Donna Hutchinson is the owner of On The Edge Fitness Educators, which offers fitness education courses, workshops and seminars focused on assisting fitness professionals in building their careers. She is the president and founder of the International Fitness Network Association, serving to unite fitness professionals from around the world. She has worked in corporate wellness centers, community recreation facilities, private health clubs and as an independent personal trainer. Hutchinson is a local media personality in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is quickly emerging as Canada’s leading speaker in the area of business development. Hutchinson can be reached at edgefit@shaw.ca.

Scanning the fitness industry over the last five years, there certainly has been many unique and innovative programs that have emerged. Participants can enjoy an array of fusion-type classes such as hip hop salsa, yogalates or cyclestrength. However, are we really being innovative, or are we just recycling and blending the same programs so that they appear novel to our members?

You’ve probably heard the expression “if you build it, they will come” from the movie “Field of Dreams.” To assist you in your five-step approach, we are going to use the acronym B.U.I.L.D. to set the foundation toward creating innovative programs that attract members.

1. Branch outside of your industry. How many of us actually take the time to venture out into the world beyond fitness? In order to search for new ideas and be inspired, you need to change the landscape of your experience. Consider attending an event outside your field of expertise. What could you learn from a medical conference, humor seminar or a dance association’s annual convention? It doesn’t matter which industry you choose. It only matters that you make the time to see what else is out there in the world. You will be surprised by the many ideas generated from your new experiences.

Popular culture is another great source of programming ideas. Reality TV has populated our consciousness, and people are hungry to be part of the experience. Not everyone will have an opportunity to become “The Biggest Loser,” but you certainly have a chance to provide this experience for your members by creating a similar program. “So You Think You Can Dance” has given the public a glimpse into the world of dance. Consider creating a program where you offer four or five different dance styles, and then organize an evening to showcase what the members have learned. A good thing to ask yourself is, “How can I turn what is popular today into a revenue-generating program?”

2. Understand the need and then fill it. Understanding the needs of your members and then implementing a plan to go about filling them is a basic marketing strategy. Start with your members, then venture beyond the doors of the fitness facility and become a detective. Search for clues in finding needs that haven’t yet been identified. What needs are out there just waiting for you to discover? Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunity.

3. Listen to your members’ feedback and suggestions. Your members can be a great source of information, provided you are open to their feedback and ideas. I used to love it when a member would come to my office and say, “I think you should run a weight-training program just for women. I have 10 friends ready to sign up.” You can keep those ideas flowing by openly seeking feedback and suggestions from your members.

4. Invite others into the creative process. Invite your staff to give feedback and share ideas. Many of them may be involved in activities outside of their jobs. Some of these activities may have the potential to become programs for your members. Many years ago, while working at a fitness facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, I built upon my love of hiking and suggested that the company create a hiking club for members. We scheduled 10 hikes throughout the summer and charged an additional fee. The hikes gave members a chance to get to know each other, and many of them continued to hike together after the session ended. Participants were grateful for the programs, as it gave them an opportunity to try different activities that they might not have done on their own.

5. Deliver an experience and not just a program. Whatever programs you do decide to offer, deliver an experience for your members rather then just a class. Ask, “After this program is completed, how will the members feel?” If you offer a boot camp, is it more important how fit the members get or that they are challenged to push themselves to the outer borders of their performance limits? Creating a program through the use of an emotional response has a far greater impact then just creating a results-oriented class. If your participants respond positively to an experience, they will keep coming back for more. Best of all, they will bring friends with them.

Use these tips to B.U.I.L.D. truly successful and exciting programming at your facility.