Health & Fitness Business '06: Educational programs target customer loyalty, attracting female patrons, and communication tips

Although the formal educational offerings at the Health & Fitness Business Show are not huge in number, the ones that are held offer a great wallop. We take a look at the show's keynote by a member of the Disney Institute, an on-floor session sponsored by Danskin Fitness, and a Saturday morning seminar on the customer's need for information by marketing specialist Chris Harges.
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Although the formal educational offerings at the Health & Fitness Business Show are not huge in number, the ones that are held offer a great wallop. Here is our report on two pre-show sessions and one on-floor session. Last week, we reported on the other education workshop -- the 2nd Annual SNEWS® Fitness Forum on sales training and education. Click here if you missed that. 

Below, we take a look at the show's keynote by a member of the Disney Institute (plastic Disney figurines de rigueur), an on-floor session sponsored by Danskin Fitness, and a Saturday morning seminar on the customer's need for information by marketing specialist Chris Harges:

Keynote: Loyalty and How to Create Great Customer Loyalty and Retain It
Sara Jones, Disney Institute

A five-percent increase in brand loyalty can increase profits at least 25 percent all the way up to a whopping 85 percent, according to Sara Jones, a facilitator at the Disney Institute. During her Aug. 3 keynote address at the Health & Fitness Business Expo, Jones emphasized that repeat business contributes significantly to a company's bottom line and drives long-term financial results.

Maximum customer loyalty results from the connection of identity, value and relationships -- the greater the connection, the greater the loyalty. Identity explores the ways a company connects its brand with its customers and employees. Value identifies the link between what a company promises and what it delivers. Relationships examine the value of lifetime relationships with customers and employees. Jones added that employees should be considered customers, too.

Jones said there are six steps to creating customer and employee loyalty connections.

1. Identify your customers: A company's efforts should begin by determining who its customers are. Without identifying the customers, it is difficult to know the ways in which those customers will identify with the organization.

Jones said businesses should look for people who want to identify with their products or store. Understand the connection, rather than the one-time transaction. "Hope for more. You want customers to return often and tell others. Aim to attract people and entice them to come back," Jones said.

2. Align your promise: An organization communicates the essence of what it stands for through its promise, or mission statement. An effective promise attracts customers and employees who identify with it.

"Use the brand as a form of self expression. People use products to send messages about themselves," Jones said.

3. Identify your strengths: People who admire and appreciate a company's strengths will choose to associate with that organization. Jones said that the challenge is to recognize those strengths and focus efforts on creating experiences that capitalize on those attributes.

Jones added that it's important to enhance the perception of value and justify premium prices. "Know your worth and what you're doing," she said.

4. Deliver your strengths: Once an organization has identified its strengths, the next step is to deliver them into every phase of the customer's experience.

"Package that experience. You feel special about your business, make your customers feel special," she said. Jones used Disney's entryway arch as an example of creating an experience -- you know when you walk through, you are entering a unique realm. Think of ways to do the same when entering your storefront.

5. Value your employees: A business' behavior toward its employees determines how they behave toward customers. Try to connect with your staff, so they, in turn, will connect with consumers.

To set up your staff for success, explain to them the parameters of their job and expectations. "Friction happens when employees get different messages," Jones said. The cost of turnover is high -- 30 percent of the exiting employee's pay goes to finding a new staff member. Turnover can cause friction in other areas, like the remaining staff getting upset because they are loaded down with extra work until the vacant position is filled.

6. Connect emotionally: Once a strong team has been established, a business can focus on building relationships and connecting emotionally with its customers and employees.

Jones added that business owners and managers should interact with customers and be a part of the experience. Disney requires its managers to walk the floors 70 percent of the time, so there is representation out on the floor. Disney also encourages its employees to take five minutes every day and do something special for its guests. Jones said that it's important to empower employees to do that to foster lifetime value.

Strength Training Products for Women: Attracting the Female Consumer
Heather Hawk for sponsor, Danskin/EmPower

Women are becoming more educated about health and understanding they need to take care of themselves and their families. Going hand in hand with that, strength training among women has been steadily growing over the past five to 10 years, said Heather Hawk, representing seminar sponsor Danskin/EmPower.

That research is also backing up the benefits of weight training, Hawk added in the session held on the expo show floor on Aug. 4. Prevention magazine reported the University of Minnesota conducted a two-year study of 164 overweight women ages 24 to 44. Researchers found that those who did a full-body, strength-training routine for an hour twice a week dropped nearly 4 percent of body fat, while their non-exercising peers lost none. And, while levels of heart-harming deep belly fat went up 21 percent in the sedentary group, the lifters saw a 7 percent rise; none of the volunteers did any dieting during the study.

