Ben Ludwig shares four ways health clubs can make community partnerships most effective.
“We are a purpose driven company that truly cares about our customers and seeking to find ways to benefit our community through the best service and quality experience.”
Does this line sound lame? That’s because it is. Every fitness brand knows how important it is to be part of the community, yet most business owners and managers have no idea how to truly find the right partnerships. Instead, they end up leading with something like the line above.
How many partners should I have? How do I measure the return of the partnership? How often should I be in contact with my partners? Do I leave handouts? Or try and sell them all memberships?
Below, we’ll look at four ways you can make sure your community partnerships are most effective.
Seek Partners who Have Similar Ideal Clients
Most fitness businesses seek to find partnerships with smoothie shops, recovery spaces, meal prep services and mostly fitness-related categories. There is nothing wrong with this thought process, but it is very narrow minded and often you are missing out on the best partnerships with the highest return.
When pre-opening a gym in a high-income market – from personal experience – the best partnership we set up was with an engineering firm. Our ideal client was expendable income, needed accountability for fitness results and didn’t have much time. After meeting with the owner of the firm, we offered to come and host educational seminars that were highly relevant to the staff. We hosted seminars on how to alleviate back pain, easy ways to eat healthier lunches, and getting exercise in less than 30 minutes.
We offered free trials and training sessions after every single seminar to welcome the staff into our location. Over the course of six months, we signed up almost the whole office on memberships and personal training.
Be Results-Focused for Your Partner
The absolute most common mistake fitness businesses make with community partners is they think exposure is the way both companies win. The best way to figure out how to be valuable to your potential partner is to ask them. Business is business whether you are in fitness or not. Your partner has a core offer, they have an ideal client and they have profit margins. Ask these questions and figure out how you can drive additional clients to their best offer.
Personally, while running a multi-unit full-service gym chain, I set up a partnership with a local massage franchise. Once setting up a meeting with the franchise owner, I found out their monthly unlimited massage offer was their highest profitability package and where they made the majority of money. My proposal was for him to give me a huge discount on a set number of massages, with the intent we would be using the massages as giveaways to personal training clients. These clients happened to be their core customer base after discussing our ideal clients. Essentially, I would be sending him qualified customers for every single massage I gave away.
He agreed and our partnership flourished because we constantly saw benefit for each company. He received new qualified clients every month, and we had giveaways that allowed us to sell more personal training, and give our clients better recovery.
Develop a Relationship
Remember, businesses are run by people. People are always more likely to help people they like. Once you choose your partners, be sure to make special efforts to get to know the owner or manager of the business. What things do they like, what are their interests and where do they frequent? Making an intentional effort will always give better results in the long run.
My best example of this was a property manager we opened a downtown fitness center in. I made an effort to visit her office once a month, catch up, see what upcoming events were happening, as well as discuss what initiatives we were running in the fitness center. Over time, I sent her birthday cards, gift cards to her favorite restaurants when clients would come in and mention she referred them, and even her favorite candy bar when she would introduce us to new building tenants.
She became our biggest ambassador and sold more memberships for us than most of our sales staff. A monthly check in is best to ensure you don’t have redundant meetings, but also stay in close enough communication to keep in touch.
More Partners is Not Better
Finally, choosing an amount of partners you can keep in nurtured relationship is imperative to ensuring you spend your time effectively and efficiently. Early in my management career, I fell victim to the thinking more is always better. My teams needed to make more calls, get more leads, make more sales and get in touch with more partners. I thought if everyone had talked to us, then we would have the best chance of driving more leads. After all, the old marketing adage states people have to see your message seven times before acting on it, right?
What this led to was give and take relationships where my teams ended up presenting memberships to employees of businesses all over town who had no idea who we were. They didn’t see value in a discount because they didn’t see the need for our specific membership. To top it off, we talked all about how great we were, and missed the whole point of talking about what our ideal customer needed.
The best way to setup how many community partnerships is ideal for you is to figure out how many people you have in charge of nurturing these relationships. The number I have found is five to 10 per team member. If you are a sole operator of your business, likely five partners will be all you can handle with everything else you have on your plate. On the other hand, if you have five dedicated sales people you have developed a system of how to approach partnerships, you may be able to have up to 50. The best way to go about this is to systemize your approach to nurturing relationships and then set accountability on follow up with your partners.
When you consider the potential upside of community partnerships, the sky is the limit. This is why so many owners and operators have interest in this topic, however, when you don’t have a specific plan of attack, you will inevitably end up in the surface level stalemate. This looks like both parties not really wanting to invest time and effort into the partnership because neither see the return on investment. Let’s be honest, most business owners don’t have time to waste.