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Eat Brownies, Lose Weight

June 30, 2014

Chocolate BrowniesThe word marketing took on such a complex and overwhelming mystique the concept alone sends personal trainers plummeting into a land of confusion where they waste money, time, and worry trying to figure out how to make the web responsible for dropping clients from heaven.  I know a thing or two about this.  First and foremost, I know the web had nothing to do with helping me build my business, and while today it can certainly serve as a vehicle, marketing comes down to reaching other humans.  None of them will drop from heaven to become your clients.

Thankfully, when I started out with a cloudy vision and a lofty dream, I quickly understood there were three things I had to do after becoming credentialed as a personal fitness trainer, three things that would allow me to turn my passion into a career.

  1. Get people’s attention
  2. Compel them
  3. Convince them that I was their best option and a worthwhile investment

Of course there were more obligations and responsibilities that followed, but without the first three, let’s be honest.  There’s no business.

Most of my early promotions involved one-on-one, face-to-face meetings, but with time, I developed a confidence and huger driving me to find small or large audiences, to compel many at the same time.  I’ve run promotions that were so off-the –wall you’ll laugh your sides off if I share the details, but rarely did I invest any more than $100 in any given promotion, and most were cost-free.  There was the VIP picture promotion that turned a wine and cheese party into a twenty thousand dollar evening, the “pre-movie announcement” that turned a parking lot into a personal training studio, the “trainers carry groceries to your car” day at the supermarket, and the spinning at the gas station “may we give you a dollar to take a survey” event.  Those were all fun, all outrageous, and all hugely profitable.  There were some stinkers as well, but I always enjoy the creative magic that turns ideas into action and action into outcomes.

The one promotion I ran that was perhaps the most controversial, albeit profitable, was “Eat Brownies Lose Weight.”  Yes, you read that correctly.  “Eat Brownies, Lose Weight.”

At the time I had a two-year lease on a retail store in Miami Lakes.  From the outside, Phil Kaplan’s Fitness Headquarters appeared to be a supplement store, but my staff was made up of personal trainers who spent weeks on the receiving end of intensive training.  Repeatedly they heard me drone on about our true purpose, “helping people find fitness solutions.”

“Listen gang, people come in because they think they know what they want, but once they’re in, it’s up to you to set them straight.  They don’t want a fat-burner, they want to burn fat,”

As customers poured in to buy bottles of capsules, powders, and liquids, we empowered them, educated them, and sold them programs and personal training.  Did we sell bottles of capsules, powders, and liquids?  Sure, but we only sold products that were efficacious.  Our window display didn’t match our inventory.  We had all the best-sellers in the window to draw people in, and in they came.  Regular customers walked out with quality meal replacements, protein powders, anti-oxidants, and EFA formulas with a thorough understanding of the product value and use.

At the time my best seller was my EAT formula, a meal replacement I had developed, manufactured, and sold, and thankfully, the first purchase was usually a container, the second a case.  Our customers were happy, and they’d come back, and in that lies a huge key to success.

One day I was invited on to a South Florida talk show to sit on a panel discussing diets.  I met Dr. Siegel, the founder of the cookie diet, and while I liked him very much, I was appalled by the idea of eating cookies to lose weight.  Dr. Siegel was a long-time doctor, at that time near 80 years old, and he believed in what he was selling, but the idea of filling your gut with fiber and decreasing appetite to cut back and reduce calories was, in my mind, another trendy ineffective metabolism-slowing “diet.”  We had a frank debate on the show and it left me thinking.

If a personal trainer holds a sign that says “sweat, eat right, and find discipline” and beside him is a doctor with a sign saying “eat cookies, lose weight,” the cookie promise gets the longer line.  In fact, the personal trainer might starve waiting for a single expression of interest.  Human nature and misinformation would drive everyone to the cookies.

After the show I walked into my house upset by the cookie thing and ironically Amy, my -then-wife, was making brownies.  The following day we were going to visit my grandmother who absolutely loved Amy’s baking.

As I watched Amy pour batter into a pan, my chocolate EAT! formula sat on the counter and I had a brainstorm.  “Aim, can you put EAT! in the brownies?”

