The Health & Fitness Business Expo wasn't all about seeing new product and making connections, it was also about education. Some retailers, manufacturers and other attendees made their way two hours before most to the convention center each morning to attend seminars on business and industry topics. But the education didn't stop there. Some manufacturers also brought experts and authors to the show for book signings and chats. For example, Vision Fitness brought author and fitness expert Phil Campbell to discuss his workout program to the show where he did a couple of talks each day. Bottom line for the workshops (although still few in number compared to other industry shows) is to get to know the industry better and to learn a few things about customers, sales and marketing that will help you do business better and improve your bottom line.
SNEWSÂ® attended four sessions so you would find out what the message was even if you couldn't make it.
How to Turn Shoppers into Buyers
Norby Rudel, The Friedman Group
The first morning of this year's Health & Fitness Business Expo, Aug. 19, kicked off with a seminar about sales skills and how to open and close a deal. All that is based on the premise that we are nothing without customer service.
"Everything's a commodity," Norby Rudel said. "Margins are shrinking and what are we left with? With customer service. We're left with us."
His philosophy is that anyone can learn sales skills. His advice was to practice and read books on the subject.
"Preparation is very important," he said. "Mystery shop your competition and always walk your store to make sure that everything is clean and in working order."
The first step in a sale, according to Rudel, is the most important. "Your opening line is crucial," he said. "If you can't open, you can't close."
Rudel emphasized the importance of spatial relationships between you and your customer. "Don't walk right up to them," he said. What do you do instead? The 180-degree walk-by. It goes something like this: You should have something in your hand (Rudel's chosen prop was a potted plant, not as if you'd be walking around your store with a potted plant!) and walk with purpose near the customer but not right in his or her path. When you get close, make eye contact and smile, and then keep walking. Once past the customer, turn and walk toward them, leaving a safe distance and deliver an opening line like, "I noticed your shoes. Are they as comfortable as the ads say they are?"
The point of all of Rudel's sales methods is to get the customer talking. "When they're talking, they're buying," he said. It's important for the salesperson to listen to what the customer is saying and remember what that person wants and needs.
Once you've closed the deal with one item, Rudel advises to sell an add-on item. "Great customer service is not about selling just one thing," he said. "It's about finding out what the customer wants or needs and giving it to them."
SNEWSÂ® View: Although we agree with Rudel that sales skills can be learned and that customer service is the end-all-be-all, we're not sure about opening lines about shoes. Still, the concept of a casual walk-by is a good one so as not to "attack" a customer who may want time to wander and to ponder first. An opening line can at least establish you are a friendly sorta person and approachable for when they DO want help. Attendance and interest were high for this two-hour seminar, and we noticed several retailers scribbling furiously in notebooks.
The Fitness Market in the New Millennium
Mark Sullivan, Sporting Goods Business
Mark Sullivan, the publisher and editor of SGB, took to the podium on the second morning of the show to discuss the industry and where it's going.
Sullivan took his audience through the history of the fitness market from the 1970s to present, discussing what he saw as the focus for each decade: running in the '70s, aerobics in the '80s, golf in the '90s and what he called "new age cross-training" today. "Yoga, Pilates and wellness are key parts of the new market," he said. "People are no longer focused on one activity, but on the important things in life."
For consumers, importance in life has shifted from money, power, work and consumption to family, home and health recently, according to Sullivan. For those in the fitness business, this shift means that buying behaviors have changed, he said. "Spending is going on more quietly, not conspicuously like it did in the past," he said. "People are thinking more before buying big-ticket items."
Another factor affecting the market is post-9/11 buying trends. "People are buying things for their cars and their homes," he said.
The business environment is also changing, Sullivan said. The movement toward massive consolidations means, "People are focused on synergy and efficiency, not creativity and innovation. Big companies have become predictable. They are focused on big opportunities."
What then does the retail landscape look like these days, according to Sullivan? "Ski numbers have really dwindled," he said. "Outdoor is strong, but it isn't growing. And yoga will grow, including the clothing and accessories part of the business. Online and catalog retailers will also be important."
One of the dangers that Sullivan pointed out in the modern market is the success of the Atkins Diet. "The Atkins Diet is scary for the fitness industry because it's a trendy way for people to lose weight without exercise," he said. "I see it as a threat. It's not good for any of us."
The future of the fitness market lies in alternatives to traditional retailing, according to Sullivan. That means that the Internet and catalogs will be increasingly successful. Sullivan also stressed the importance of innovative partnerships, such as those of Sears and Lands' End, and Omni and Life Fitness.
"Consumer loyalty is very important and at this point, it's up for grabs," he said. "These days it's all about creativity, timing and relationships."
His final admonition to retailers was "know and love your customers."
"It's very important that you don't just communicate with them, but also connect," he said. "Value goes beyond product and price -- product is better than ever, but to differentiate you need to offer more. People don't mind spending money; they just want to feel good about it. If you connect with people's hearts and minds, their wallets will follow."
SNEWSÂ® View: Hmmm, touted as a look at the new millennium, the talk left those in attendance scattering early for the door and kinda smirking with a tell-us-something-we-don't-know look. It was like reciting the Bible to the pope or reading "Carrie" to Stephen King: Basically he was reciting the history of the fitness industry to a roomful of people who have made their living in the fitness industry for a long time. All that information about the '80s and aerobics, or the '90s and golf could be true, but what did it have to do with the new millennium? And what does golf have to do with this industry anyway? We could hear people saying, "We knowâ€¦we were there." Even worse, we heard retailers complain that this talk started at 8 a.m. (I coulda slept in, moaned one retailer to us afterward), lasted barely an hour and a half, and was presented on the second day of the show or the morning after the industry party. More than anything else, the first two days of the show demand compelling speakers and topics since many attendees leave the afternoon or evening of the second day. That means that any less-than-compelling presentations should be on the last day -- if at all. With this group being one that likes to go out and, well, have some fun in the evenings, to get them to keep coming back for 8 a.m. talks demands speakers that keep an audience tantalized and on-its-toes rather than wishing they were still snoozing.
