How to Succeed at the Business of Boot Camp

What you need to know to design a winning business model for your new outdoor workout program.

Boot camps have never been a hotter commodity in the fitness industry than right now. As the concept has grown in popularity, so has the need to come up with a viable business model to ensure that the quality of boot camp programming remains high. To stay competitive, you need to focus on delivering participants the results they want; generating referral business; maximizing your return on investment from an equipment cost standpoint; and ensuring that the program is properly scheduled and marketed.

This article will look at what you need to consider when starting your own boot camp program. It will also provide a business template you can refer to time after time when designing your boot camp exercises. Finally, you will learn firsthand how to market and appeal to different demographics in your community who will benefit from your new or improved boot camp workouts.

Booting Up

So, what exactly is a “boot camp?” Generally, the term boot camp is used to describe an outdoor fitness program that consists of body weight–based exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and calisthenics, combined with agility/obstacle-course work and running. Done in a group or team setting, boot camps often incorporate elements of cooperation and competition, wherein participants need to work individually or in teams to achieve the tasks. Derived from military training, boot camps are typically more intense and focused than other types of workouts and are usually extremely demanding for even the fittest clients.

As a fitness professional, you are probably most skilled at designing exercise programs and motivating people to start moving. While these are important skills, they are not necessarily the tools you need to build a successful business model for a new fitness program. All too often, fitness pros make the costly mistake of designing a new exercise program before ever considering vital business elements, such as site and equipment costs and marketing efforts. And that is why so many new workouts fail to entice participants and do not succeed from a financial standpoint.

Location Costs & Considerations

One of the most attractive elements of boot camp programs is that in warmer climates or seasons, you may be able to run the business without incurring additional costs for the facility. This eliminates what is normally the greatest cost in any personal training business, the expense of the actual site. It should be noted that some cities and towns are now charging fitness professionals a fee to rent outdoor space. However, this remains the exception to the rule in most parts of the country and in Canada.

Even if your local municipality does charge a fee for an outdoor space or if your studio needs to rent indoor space during inclement months, the boot camp business model is effective—in much the same way as the yoga or Pilates studio model is successful. In fact, a boot camp program can be a stand-alone business or an excellent and profitable supplement to your existing yoga or Pilates program.

When choosing a location for your boot camp, you need to consider a number of factors:

Locale. Is it convenient, easy to find and in an area with an appropriate population density and demographic?

Functionality. Does the location provide a strong functional space to support the activities and exercises that will form the basis of the program?

Existing Facilities. How much money will you need to spend on physical improvements for changing rooms, flooring, etc.?

Neighbors. Are the businesses around you likely to support your program? (If you set up shop above a sedative dentistry clinic and you plan to pound heavy balls off the floor throughout the business day, you may encounter some resistance!)

Cost. Are the costs of the additional space and/or location improvements too high to justify the program’s expected return on investment?

Equipment Costs & Considerations

The next step in the process is to consider equipment costs. Here you must make wise decisions, ensuring that any equipment you invest in offers maximum utility.

Boot camps are portable in nature, and the equipment you choose needs to reflect this. Simple, lightweight and versatile should be the key considerations when you are purchasing equipment. While it may be possible to cart weights outdoors when a program is small, this practice should be a temporary measure; as your program grows, the process of setting up and tearing down equipment will likely become time-consuming and costly.

Fear not: The key to adding resistance to exercises in an outdoor environment is standing right in front of you in the form of your participants and their own (sometimes considerable) body weight. But you do need to know how to maximize that body weight as an exercise modality and how to move beyond the limitations of traditional body weight training. The TRX-Pro Suspension Trainer is a new piece of equipment that lets you use body weight to perform literally hundreds of exercise progressions for every body part and plane of motion. Tubing bands and jump ropes are also great equipment options that are lightweight, versatile and portable. Other choices include yoga mats, heavy balls, agility ladders and low athletic hurdles or cones.