She did, and they were great!  Was there fat in there?  Sure. She used butter.  Was there sugar?  Of course.  They’re brownies!  I couldn’t call them “healthy,” but I certainly could make a case for them being “better” than regular brownies, if nothing else, because of the added protein.  It started as a bit of a “joke,” selling high protein brownies, but . . . the promotional part of me started getting excited.  There was an opportunity here.

Over the next few weeks, we, Amy and I, refined the brownies.  (“we” really means “she.”  I was just the taster.)  Amy figured out how to reduce the fat and sugar and by increasing the eggs whites and the EAT! protein, she created brownies with 10 grams of protein apiece.

That led to the promotion.  Amy wrote out the recipe and I turned it into a 10-page booklet.  It shared an exercise routine, explained the rules of “Synergy” (The Right Nutrition, Moderate Aerobic Exercise, and a Concern for Muscle) and at the end explained that “If you eat supportively most of the time and work to speed metabolism, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods, and . . . if you learn to prepare your favorite foods so they’re a little ”better,” you can enjoy a weekly cheat day without the guilt.”  The example that followed was, of course, “Better Batter Brownies.”

I had a live radio show every Saturday morning with a well established audience and I knew that the show would be a strong vehicle to launch a promotion that would either blow things out of the water or embarrass me for quite some time.  To up the odds of success, I sent 2500 postcards out to registered listeners of my show saying “Tune in May 25 at 9 AM to hear Phil reveal his new program, “Eat Brownies Lose Weight.”

That morning, on the show, I told people about the brownie recipe and how it evolved, but more importantly, I said there were going to be free brownies at my store, while they lasted, from 10:30 until whenever, and everyone who came to try them received the free booklet, “Eat Brownies, Lose Weight.”

When I got to the store I was blown away.  You would have thought we had the last diamonds on earth if you saw the line outside.  The visitors wolfed down the brownies.  With chocolate crumbs on their lips, they spoke with my trainers, they bought my programs, they purchased containers and cases of EAT! and they signed up for personal training and when the day was over, we had $12,000 over our usual Saturday intake in the drawer with over $40,000 in personal training business promised in the months ahead.

The promotion was huge.  In fact, the management company of the retail development sent “security” to tell us we had to clear the street.  We were blocking traffic, there were no more available parking spots, and we didn’t have a license to hold what they called a street festival.  I had a few friends and employees streamline the crowd and the “overcrowded” moments were testimony to the power of a strong promotion.

The only one who might have been super stressed that day was my poor wife who had to keep baking brownies. She had three of her friends working with her running them from our home in Plantation to the store in Miami Lakes as they came out of the oven.  Amy and I are no longer married (no, not because of the brownies), but we had a very good run and we remain co-parents and eternally connected.  She still loves to cook, teaches my daughter to bake, but I’m sure she’d curl up in the fetal position if anyone ever again said, “hey, why don’t you make some brownies and we’ll give them away in the store.”

When I say this was controversial, I took a great deal of heat.  Following the record sales day, I received letters from unhappy listeners and fitness professionals telling me I “sold out.”

“We always trusted you, and then you come out with a Brownie Weight Loss Program?!!?!?!”

The reality is, it wasn’t a Brownie Weight Loss program.  It was a creative marketing strategy.  Ethical?  I believe so.  We handled it with the utmost integrity.  Nobody was ever told the brownies were a key to weight loss.  The brownies were simply the hook and the magnet that allowed us to hold dialogues with people who were ready to fall for something.

We didn’t let anyone fall.

We fed them, gave them a brownie recipe and taught them about Synergy. To me, that’s a win-win.  It was my way of battling the “too good to be true” messaging that drives people to waste money and energy on flawed programs and guaranteed failure.

If you’re reading this and ready to condemn me, ready to dismiss 30 years of ethical business because you think I might have crossed a line, I stand by my convictions.  Marketing requires creativity and some edginess.  It’s how you conduct yourself and how you treat people that determines whether your moral compass is pointing in the right direction.

My message in sharing this isn’t “sell brownies,” but rather “Be Creative.”

In fact, I think it appropriate to conclude the way I began.  To find growth as a personal trainer, respect the important of marketing, and use your innate creativity and courage to take some chances.  It all boils down to:

  1. Get people’s attention
  2. Compel them
  3. Convince them that you are their best option and a worthwhile investment

It only grows from there!

One Comment leave one →
  1. movewellfit permalink
    July 1, 2014 10:01 am

    Thank you!

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