Here Comes the Bride
Profit Center: Smart strategies for attracting, training and retaining clients who seek your services to prepare for a special occasion.
Are you leveraging your personal training knowledge, developing new revenue streams within your business and distinguishing yourself from other trainers?
Consider marketing to people who need to train for a special occasion, such as a wedding, formal dance, landmark birthday, class reunion or spring break. Clients getting ready for a special occasion will be highly motivated to reach their goal, be it fitting into a wedding dress or having “ripped” abs for a trip to the beach.
Time is of the essence when training a client who has a special occasion in the near future. No standard guideline exists for the exact amount of time necessary to train a client for a special event. But considering that some clients won’t notice any physiological changes for 6 weeks, you should allot a minimum of 12 weeks’ training time to ensure that clients at least begin to notice that their clothes are fitting better.
One of the greatest special occasion motivators for a woman is her wedding. Bonne Marano—founder and creative director of Fit to Be Tied Online (fittobetiedonline.com), a Web site that features articles, training tips and tools for brides-to-be and has 5,500 paying members—realized the potential of this market. Marano, a certified personal fitness trainer (PFT) and fitness instructor, cashed in on the fact that the average amount spent on a wedding in the late 1990s was $20,000, excluding the honeymoon (according to a 1997 survey by Bride’s magazine). Even though she is a PFT herself, Marano hired a trainer almost 10 years ago to get fitter for her own wedding. “Even with my company discount, the training cost a lot of money,” the New York-based trainer says. “I wondered how many other women forget to include training in their wedding budgets.”
Marano launched her Web site three years ago as a way for women to get fitness advice at an affordable price. Access to the Web site is $14.95 per month and includes weekly e-mail support (training tips, motivational ideas and advice on everything from goal setting and boosting metabolism to solving bridesmaid dress dilemmas.); access to the community message board and article archives; and easy-to-use web tools including a calorie calculator, body mass index calculator, and target heart rate, target training zone and one-rep max calculator to help visitors determine their current fitness levels and plan their ultimate goals. Marano charges $95 per hour for personal training.
She also teaches about 10 group exercise classes a week, including one at Crunch Fitness called Bridal Survival that is targeted at enhancing the way a bride looks in her gown. Each week Marano focuses on a specific body part—the shoulders, for example, to get ready for a strapless dress.
Marano’s Web site includes statistics that show the wedding market can be a lucrative, or at least healthy, profit center. fittobetiedonline.com claims the wedding industry accounts for roughly $40 billion in total spending per year. In an October 1999 article, Modern Bride reported that prior to and following a wedding, the average bride will make more buying decisions and purchase more products and services than at any other time in her life, making her “highly receptive to marketing initiatives.” And that includes marketing messages about personal training.
William Thornton, a multiple-certified PFT, coordinates the wellness program at Indiana University (IU) and oversees the school’s personal training program. He also helps students get in shape for spring break and formal dances. Though students have less discretionary money to spend than professionals, Thornton says students’ parents are often willing to pay for their child’s training, which at IU costs $70 for three sessions, $133 for six and $156 for eight.
“For our market we advertise according to the various seasons,” Thornton says. “But it is the same message, regardless of what the client is getting ready for.” A good trainer, he believes, emphasizes to clients the value of individualized services to help motivate them to achieve specific health and fitness goals.
Thornton adds that helping clients map out specific needs is essential. He does this by assisting them in setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) goals and identifying barriers and “enablers” to better ensure success. This process allows the trainer to determine if a client’s goals are realistic, says Thornton, who advocates setting both short- and long-term goals.
Thornton’s typical client is a 150-pound male who wants to add muscle tone for a spring break trip to South Florida. Supposing that the client has a VO2max of 48 milliliters per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min) and wants to lose 5 pounds (to get “lean”), Thornton will suggest a cardiovascular program of 5 days per week for 30 minutes a session at an intensity of 70 percent. At this rate the client would lose the 5 pounds in 10 weeks.
“Working with a client like this allows the trainer to manipulate variables such as intensity and frequency,” Thornton says. Normally he puts his spring break clients on a program that combines caloric restriction with increasing physical activity. “I want all my clients, especially those with a limited time to train and a very concrete goal, to have a nutritional analysis done that includes body fat percentage.”
Delaware-based trainer Joe Stankowski, an IDEA Advanced PFT, is the official trainer of Miss Delaware USA and Miss Delaware Teen USA. Within 2 weeks of each of the competitions, Stankowski introduces himself to the winners and starts preparing them for the national pageants. Because of the hectic timetables the contestants have to follow during their reigns, including parades, public appearances and school, scheduling sessions is a little more difficult than with a “regular” client.
“I rely more on phone, fax and e-mail to support my pageant [clients] when preparing them for their competitions,” says Stankowski, who aims for a 12- to 16-week training program before the Miss USA nationals are held in late February or early March.
