Although the wellness and fitness industry is booming, and there seems to be no end in sight for the consumer's insatiable appetite for a healthy lifestyle, it is imperative for the wellness center owner to intelligently capitalize on this "hungry" market. To do so, it is essential to ground all pre-planning in business reality. According to the US Small Business Administration, estimates for businesses with employees indicate that there were 671,800 new firms and 544,800 closures (both about 10% of the total) in 2005. Therefore, in light of intense competition as well as the intimidating statistic of failure, it is critical to have a comprehensive marketing plan in order to capture the volume of consumers that it will take to beat the first-year hump. This plan should incorporate your marketing research, strategy and in-depth target marketing. After your foundational planning is complete, your layout is finalized and equipment is installed, you can now begin to embark on the strategy phase for your grand opening. In the one to two months prior to your opening, you will be focused on providing an energetic and professional feel to your center as well as hiring and training appropriate staff. While you might not be thinking of recruiting customers just yet, now is, in fact, the time to begin planning your grand opening. Without a well-constructed plan to attract your clients, anxiety will begin to win out as the opening day approaches.


Three Months to Grand Opening (GO)

            To hit the ground running, maximize exposure for the wellness center by creating a buzz about one month prior to the first day of business. The actual grand opening celebration should take place one to two months following the time you plan to open the doors, which allows for all the kinks to be worked out and allocates enough time for the inevitable contractor delays. This gap of time between the actual opening of the wellness center and the grand opening celebration also allows the chance to invite existing clients or patients who can be utilized as testimonials of your service.

            All the initial marketing of the center should drive potential customers to the grand opening. This marketing strategy can begin within your immediate sphere of influence. Start by notifying family, friends, associates, professional organizations and businesses you frequent. In addition, any past or present clients and patients should be on the list of invitees. Sending a letter out to your professional network and inviting them to the celebration of the wellness center can be a great beginning base to work from. However, it is also essential to branch out beyond your present circle of contacts. This is a good time to begin joining local groups such as the chamber of commerce, newcomers and other professional networking groups. By the time the grand opening celebration has arrived, these contacts can provide exposure for the wellness center through their newsletters and monthly meetings as well as the ability to network with their members. Business owners make excellent prospects for wellness services, and it is essential to quickly become the expert in the marketplace for your fellow business community. A carefully constructed press release to the local business journal will also go a long way in promoting the event and targeting a potentially "rich" audience.


Two Months to GO

            The best way to ensure as many high-quality prospects as possible for the center is to network with other local complementary businesses in the neighborhood, such as

massage therapists, chiropractors, spas, physical therapists, tanning salons and fitness gyms and clubs. Let each potential joint-venture partner know that the wellness center is a complementary business to theirs, and you want to set up a win-win relationship, starting with the grand opening. The time frame of two months gives ample time to develop such relationships with joint-venture partners as well as the opportunity to outline the true win-win benefits of being involved with the grand opening. Focus on building a gradual professional affiliation with these business owners, and try to avoid accomplishing all your goals the first time that you meet. Of course, it is important to be courteous of their time, but be persistent in letting these business owners know who you are and how you can help each other grow your businesses. Start by offering discounts ' to the business owners and their key employees, and then, work towards the ultimate goal of accessing these clients independently via their databases. Don't expect to receive this list; however, other opportunities, such as promoting your offer in their newsletters or other cross-promotional ideas, can be equally beneficial.   

            In this type of marketing strategy, you will incur any cost for the mailing of such material, but your business partners should be willing to endorse and encourage their client list to show up at the grand opening to schedule their free sessions. Then, explain that a representative from each business will need to be present at the grand opening, therefore, creating an atmosphere of an integrated business community, which will, as an end result, lead to complete networking. This is the ultimate way to leverage a list of like-minded businesses and introduce the wellness center to prime prospects. This strategy can lead to quickly developing your own house list of the joint-venture partners' best customers. With this list, you can now market to additional prospects until they make a buying decision on your service.


30 Days to GO

            By now, the doors are open. The key to a successful grand opening is to get as many qualified prospects through the door as possible, and these will need to be added to your present database. To ensure a large pool of potential customers, send an invitation to all your existing members and circle of influence along with two guest passes for each to bring friends.


One Week to GO

            Know the goal of the grand opening day. You only want to gather prospects' contact information so that you can contact them at a later date. Don't make the mistake of trying to sign people up that day because there won't be enough time for this, and people will be uncomfortable with such an approach. 

            Create some mystery and fun surrounding the party. Think about having a theme, local celebrities, local politicians and available child care if your center is family-friendly. Knowing the children are safe and entertained will put parents at ease to relax and focus on your center's offerings. Finally, meet with your staff and inform them of the importance of mingling with guests and gathering information on event day. 


Grand Opening Day

            Greet all guests personally as they arrive and register them for the party. To add to the fun, raffle off a few items or have clients bid on a comprehensive session.  Raffling an attractive grand prize and then giving every participant a smaller item is a great way to encourage providing valuable personal information. Include your joint-venture partners in this raffle by asking for donations as an added value for signing up. Have other joint partners available with information, demonstrations and giveaways to enhance the potential members' experiences.

            As guests leave the party, hand them a flyer with a promotional offer such as a discount off the next seminar or a special rate on their first visit. To create a sense of urgency, specify a purchase deadline of one week from the date of the party. Follow up with all the guests within a few days while your hospitality and enthusiasm are still fresh in their minds.


One Week after GO

            Begin to continually market to those viable prospects who showed interest in the wellness center at the grand opening. Add these prospects to your monthly newsletter, where you can provide your customers with a timely message about their wellness needs. Also, personally call each one of these prospects whether they won the raffle or not and reiterate that the free session is valid and schedule a consultation.


Look for the seventh installment of our 9-part Wellness Center Development series in the September issue, covering the day-to-day operations.


            Forrest Walden is the Area Director for Fitness Together in Alabama, Florida and North Carolina and oversees 50 studios in his territory. For more information, email him at


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