When John Ward was planning the Charlotte Fitness store, he knew he and his partners wanted to do more than just sell equipment. They wanted to be part of the community. As a founding sponsor of the Carolina Wellness Coalition -- a community wellness outreach organization -- Ward seems to have found the ideal vehicle to accomplish his goals.
"It's very important to be in touch with what's going on in the community. It's important to be more than just a brick-and-mortar store selling things," Ward told SNEWSÂ®.
The Wellness Coalition launched in June 2004 as an outreach organization sponsored by local health, fitness and business professionals who want to make a difference in the well-being of Carolinians. Its mission is total body wellness and improving the quality of human life through exercise, nutrition, health and self care.
"Personally, what affected me was childhood obesity, the rising cost of health care, and the fact that we live longer but our quality of life is worse. All these statistics point to the fact that we are a very unhealthy country," said Terrie Reeves, founder and president of the Wellness Coalition. "What I could do is create a coalition of like-minded people that would be willing to educate and empower people to take better care of themselves."
Reeves is the driving force behind the for-profit organization, and has a diverse background that includes advertising, marketing and branding, as well as producing fitness videos. She founded the coalition to educate and provide tools to help people make more informed decisions regarding their health.
Ward (www.charlottefit.com) learned about the Wellness Coalition while surveying the market for his new store, joining before that store even opened in November 2004. Carolina Fitness is one of many fitness-oriented companies involved in the organization, which has an eclectic sponsor mix of medical and therapy groups, yoga and karate studios, a local fitness magazine, restaurants and spas.
With 85 sponsors, Carolina Fitness is one of 10 platinum sponsors and is involved with the Wellness Coalition's various community and corporate projects. For a monthly fee, Ward's company receives advertising and co-branding opportunities, networking opportunities and marketing services, among other things, all of which give them brand awareness and outreach in the community.
The Wellness Coalition uses its website as an educational portal offering total body wellness tools, guidance and pre-qualified resources for the consumer. It also sends out a monthly email newsletter filled with articles on exercise, nutrition and health. Since its inception, the number of recipients receiving the electronic newsletter has grown from 3,000 to 35,000, with the goal to distribute 100,000 by year's end, i.e. reaching nearly a fifth of Charlotte's population.
"It was important for us to try and reach out a little bit, and get involved with different programs within the community that provide the same things," Ward said. "There is so much new education out there as far as health and wellness and we have the vehicle, the services and the people here to educate others. We felt that it was important to contribute."
Reeves noted that sponsorship of the Wellness Coalition (www.wellnesscoalition.net) allows companies to reach the people they want to reach. In addition to the website and e-magazine, Reeves also does a weekly segment on the local TV affiliate called Wellness Wednesday that talks about the coalition and wellness education, which also gives additional promotion to sponsors.
"There is a very positive association with being aligned with an organization like ours that's out there marketing the greatest commodity on earth -- somebody's life and their well-being," she said. "Certainly for health clubs and health equipment companies, there is even a more direct correlation. They're branded in association with our newsletter, educational information and workshops, then all of a sudden that's a real good prospect for them as a customer."
Ward added, "There's been a tremendous amount of business that has come our way through people who are involved with the Wellness Coalition or heard about us from it. The Wellness Coalition is all your bike riders, all your runners, all these people who are involved with health and fitness in the marketplace. You start to develop a reputation with them. I would recommend it as a vehicle for other cities to pull like-minded local business owners together and grow the health and wellness community."
Presently, the Wellness Coalition conducts community health fairs and programs for weight loss, stress management and walking. It started Operation Jump-Start, a seven-week program that empowers young teens to take control of their total body wellness through instruction in health, fitness, nutrition and goal setting. So far, 65 kids have gone through the program, and companies like Carolina Fitness offer scholarships that have allowed 30 underserved kids in the community to participate. Other programs that are in development include Wellness 101, an adult version of Operation Jump-Start, and Wellness on Wheels, a corporate wellness outreach campaign to assist companies in educating their employees on nutrition, exercise and general health.
In some ways, the Wellness Coalition reflects how Ward does business -- in addition to selling fitness equipment, Carolina Fitness also offers workout training and health assessments (click here to see a May 20, 2005 SNEWSÂ® story, "Thinking out of the specialty fitness box: Retail & trainer/club combos").
"We've always believed anybody can bring a treadmill to your door and say, 'good luck.' We really want to make sure people are educated on how to use it. This really helps us walk the walk. Being involved with the Wellness Coalition gives us an opportunity to get involved with people who didn't purchase a piece of equipment to find out about the experience," he said.
Ward said he would absolutely suggest being a part of the Wellness Coalition and has found it's a great networking platform with other businesses. The coalition holds at least four Wellness After Hours consortiums a year to advocate health and fitness, handout education information. Attracting a diverse demographic of executives aged 28-50, the events have drawn as many as 600 people.
"The most valuable part of the Wellness Coalition has been the networking," he told us. "There are a lot of like-minded business owners who are all involved in this Wellness Coalition, so there's a tremendous opportunity to network within, to have win-win growth opportunities for each other when possible.
"It's been an invaluable resource for me," he said, "in opening up and growing a business in Charlotte, especially a new company."
SNEWSÂ® View: This is a perfect example of doing more than selling pieces of iron, steel and plastic. Plus, it ties in to our GearTrendsÂ® magazine marketing story in August 2005 called "Passion Pays Off" (click here to find that story). In that story, marketing experts talk about the importance of finding your passion and becoming a part of your community in that arena because of the growing demand by consumers who want more from their retailers than a place to buy stuff. Only open 16 months now, it seems Charlotte Fitness wasted no time in doing just that -- and appears to have found added success from it. Certainly a retailer or company doesn't necessarily have to choose an organization that charges some sponsorship money; there are other city and community groups that only call for your time, energy and support. Still, every community is different. All it takes is looking around to see what exists where you are AND how it relates to a personal belief you can be passionate about.