Advanced Equipment advertises advanced advice

Advanced Exercise Equipment has launched its first formal marketing and ad campaign -- all stressing real people, real fitness for real life, and solid advice.
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One fitness retailer has decided to invest a sizeable chunk of change into a multi-faceted marketing and advertising campaign that goes beyond homespun local ads and rejects portraying fitness with hard bodies.

Advanced Exercise Equipment (AEE) has launched its first formal marketing campaign including all-new print, radio and outdoor spots (billboards) as well as a revamped website -- to the tune of $500,000.

"We used to do 'mom and pop' type of marketing month to month," said John Talley, retail sales manager for the Wheat Ridge, Colo.-based, six-store chain. "Now we're trying to build a more professional image. We don't just sell premium equipment but can provide valuable information on how to live better."

Touting the slogan "With Advanced Equipment comes advanced advice," ads promise not only high-end equipment but also expert fitness know-how about equipment selection and use, exercise how-to's and workouts, home gym layouts and machine maintenance.

The images are ones that indicate someone is working out not just to look good but to also feel better or to participate in other activities, too. For example, one ad shows a person cross-country skiing -- with an inset of an elliptical cross-trainer. Another shows a runner -- with a treadmill. Yet another depicts a cyclist -- with an inset of a stationary bike. Talley said the ads focus on functional training so people understand that working out can translate into direct benefits for more fun, outside recreational activities.

Looking for Mr. (or Ms.) Hardbody? Sorry, not here. AEE has chosen mostly 40-something regular Janes and Joes as models. And the "models" are not actually models at all, but employees of AEE or its ad agency, Vanguard Communications. They were chosen deliberately, Talley said, based on results from a marketing survey given to 150 customers.

"The most popular ad we showed was a mom with two kids, and the copy said, 'Do I run everyday? You bet.' We're trying to portray real-life images that people can actually obtain," Talley told SNEWS.

Currently live in Denver and Boulder, Colo., and Kansas City, Mo., ads showcase cardio equipment. Brands shown are Life Fitness, SportsArt and Trimline. But this isn't a short-lived campaign, but a long-term investment. Come spring, the ads continue, but change focus to strength training, and may also run in AEE's additional market in Phoenix, Ariz. The entire campaign is slated to last 12 months.

To back up its claim to offer advanced advice, AEE is putting its money where its mouth is since in the fitness industry, it's easy to claim to be an expert with virtually no credentials. Although AEE has certified personal trainers on staff at each store, Talley is also working with the non-profit educational association American Council on Exercise (ACE) to certify all store employees as personal trainers this year. He says he eventually will make certification a job requirement.

But wait, the drive to establish itself as the source of education and advice doesn't stop there: AEE will host a series of eight free in-store seminars on topics such as nutrition, heart-rate training and weight training given by members of the Boulder Center of Sports Medicine. Information from these sessions will also be posted to a new education section on AEE's website.

Website you say? Why yes, there'll be a new website launched in February, too, (www.advancedexercise.com) that will be more than just a listing of equipment and brands. It will also have, for example, a list of muscles worked when using different pieces of equipment, sample workouts for various workout goals, and a Q&A developed by Boulder Center of Sports Medicine staffers, as well as by local Olympic runners Alan and Shayne Culpepper and by six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott.

Success, Talley says, will be measured by traffic -- both into the store and to the website. And since the ads started to rollout just before Christmas, results are already coming in.

"We've seen more traffic already," said Talley. "If we can get people to come into our stores, sales and volume will follow. Our products and services distinguish us from our competitors."

SNEWS View: We want to applaud AEE for taking a daring step to offer more -- more advice, more education, more than hard bodies, and more of a push for its staff to be more too. AEE should be commended too for an organized and unified marketing and advertising plan. Heck, how often do you see retailers actually conduct some kind of market research? We hope -- we actually expect -- it can deliver on the advanced advice promise. Certifying its staff is one huge step in the right direction, and working with outside professionals attracts attention, lends credibility, and will draw curiosity-seekers into the store who may also end up becoming customers.

If someone offering advice really has the know-how, then all is well. You see, pretty much anyone hawking fitness equipment can claim to be an expert source of fitness information. But not all are, of course. And harm is done only to the consumers who may not see the results they want, get injured, get bored, or pick the wrong piece of equipment for their real needs. Eventually, they end up falling off the fitness wagon. And that's not what any of us want. Certainly, one way specialty retailers try to distinguish themselves from a big box store or sporting goods chain is to offer personal attention and real-time advice. And, if done properly and wisely, it can reap rewards. What consumers don't want to find a knowledgeable and caring ear, whether they're buying a treadmill or a turnip?

This is all good stuff that may be setting an example for the industry. We look forward to following the results.

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