By Evan Carmichael on May 1st, 2012
I love entrepreneurs and I also love the Toronto Blue Jays. I thought I’d combine these two passions by profiling a local Toronto entrepreneur at the Jays game. Up today is Michael Bedard from Forever Active.
When I first met you, you were a successful business coach who helped entrepreneurs. What made you want to switch gears and start Forever Active?
I worked for Action International, now called Action Coaching, an international coaching firm that specialized in helping small to medium sized business ($0 to $20 million in sales revenue) increase profitability. It was interesting work but was not a real passion of mine. I always encouraged my clients, and my children, Scott and Kelly, to work hard and follow their dream, to do something that they felt passionate about. After completing my MBA in 2008 I decided I needed a new goal, to run a marathon. I had always been physically active and my undergraduate degree was from the University of Waterloo in Kinesiology, so I knew a lot about exercise physiology. As I ran and trained more and more I realized that this is what I really enjoy. I felt strong and fit and enjoyed talking about exercise and nutrition with anyone who would listen so I decided to follow my own advice and transform my passion into a business.
What is Forever Active and who do you serve?
Forever Active is a boutique fitness facility that focuses on the personal fitness and wellness of men 50+. I have targeted men 50+ because that is a demographic that has been over looked in the fitness and health care field for too long. Except for Cialis® and Viagra® men over 50 don’t get much attention. You don’t see a lot of men 50+ in the gym or out on the street getting regular exercise. Men 50+ need some special attention too, if for no other reason than to enhance their quality of life as they get older.
There is no stronger “pill” than physical activity and it has a whole lot less side effects than medications. Physical activity is addictive because of the way it makes you feel. I have created “Forever Active” to spread that message to a very specific niche market, men over 50
How have you gone about getting your first clients?
I was starting my business from scratch. I had not worked in a big fitness facility as a personal trainer so I had no clientele that I could bring with me or a captive audience to spread the word to about my new venture. I felt I needed an online presence to help give my business a professional look and credibility in a very competitive field. So the first thing I did was develop www.forever-active.com . I use this web site as an educational platform. Most of the content is focused on the older adult but is very applicable for everyone. The content not only deals with topics related to fitness such as cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, agility, balance and coordination training but also nutrition and wellness which includes information on meditation, yoga, Pilates and mindfulness. The site is very holistic because I truly believe that good health incorporates taking care of your mind, body and soul.
After the development of the web site my focus turned to marketing of my services. It is well known in the fitness industry that your clients will not travel more than 12 to 15 minutes to work out on a consistent basis. The service that I am offering is one-on-one personal fitness training to men 50+ so my target market is not only very specific but made narrower by the fact that my clients must be able to afford the cost of a personal trainer. I had identified an underserviced niche market but I had to develop a uniqueness to differentiate myself from more established facilities. I therefore decided to focus my marketing to a specific, affluent Toronto neighbourhood that was in close proximity to my facility and advertised as “their” fitness facility. I was known in the area, many people knew I was an experienced marathoner and had seen me training and I felt that it would be appealing to them to offer this unique opportunity to get fit in an intimate personalized setting so close to their home. I have reached out to my target market through fliers and a monthly newsletter. I have also offered my services as a bidding prize in a silent auction at their neighbourhood fundraising fair. I have also advertised the start up of a run/walk club that will meet twice a week at my facility and target a road race at the Toronto Zoo in September.
Other marketing strategies I have employed are making presentations at the three local Running Rooms in the area of my facility as well as tweeting on health and fitness daily and I have a facebook page for Forever Active. Both the twitter and the facebook page are linked to my web site so whenever I post new content it automatically is announced to my followers on twitter and friends on facebook.
Presently, I am in the process of developing some strong strategic alliances with medical doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, naturopaths, travel agents, financial planners and other professionals that would have constant interaction with my target market.
What are your growth plans for the years ahead? What does business success look like to you?
From a personal training perspective, I don’t want more than 20 hours a week and that may be too much. Working with clients one-on-one is fun and very rewarding however, from a financial perspective, I look at it as free cash flow that will allow me to invest into other areas of my business. My bigger goal is develop my knowledge base and understanding of fitness and health as it applies to the aging population and specifically men over 50. Personally, I want to become known as a leading authority in this niche area of health and fitness and I want Forever Active to become the go to site for information and resources in this area. When I develop that reputation within the industry and awareness with the public then many different business opportunities will present themselves, or become obvious to me, rather than having to go out into the market place and search for opportunities. When you venture out into new territories and opportunities, but are starting from a platform of strength, the risk involved is greatly reduced and that is a good thing.
What advice would you give to my readers who are thinking about transitioning into a new business idea?
From a personal perspective, and I think this is the most important perspective, you must understand why you are considering this new business venture. Is it about money or is it about passion. If you are passionate about it, the money or other rewards will follow. It is very difficult to become successful at something that you are not passionate about. You just cannot make the sacrifices that are necessary to be successful unless you enjoy and are passionate about what you are doing. It is the enjoyment and passion that you have about what you are doing that will get you through the rough times as you start out and believe me there will be the rough spots that you will need to persevere through for your vision to become a reality.
From a business strategic perspective it is important to do a S.W.O.T. analysis. This involves identifying what your business idea’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are. It is important to identify your target market as specifically as possible. Is it accessible, large enough, and affluent enough to afford your service or product? It is important to remember you have no business if you have no customers. You must know how you are going to market and sell to your customers. What is your point of differentiation from your competition? Why will a potential customer buy your product or service rather than your competitors? It is also important to know and understand your competition. How will they react to your presence in the market place? Will you be too small for them to care or will they react aggressively to try to eliminate you before you take too much of their market share? The better you know the purchasing habits of your target market and who you are competing against the less risk is involved.
It is also important to have a very good understanding of your capital costs. How much money is it going to cost you to get started and acquire that first customer and enough customers to breakeven? Do you have the resources to finance your idea or will you need addition sources of capital? Where will you get this funding; family, friends, the bank or angle investors? How much is it going to cost you to acquire this additional money? What will be the terms? How much control over your new business are you willing to give up to get the capital necessary? It is important to work out a worst case scenario spread sheet. If your sales do not go as planned how long can you maintain operations before you will be forced to shut down? Do you have alternative strategies in place if such a scenario occurs? It is important when you are starting a new venture to be optimistic but it is equally important to be realistic and plan pessimistically.
Risk, risk, risk: do everything you can think of to minimize the risk involved in your new venture. Talk to people already in the business. Do they feel there are growth opportunities? Talk to suppliers, what opportunities do they see for your ideas? Talk to consumers. What do they want that they are not already getting? Would they be willing to change who they buy the product or service from? Try to find a mentor who has experience in the area that you are thinking of going into. Most successful business people are happy to share their knowledge and experience with someone they recognize as being sincere in their efforts to succeed.
Finally, just talk to people about your new venture idea. Share your ideas with anyone that will listen. Get as much feedback as possible. Knowledge is a very powerful thing and the more you know about why you want to start a new venture, who your target market is, who and how competition will react to your presence and the capital requirements needed to start operations and withstand a worst case scenario, the less risk is involved and the greater the chance that you will be successful.
Where can my readers learn more about you and your business?
Tags: boutique fitness, business coach, exercise physiology, fitness and health, fitness and wellness, fitness facility, health care field, jays game, kinesiology, medium sized business, michael bedard, passions, personal fitness, physical activity, successful business, toronto blue jays, undergraduate degree, university of waterloo