Controlling over 80 percent of purchasing decisions within the home, women are a massive market to leave untapped, Hawk emphasized. They're buying products in areas once considered non-traditional, like automotives, technology and finance. So it makes sense that they're making decisions in the fitness category, she added.

Hawk provided a rundown of what women are looking for when making a purchasing decision:

>> Carry a product assortment. Women like variety and to try new things. They want product choices, but not bad choices. They like to see six products on the store shelves that are similar to each other but with different advantages. They like products that will fit their needs and are not designed for a man's body.
>> Accessories, like bands and toning balls, are extremely popular among women because they are convenient and compact.
>> Women want to interact with a knowledgeable staff. They want the staff to listen to their needs, offer solutions and tell them how the product will benefit them.
>> Time efficiency is important and applies not only to their workout, but also to their shopping experience -- especially for busy women who are juggling work and family. When they're in the store, women want clear signage and salespeople that will take them directly to the type of product they're looking for.

Hawk also suggested that retailers have the women in their life -- be it a mom, wife or a daughter -- look at their stores and weigh in on how they could improve attracting female customers. Keep an eye out for aesthetics, cleanliness and layout -- women don't want to sift through 12 men's products to find the one woman's product.

Feeding the Hungry: Satisfying Consumers' Needs for Information
Chris Harges, Satellite Design

Today, consumers have countless avenues to gather information, like the Internet, giving them the power to make more educated buying decisions than 20 to 30 years ago. Satellite Design principal Chris Harges explained in his morning session Aug. 5 how consumers evaluate products before purchase and described ways of influencing that decision-making process through packaging, collateral and other product marketing initiatives. He had written on fitness accessory packaging in the Summer 2006 Fitness GearTrends magazine. (If you missed that story, click here to access the magazine and his story on page 24.)

Knowing that customers want data, Harges said to give it to them in a compelling way to get the sale. First, brainstorm how your store or product is different from competitors by creating a list of adjectives, asking questions like what is your store or your products good at and what do you want them to be good at. Second, organize your list, keeping in mind your core competencies and what makes your store or product different. Narrow the list down to one to two messages to share with customers. Remember to tell your staff to ensure everyone is on the same page. Make sure they understand the core message, so when they interact with customers the correct meaning is passed on.

Harges also offered five steps to conveying a better message:

1. Know your audience: Identify your core customers and really work on connecting to them. Talk to these opinion leaders in a confident way. Once you effectively connect to them, they'll help in getting your message out to others.

2. Get their attention: You have a little window of opportunity to catch consumers' attention when you express your message through an ad, packaging or on a store shelf. Depending on what you say, they'll either get it or they won't. You have to create a message that leverages your brand and gets people's attention in a sea of products and information.

3. Say something real: The folks in your organization who know the products best are not always the ones who can translate effectively to the consumer. If you fail to tell customers something meaningful, they can't make a decision to buy the product. A clear message with a brief explanation is an effective way to communicate.

4. Say it so they can understand it: Take technical jargon and put it in language customers can grasp. Remove the barrier between the product message and what customers comprehend.

5. Create a hierarchy: Use a layered system to convey your message. Offer a quick message that's quirky, followed by an explanation. Once you've caught their attention, add a more explanatory third layer that delves more into what your product is.

SNEWS® View: Although limited in scope, the education at the show offered a varied and useful mix of information on sales, training, marketing and customer loyalty. Unfortunately, none of the sessions got the attendance they did last year, and we believe and were told by some retailers that they couldn’t find the sessions. Granted, there was signage in the hall, but since they were in the Hyatt across the street and the Hyatt was new since last year, we're not sure many put two and two together. Or perhaps, put enough effort into trying.

We hear conflicting reports: that the attendees would like more education, but then they don’t come in early enough to get to the session or don't want to leave the floor, or that owners don't bring staff members, who would find the sessions particularly helpful. We'd love to know your opinion on show education sessions and when (or if) they should be offered -- during the day, before the floor opens, on the day before, on a longer lunch break, or ??? 

We'd like to hear from you. Pipe up about how you feel about educational offerings at trade shows, if, when, how much and topics. Chime in here to voice your opinion in our SNEWS® Chat set up just for this topic -- it is private and viewable only by SNEWS® subscribers, so feel free to open up the discussion and bare your soul.

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