Give your fitness brand a low-cost facelift

Should you keep your company the way it is now and hope that it somehow becomes more successful, or be proactive and refresh your brand so it’s positioned to be so?

To rebrand or not to rebrand? That is the question. Great brands are always evolving. They rebrand or reinvent themselves in a bid to stay current while making an emotional connection with their customers. You must refresh your brand and your company from time to time. You don’t wear the same clothes decade after decade, right? You change things up, experimenting with different looks and styles through the years, trying to stay current and remain relevant.

Great brands are incessantly perfecting their look, from their logo to their products, ads, website, and interior and exterior of their brick and mortar stores.

In my 30 plus years as a marketing professional, I have noticed many businesses, particularly health clubs, whose walls are sterile white – nothing beautiful, inspirational or classy on them. Yet, just like the rest of us, gym owners decorate their homes with beautiful and inspirational art, sculptures and plants. If ‘branding’ your home is important to you, so too should be branding your business.

Ad dollars and brand dollars

If you have a health club or a personal training or group exercise studio, you spend advertising dollars trying to inspire and motivate people to come into your gym. You should also spend some brand dollars to inspire and motivate people once they visit your gym. Done well, your branding may even be the catalyst that turns them from a visitor into a member. And once they become a member, your club has the potential to become their home away from home, so it had better look and feel as good to be there as it possibly can. If you fail to create a welcoming and inspiring environment, you reduce members’ desire to spend time with you. And when that happens, the chances of them remaining a member with you evaporate.

Scary but necessary

Some companies, especially fitness facilities, never seem to evolve from the moment they first open their doors. Change may be scary, but it’s necessary. I love a company that is constantly on the cutting edge and always finding better ways to inspire me. No matter the gym, restaurant or hotel that I go to, the most important thing for me is the experience. I want it to be so memorable that I can’t wait to come back. I want the kind of place where I don’t mind spending my time or my money. I want to feel comfortable. It’s all about the relationship to and experience with a product and service. Whether you’re my gym, my group fitness instructor or my personal trainer, I don’t want to outgrow you or get bored with you. Like any relationship, I want you to improve with age, as I hope I do. I want you to continue to inspire and motivate me.

What the big names do

Some of the most successful brick and mortar retail stores, like the Hard Rock Cafe, Nike Town, and the Apple Store, understand the power of branding and the importance of the customer experience.

The Westfield Corporation, which builds some of the best shopping malls in the world, understands how important the shopping experience is to its customer base. It spends a ton of money on design and branding throughout its malls. It continues to stay relevant by rejuvenating its malls throughout the years. It’s worth it to them because it attracts customers, both new and existing. Brands pay big rent for locations in a Westfield mall because of the amount of foot traffic the brand attracts. Of course, it is then up to those retail tenants to inspire all that traffic to buy the product or service offered at that venue, or they won’t last long. They too need to evolve, and must regularly rejuvenate their store fitouts. As I write this, Westfield is spending upwards of US$800 million to renovate the mall near where I live in Century City, next to Beverly Hills. Locals can’t wait to see it when it’s completed next September, because it was a good mall before, but from what we’ve seen so far, it will be exponentially better. Buzz is, it will be Westfield’s best mall to date, anywhere. People love being a part of something spectacular, and so they will throng to this renovated mall with credit cards in hand for the kudos of shopping at the best mall in the world.

What you can do

Do you need to spend a ton of money to renovate or rebrand your brick and mortar business in order to make a difference to your customers? No. You can start with some low-cost changes like a few cans of new paint, and some inexpensive but inspirational posters and murals. Your customers will notice these changes and appreciate that you care about their environment. I help all my clients do this without breaking the bank.

I once had a client in Montreal, Canada with a huge 100,000sq.ft. sports complex that had tennis and squash courts, a full-sized gym, restaurant, pro-shop and more. They hired me to help them after they heard me speak about branding at a fitness conference. As is usual, after my presentation a group of gym owners approached to ask me questions. That Montreal club owner showed me her business card and asked what I thought of their logo. I said to her, ‘To get an unbiased opinion, may I first ask your fellow gym owners here what they think?’ She nervously smiled, shrugged her shoulders and nodded. I held up her card and asked, ‘How many of you think the name of her club is ‘West Island Club?’ Half the people there raised their hands. I then asked, ‘How many of you think the name is ‘Club West Island?’ The other half raised their hands. I already knew it was a confusing and badly designed logo, but I knew it would be more meaningful to her if her business peers said it before I did.

So, fast forward, I’m sitting in the Club West Island board room in Montreal and ask the owners and their staff what the members called their club. The overwhelming response is, ‘The Club’. I reminded them how, after the public called Federal Express ‘FedEx’ for years, they listened to us and changed their name officially to FedEx. I then reminded my client that they were French Canadian, hence my suggestion to change their name to ‘Le Club’ reflecting their roots as well as what their members were already calling them. With great excitement, everyone agreed. The Chief Operating Officer leaned over to me with a smile and said, for the group to hear, ‘We flew you 4,000 miles to tell us something we should have figured out ourselves?’ I smiled back and said, ‘It’s always the simple things that people overlook.’

I have often reminded my audiences and clients, if you don’t think the little things matter, try sleeping with a mosquito. As the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of Le Club in Canada and Penfield Sport & Fitness in New York illustrate, the little things all add up.

Anyone can be great once. It takes hard work to remain great year after year, decade after decade. Great companies understand that a business is never stable, they are either rising or falling, so the greats are never complacent. They’re always striving to be better, re-inventing and re-branding themselves as they continue along the path of greatness.


Derek Barton is the President and CEO of Barton Productions, a marketing consulting company that helps its clients become more valuable and meaningful through improved branding, advertising and customer service. He has helped build several international brands, including Gold’s Gym. bartonproductions.com