Marketing on a Shoestring
Steve Strauss, USAToday.com
On the last day of the show, Steve Strauss, the small business-columnist for USAToday.com, brought his ideas about how to market smarter to an attentive group of retailers, manufacturers and others.
Strauss' first suggestion for companies was that most of the time you can be more successful if you spend less money. "It's a trap that bigger is better." Instead, he said, "market smarter."
Shoestring marketing has several essential elements that Strauss calls "ground rules." Among them: Know what your customer reads, watches and listens to; solve a problem or fill a need; and show you pay attention to those two things in your marketing.
Strauss broke down his concept of marketing to seven steps: Know the ground rules, research your market, create a unique position, choose your weapons, create a plan of attack, launch your campaign, and be patient but fine-tune when necessary.
Strauss' "choose-your-weapons" step refers to ways to save money. Some of the important strategies that he discussed were to negotiate the rate card (he says to offer a price 15 percent lower than the given rate), barter when you can, buy remnant space (space that will be sold at the last minute), and advertise in magazines ("It gives you instant credibility and you can use the ad over and over again.").
Other important fundamentals in shoestring marketing are elevator pitches, personal letters and word of mouth. An elevator pitch is a "30-second, snappy, intriguing, passionate spiel about who you are, what you do, and why it's unique." They're important because they can pique people's interest or turn it off, Strauss said. With personal letters, you can announce something new with your company, Strauss said. "It makes people remember you, and it's more likely they'll open the mail you send them if it's handwritten." The way to get good word of mouth is to "do great work, ask customers to write letters, and then send them to others, offer your services for free to some people, and ask customers to tell their friends about your business."
Strauss finished up by recommending that companies pay to be ranked higher in search engine ratings or get a commercial Yahoo placement.
SNEWSÂ® View: Strauss' ideas were both creative and presented well. He used interesting, true examples to illustrate his points, and the audience, albeit smaller than others (likely because it was the last day), sat up and took notice throughout the two-hour talk. They even hung around afterward to ask lots of questions. It was also refreshing to hear someone encouraging people to be innovative and to think on a small, specific scale, rather than huge platforms. One point we don't entirely agree with is paying for higher Web rankings, clicks and placement. With today's technology and a savvy website operator (you do have one, don't you?), Web design can help solve the search-engine-ranking conundrum. That's not to say that pay-to-play rankings are bad; they just don't have to be your first alternative -- unless you have profits to kill and a deep marketing budget. Otherwise, we liked what Strauss brought to the morning sessions as someone outside the industry. It's just too bad he drew the last-day straw.
Effective Fitness and Weight Loss for Time-Crunched Adults
Phil Campbell, author
Throughout the show, Vision Fitness sponsored several seminars from Phil Campbell, an author and personal trainer with 30 years of experience in fitness and health industries, called "How to Maximize Exercise-Induced Growth Hormone Release."
Campbell started off his talk by inviting audience members to hop on an exercise bike he had in the front of the room to demonstrate the fitness technique he was there to discuss. Although most people were reluctant, two brave souls took turns sweating and panting through four 30-second sprints spread out in a 20-minute workout. A good start, according to Campbell, but eight sprints would have been better.
"Being overweight accounts for 14 to 20 percent of deaths from cancer," Campbell said. "Walking doesn't work. It's hard for people to hear that, but all these things that we as a population have been doing to combat being overweight are not working."
Losing weight, according to Campbell, is 95-percent exercise and 10-percent diet. The type of exercise Campbell suggests -- and Vision is incorporating into its new bike programs -- is specific: Short intervals or sprints. He suggests doing a 20-minute workout three days a week consisting of eight 30-second sprints with resting periods between each sprint.
All of that sprinting is supposed to kick-start your body's release of human growth hormone (HGH). He cited a 1990 study that Daniel Rudman conducted and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study measured changes that occurred in participants when their levels of HGH were raised. Without changing anything in their lifestyles (e.g. no extra exercise or dieting), the test subjects experienced an average 14.4-percent drop in body fat, 8.8-percent increase in lean muscle, a 7.1-percent increase in skin thickness, and a 1.6-percent improvement in bone density.
Raising HGH levels, according to Campbell, would be good for anyone, but he specifically talked about the importance of HGH for people over 30 because that's when your pituitary gland slows production of the hormone. Campbell called this "somatopause." If you're over 30, your waist has expanded, you lack energy and your skin is starting to wrinkle, Campbell says that you are suffering from somatopause.
There are several cures for somatopause, Campbell said: starvation, growth hormone injections, and anaerobic exercise. The first two have serious side effects, and the only safe way to boost HGH is anaerobic exercise, which is of course what he promotes in his book, "Ready, Set, Go! Synergy Fitness for Time-Crunched Adults" (Pristine Publishers, 2004).
Campbell said to be aware of four benchmarks for growth hormone release: you have to increase your body temperature by one degree, you have to be out of breath, you have to feel a muscle burn, and you have to have an adrenal response (in other words, you have to be uncomfortable).
SNEWSÂ® View: We liked that a manufacturer brought in a speaker to discuss exercise physiology and sport science. Of course, it was promoting its own interests, but it still can help retailers gain perspective on exercise options. In fact, with all the physiology-type questions that are asked by consumers, we suspect a Physiology Basics or Fitness Myths seminar by someone with a sense of humor could be a great addition to the program.