After you have identified your equipment needs, you must evaluate each purchase in terms of cost per participant. Although you will need enough of some items, such as bands, for all participants, other equipment—like balls and ladders—can be shared to cut costs (see below). For instance, if you were going to start a boot camp program with an initial target of 10 participants, here is the maximum you would require:

10 TRX-Pro Suspension Trainers $150 each

10 tubing bands $10 each

10 jump ropes $15 each

10 yoga mats $30 each

5 heavy balls $30 each

2 agility ladders $75 each

12 athletic low hurdles $150

Total: $265 per participant

There are different ways to recoup these equipment costs. You can depreciate the costs over the course of the year and work them into your program fees. This ensures that you recover your capital expenses, but it also increases the upfront cost of the program for participants.

Another effective way to structure your boot camp program for maximum revenue generation is to offer a rental service that provides participants the necessary items for a small fee. This method enables you to generate rental revenue for conveniently supplying the gear and may increase the life of the equipment you provide. (In addition to creating a significant profit center, it provides an incentive for participants to buy their own equipment, as that will reduce their cost and enable them to continue their training outside of the program.)

This rental model is being widely and successfully used for numerous yoga programs, many of which charge a fee for mats, towels and water purchases. Here’s a look at how you might structure pricing for equipment rentals in your boot camp program:

class cost $15 each

TRX rental $8 each

jump rope rental $2 each

tubing rental $1 each

yoga mat rental $1 each

Total: $27 per participant

Using these estimates, it is easy to assess how much revenue can be generated at various participant volumes. For a quick revenue breakdown for several scenarios, see “Boot Camp Revenue Model” on page 40.

Targeting Your Audience

In the past, fitness professionals have often designed programs first and promoted the new offerings later as a means to increase attendance levels. Although this “program-first, market-later” method can work, I have found that purposeful promotion is more productive. In other words, identify your target market first and then tailor the fitness program based on viable demographic data. Decide which group(s) you will pursue, and develop your program and marketing scheme around them.

When determining the target audience for your new outdoor workout, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is likely to enjoy the program?
  • What demographic characteristics do they share?
  • How many people like this live or work in my geographical area?
  • What kind of programming schedule will best accommodate this group?
  • Who can afford the program?

Populations to Consider

Here is a look at some populations who are likely to be attracted to an outdoor workout program, along with tips on how to market and schedule your program to appeal to these people.

Business Professionals

This population has huge potential for boot camp designers, and the good news is that there are many ways to reach them. Marketing to human resource departments at local companies can be a very efficient way to reach a large number of your targeted demographic and may pull in the added benefit of a company endorsement. To appeal to corporations, frame the boot camp as a tool that employers can use to increase employee productivity, boost morale, relieve stress and reduce absenteeism and health insurance costs. Ask company insiders to circulate information about your boot camp via the company’s intranet services. Putting fliers on the windshields of cars in parking lots and hanging posters in key locations in your downtown hub are other less targeted ways to increase traffic in the early stages of a new program.

Typically, the professional demographic can be divided into three types of crowds: the early-morning crowd, the lunch-hour crowd and the after-work crowd. Each has its own needs in terms of marketing approach, programming hours and required services.

Early-Morning Crowd. This group prefers a class that starts at 6:00–6:30 am and lasts 60–90 minutes. The greatest hurdle for this group is getting to work on time. One way to address this in your marketing is to stress the convenience of your outdoor location if it is close to the downtown core. Additional services you can offer to increase revenue and help attract this group are a shuttle service to work, dry-cleaning options and pleasant changing/shower facilities.

Lunch-Hour Crowd. This demographic is usually the most pressed for time; participants have to drive to your facility, exercise and get back to the office, usually in the space of 60 minutes. The workout itself should be fast-paced and abbreviated in a 30- to 40-minute time frame; most of this crowd need the workout to start on time a few minutes after noon. Your boot camp location has to be within a 5- to 10-minute walk or drive of the workplace or the logistics will simply not be practical for most lunch-hour types. An additional concern for this group is how to get cleaned up and presentable for their afternoon back at the office. Like the morning group, this crowd will appreciate it if you provide a nearby location where they can shower and change.

