Knowing Your Members’ Minds. Part 1

You know about your members’ bodies, but what about their minds? It may not surprise you that understanding what your members are thinking is just as important as understanding their bodies.Some say understanding who your customers are and what they want is the most important task in business.“Market research is critical,” says Tracey Ross-Shannon, director of strategic planning for Wellbridge inNewton, Mass.,which manages fitness facilities around the country. “I think the most important thing marketing professionals have to know is who their customer is. Everything is based on that.”

Dr. Bruce Hutton, a marketing professor at the Daniels College
of Business at the University of Denver, agrees with Ross-Shannon.”The No. 1 issue for businesses is to understand how well they’re connected to their customers,” hesays. “Everything in marketing starts with customers and filling their needs and wants.”

Gathering information

Large companies (IBM, Coke,Microsoft, etc.)understand the importance of market research. They regularly dole out millions of dollarsfor it. But what’s a small company to do? Are there good ways for small businesses like fitness centers to find out what their customers want without spending big money? In a word, yes.

Some research on the health-conscious is already published. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) in Boston, Mass., keeps regular tabs on the fitness industry. But Ross-Shannon warns thatfacility managers should use care when looking at the IHRSA research. “It’s fairly broad, and it may not apply specifically to your own situation,” she explains. “But it’s definitely worth looking at. There’s some good information there.” (For an overview of the IHRSA research, see the2002 Fitness Management Products & Services Directory.)

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