Like all fitness programs, the contestants’ programs begin with an assessment and the question, “What is most appropriate for the client’s goals?”
Nutrition seems to be a gray area in the pageant industry, says Stankowski, who adds, “Staying well within my professional scope, I educate my clients on the value of a calorie, and whenever there are special concerns, I refer the contestant to the appropriate professional.”
Stankowski networks with photographers and clothing outfitters to help him find other clients who are training for an occasion or who are very conscious of body image.
You might think that Stankowski would emphasize training the “mirror” muscles to help his clients prepare for pageants; however he says he focuses more on movements than individual muscles. “The judges won’t measure body composition,” he says. “They don’t care about the reps or weight the contestants can lunge, curl or press.” What matters most is how well a contestant presents the entire package on stage, he says.
The contestants Stankowski trains typically enjoy activities outside the realm of pageant training. Therefore he incorporates movements that carry over into their other interests. “I try to include both isolated and integrated movements during most workouts,” he says. He will also adjust other variables in the exercise program, such as single- to multiplane movements, stable to unstable surfaces, and tempo.
Because the world of pageants is so subjective, Stankowski says the most important thing for the trainer to develop and refine in the contestant is personal confidence. “The winner isn’t always the one with the whitest teeth, the best tan or the most defined abs,” he points out.
Wendy Von Der Linn, an IDEA Advanced PFT based in Connecticut, gives her bridal clients a gift certificate for a complimentary posthoneymoon session. “That always brings them right back,” she says. One client, the mother of a bride-to-be, received personal training sessions for a 50th birthday gift (see “Motivation, Emotions and Sales” on page 18). She trained with Von Der Linn before the wedding and for a short time after the big day. Von Der Linn set the mother free shortly thereafter, since she had reached her goals—being confident enough to enter a gym on her own and knowing what to do once inside.
Thornton tells his clients at Indiana University not to focus on one event (with the exception of a sporting event). “When potential clients inform you that they want to get in shape for a special event, that typically denotes that they will stop once the event passes,” he says. “What I try to do is use the event or reason as an “in” to starting a lifelong program one step at a time. I [help clients] set realistic goals and feel great about small improvements, which makes them feel good.”
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Wendy Von Der Linn, an IDEA Advanced Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) based in Connecticut, once worked with a bride-to-be and the bride-to-be’s mother, who was to turn 50 years old around the same time as the wedding.
“The bride started training with me 8 months before her wedding,” Von Der Linn recalls. “She was already in the routine of exercising and wanted to define areas of her body—specifically her arms, back and legs—for her honeymoon on the beach.”
On the other hand the bride’s mother never had worked out prior to training with Von Der Linn, a PFT for nearly 15 years. “It was a huge milestone for her to be healthy for her daughter’s wedding, but she had never been to a gym and was very intimidated to even enter.” The bride’s mother and father came in and watched various trainers work with clients to determine who the mother would like to work with. “I was her 50th birthday gift,” Von Der Linn says.
When working with anyone involved in planning a wedding, Von Der Linn advises, you need to remember that it’s a big day for them.” Be prepared for some emotional baggage. “Brides can be very emotional,” she cautions. “They are trying to make many decisions. It can be an exciting yet really hectic time.”
Von Der Linn has actually turned away some brides-to-be. “Sometimes people want to look great for a big event but put it off until the last few weeks,” she says. “I don’t think it’s healthy to work someone into exhaustion so they can fit into a size 2 by next month.”
Listen to clients’ goals carefully before agreeing to train them before a wedding or any other special event. Set realistic goals based on healthy weight loss and muscle definition that is achievable in the time available. Von Der Linn also stresses the need to start the training program as soon as possible. Try to fit clients into your schedule within two days of your first consultation, she suggests, even if you are booked solid.
Also have your clients sign a cancellation policy when they begin training, notifying them that they will be charged for sessions unless they give at least 24 hours’ notice of cancellation. Bonne Marano of fittobetiedonline.com recommends having the bride (or groom) commit to at least 20 sessions, twice per week. “It’s not about the money. It’s about keeping the client on track,” she says.
Should the trainer try to get the potential special occasion client to emotionally confess all her desires? “I try the softer side of a sales pitch,” Von Der Linn shares. “I ask questions and listen. These are the cues that will get the client to sign up right away.” For example someone who will be attending a 20-year high-school reunion in 6 months will want to start a program sooner rather than later.
Von Der Linn provides the clients with some basics, such as the wisdom of losing 2 to 3 pounds a week as a healthy plan of action. “If I know how much weight a client wants to lose and I know the date of the event, it makes it black and white for the prospective client,” she says. “Showing them that 2 pounds over 10 weeks equals 20 pounds is more effective than a hard sales pitch.”
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