I cannot say for sure, because I don’t have any studies or stats to show you, but I would bet the number one strategy that fails most start-up businesses is “build it, and they will come”. That’s an inspiring theme for a movie but an unstable foundation for a business plan. Nonetheless, many businesses are conceived from a passionate entrepreneur’s expectation that others in their community will be just as passionate. It may be a great starting point, but not enough to stand on.
I’m speaking from experience with the first gym I opened. I enjoyed coaching and just wanted a place of my own to teach boxing. The downfall was that I didn’t have much time or interest in hustling to get people through the doors. The few members I had appreciated it, but it just wasn’t enough to keep the business open. That was nearly two decades ago and I’ve learned a lot about branding since then. Branding is a word that some people throw around like a magical wand that gets people interested in their product, service, or business. The truth is, there’s no magic potion, just a smart plan and good old fashioned, hard-working hustle.
Definition of Branding: The practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.
Here are the three phases of branding that I keep in mind:
Example: Every week John finds a flyer on his door for the local ABC Boxing Gym. He sees it, reads it and is aware that ABC Boxing exists.
Example: Eventually when John sees the flyer he may not have to read it because he recognizes the logo and name and immediately knows the ABC gym does boxing.
Example: John is out with his friend Jane. She tells him that she’s looking for a good workout and has read fabulous reviews about boxing workouts. She asks if he knows anywhere in the area, and John recalls, “I’ve read good things about ABC Boxing”.
This isn’t as much of a 3-step process for you as much as 3 phases for your consumer. Keep in mind that every consumer will have a unique experience. Some will call after the first introduction, others will procrastinate and contact you after they see your materials a bunch of times. Still others will never be interested, but may suggest it to others.
Nowadays, there are many options to make yourself known. Use any medium you can to get your name out there. Shock and awe your community with your business name, logo and services. Be clear and let everyone know what you do and how to contact you.
Rural Kentucky was the last place I opened a gym. The city had a population of 65,000, and the next closest gym was more than 60 minutes away. Being the only boxing gym in the area, I decided to keep it simple and named the gym after the city (Bowling Green KY Boxing). I wanted to have a unique and flashy name, but there was no reason to separate myself from others (because there were no others), and a unique name may have been unclear and confusing. The most important thing was to keep everything simple and easy, to make people aware and get them in the building. The big sign on the front only said BOXING. When people drove by, and only had one second to register what they had witnessed, I wanted to make it easy for them to remember what we do and where we were. I contacted every news source, from TV to print, and reached out to every non-profit I could think of (non-profits like Big Brothers Big Sisters, and organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, and YMCA are great to partner with). Facebook was widely used in this community, so I would post pictures and videos of members in action about 3 times a week, and “friend” everyone in the community I met. Plus, I paid a dollar a day for social media sponsored ads. When I had at least one new $10 drop in that week, I could justify it.
Those were just a few of the items I had in my plan that worked to brand my gym. I suggest you look at your community and come up with a strategy specific for your area (the local Small Business Development Center can probably assist you with this), and then commit to hustle and create your business brand.
Lastly, stay tenacious and don’t get discouraged. Stay focused on the hits and keep track of what’s working for you. If you hang 100 flyers and ten people walk through the door, you can estimate that 200 flyers might get 20 people. The same goes for social media. Keep a log of how much you spend, how many “likes”, how many online inquiries, how many in-person inquires, and how many sign-ups. Members won’t just appear. You’ll need to lead them to you.
If you have any suggestions of what has worked for you to brand your business, please send them to me. We might be able to share them with membership in the future.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of USA Boxing.