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Specialty fitness retailer sets itself apart by promoting wellness education

Leisure Fitness has found a way to successfully promote itself that has nothing to do with advertising.

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It seems like you can’t go a day without coming across a story about the “obesity epidemic.”


And, it seems a heavier America costs money — including when it comes to medical care, gas, incremental food and clothing costs, and decreased productivity. According to Forbes magazine, obesity-related medical care cost $160 billion in 2010 and indirect costs associated with obesity were $450 billion in 2011

Leisure Fitness, based in Delaware, started up a wellness program several years ago after toying with the idea of “lunch and learn” seminars at local corporations and businesses. It’s paid off, said Andy Leshik, the company’s director of sales and marketing.

Because of the problem with obesity in the United States, and the recent media blitz it’s received, more people are focused on getting healthier versus looking sexy, and more employers care about employees’ fitness so they can lower medical and insurance costs.

“People are becoming more health and fitness conscious,” Leshik said. “In some ways we’re getting less healthy, but there’s more awareness — especially among the older demographic — that they should be working out.”

Leshik said his company saw an opportunity to get its name out there in a non-sales way by conducting free “lunch and learn” seminars with corporations that neighbored its corporate headquarters in Newark, Del. The first was at Siemens Global.

Education has become an important element of Leisure Fitness’ business model, so much so that they put Dr. Paul Kennedy (photo above), author of “Be Fit, Stay Fit” and former Bally’s vice president, on the payroll to lead seminars. Plus, the company purchased an hour block on a radio station for Dr. Kennedy to disseminate his knowledge.

The seminars and radio spots have paid off, Leshik said, with many of the events (which remain free of charge to the companies) leading to contracts to outfit corporate gyms in the company offices.

“Employers are building fitness centers and providing incentives for people to be in better health,” Leshik said.

The seminars also have given a boost to the company’s retail business, as they provide publicity. When one of the hundreds of people who attend the seminars are in the market for an at-home piece of equipment, they know to go to Leisure Fitness.

Focusing on wellness is not a new concept, Leshik said, and it’s something other specialty retailers are doing (though few do so to the same extent).

Dave Sheriff, owner of HealthStyles in Colorado, said he’d like to focus more on wellness but wants to be able to give consumers proper information. HealthStyles is heavily invested in the vertical or light commercial business.

“I think we can always know more and learn more so we can help provide the customer with the right information,” Sheriff said. “The challenge is to make sure we’re saying the right things and not scaring people, but giving them good coaching.”

Leshik said his company has invested a “substantial” amount in its corporate wellness program, but declined to provide exact figures. He did say he’s seeing a much higher return on investment than he did with traditional advertising and sales strategies.

He advises other specialty fitness retailers who want to takes cues from his successes, but don’t have the resources to hire a doctor, for example. Still, it’s worth getting out in the community and be visible in a non-sales capacity. It shows consumers you’re there in a no-pressure way.