresses of modern life. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, massage ranked number two, second only to personal training during a survey of clubs’ five most profitable programs or services.

Tip: How marketable are your current programs and services? Do they reflect your club’s membership and their needs? Are you losing revenue because there is a segment of clientele not being represented? While a fitness trend may be hot, it may not necessarily be the most profitable in every situation; and even your current situation can change over time.

When looking at products or services for your facility, consider marketability. Does it have a track record? If it’s new and unproven, you’re taking a risk on its marketing potential. For gym owners/managers, massage is a marketable fitness service because it is in such high demand by individuals who have the same interest in their health as your members. Even within the spa industry, massage garners the most attention; typically 70 to 80 percent of available space is designated for massage treatments.

Emotional Influence. This is a subject for a whole article itself. The advertising industry uses the term emotional anchoring; by linking or “anchoring” your name with positive feelings, you expand your name recognition, increase consumer interest and strengthen brand loyalty. Disney, for instance, has perfected emotional influence to an art form; generations of adults and children recognize the famed “mouse ears” with a smile and will just as automatically run out to see any film produced by the Disney Studios.

Ironically, although the fitness industry is based on the physical act of exercise, it is fueled by emotion. No one exercises for the sake of exercise, and few do it just because it’s healthy. They do it because they desire to look good, feel good, improve their self-image, etc. This is also what drives sales of your other profit centers including personal training, nutritional supplements and even tanning.

What’s more, the majority of health clubs, meaning the smaller, non-franchise clubs, which make up most of the fitness industry, do not generally understand the influence of emotions on their target demographic. In their sincerity, they focus more directly on health, weight loss, etc. instead of the emotions that drive those desires. It is the large, corporate-run clubs, who spend money on advertising agencies to market for them, which use emotionally driven ad campaigns.

According to studies regarding the effect of emotions and decision making, most potential members have made up their minds whether they’re going to join or not within the first few minutes, based on what they see and hear - condition and type of equipment and facilities, program and service offerings, general atmosphere, politeness of staff - and how they feel about it. Their decision is reassessed during each visit, based on their experience.

With all its long-term health benefits, massage is arguably most popular for its immediate results; it produces an instant and positive mood-altering effect. Over time it helps relieve and even eliminate muscular tension and pain, manage stress and a helps the recipient to feel better about them selves. Combined with the rewards of regular exercise, these positive feelings create a powerful anchor your members will associate with your facility. Massage works in conjunction with your other services to strengthen the value of your club, building loyalty and preventing your members from being lured by the competition.

Tip: When promoting your services, either in-house or with an ad campaign, don’t just list a menu; this is too detached from the reasons that motivate your current and prospective members. Highlight the positive benefits and results of your programs and services; quotes and pictures from happy members work well, making the emotions “real” with faces and names.

Image. This is where marketability and emotional influence come together.Byoffering products and services that your members not only want (marketability) but enhance their experience and feelings about your facility (emotional influence), you guarantee referrals and retention, creating a strong brand image.

Tip: Build an image for your club, which encompasses programs and services that are wanted, needed and make a positive effect on your members’ state of mind.

As the saying goes, “perception is reality” and in the competitive fitness industry, the reality is, your image is your strongest edge for success.