After-Work Crowd. The best time for this group to meet is generally 5:30–6:00 pm, depending on how close your location is to the downtown area. When scheduling your program, remember to allow for the normal commute time and take into account the afternoon traffic. You don’t want participants to be stressed out because the class starts too early or to feel inconvenienced because it starts too late. These people want to unwind after a long day, get their training in and get home so that they can eat and enjoy the rest of their evening.

Stay-at-Home Parents

With this group, you have to allow sufficient time for parents to drop their kids off at school and still get to your location in time for the workout. Class location should be easily accessible from suburban areas. This group prefers a 60- to 90-minute class that is over by 11:00 am. Childcare is always a primary concern for parents, so focus on how to provide this much-desired service for your participants. This demographic also tends to be very social, so facilitating after-program activities—for example, by promoting discounts at a local coffee shop—will help boost retention rates.

Youth and Teams

The afternoon offers an excellent opportunity to develop programs that target young people and sports teams. The ideal time slot for this group is 3:00–5:00 pm. Program length should be no longer than 1 hour, and the class should be fast-paced and fun. The location should be at or very near a local school. You may want to form a strategic partnership with the school or consider using the school itself as your primary target in your marketing material.

Creating a Marketing Campaign

Now that you have determined your target audience, you need a way to attract them to your new program. Not surprisingly, website support is a crucial piece of today’s marketing plans. Potential clients will use the Internet to learn more about your program, and your online presence will become a primary way to attract potential markets. It will also serve as a device for communicating scheduling changes and other information. Think of your website as a retention tool, an information booth, a place to post testimonials and even a means by which participants can sign up and pay for boot camp online. That’s why it is worth spending the time, energy and resources to make your website as effective as possible.

Another great way to attract participants is to work with members of your local media. Send a succinct but well-worded press release to writers and editors of local newspapers, magazines and television/radio stations. The more times your program is mentioned in the media, the more it will create a “buzz” for your boot camp.

Developing an active referral network is also a key component of any effective marketing plan. The first people to target are the participants themselves, as they can generate interest among family, friends and colleagues. As an incentive, give participants complimentary one-time class coupons or hold a contest at the end of each session to see who has the “most referrals.” Enlist the aid of people in your own personal network, along with other allied healthcare providers, to increase the number of referrals.

You can also find ways to capitalize on walk-by traffic when marketing your boot camp. Chances are, passersby will notice your outdoor class and be curious as to what you are doing. At the very least, you should bring program fliers and brochures to your outdoor location so you have something to supply to those interested. You may even want to bring along an employee whose sole job it is to answer questions, provide information, sign up participants or give out free-trial cards.

Designing the Ultimate Outdoor Workout

Up to now, our focus has been on developing a comprehensive business model that will maximize participant growth and provide a return on your investment. Now it’s time to design the most effective boot camp exercises for your participants.

When determining your specific exercise design, keep in mind these initial considerations:

  • Make sure the program meets the needs of your target demographic.
  • Carefully consider your exercise selection, set length and rest periods.
  • Plan ahead, allowing exercise progression over the course of the program.
  • Understand transitions between exercises, and choose combinations that flow easily from one to the next.
  • Know, and then accentuate, what differentiates your program from the competition.
  • Purposefully build competitive and cooperative interaction into the workout.
  • Establish best-practice standards that guide the leadership of your program.
  • Ensure that the program feels exclusive and special to the participants.
  • Introduce new and progressive exercises or different exercise combinations on different days of the schedule; this will create variety and keep members coming back for more.

For a look at how to structure your outdoor program, see “Sample Boot Camp Program Design” on pages 41–43.

Camping Out

While new to the industry, the boot camp style of programming is here to stay. That’s why fitness professionals who develop a sound business and marketing plan and carefully design an outdoor workout program that is well-suited to their target audience will no doubt enjoy great success and satisfaction far into the future.

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Fraser Quelch

IDEA Author/Presenter
Fraser Quelch is the director of training and development for Fitness Anywhere® and the creator of ... more less
April 2007

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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