Les Mills is one of the country’s most successful weightless exporters. Now it’s also a successful weight exporter, thanks to the Smartbar.
Every week five million people take Les Mills classes in more than 15,000 clubs in 80 countries. By 2020, it hopes to grow that number to over 20 million. But while Les Mills certainly has a strong consumer presence, its business is predominantly B2B. And it wanted to change that.
In the past, its new merchandising came in areas such as exercise programming for young people, or online and direct-to-consumer DVD products. But early in 2010, it set about extending its brand awareness in the club industry and adding revenue through product innovation.
Its main goal is to be a wellness provider to consumers and solutions provider to clubs. A key growth area is developing efficiencies in workouts for an increasingly time-poor population and Bodypump is one of only a few programmes that requires equipment. So, as its most successful programme, innovation in the barbell space was both a natural progression and a giant leap.
The Smartbar was the company’s first foray into a physical, branded product. And the three-year development programme required extensive user insight and testing, starting with live class observations by internal experts and market research of existing products. Les Mills worked with Better By Design, part of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, which consulted on the design process and then helped foster a partnership with Christchurch design firm 4ormfunction.
All this research resulted in a stronger marketing pitch. There was little window dressing needed because the material focused on the practical and scientific attributes (faster transitions, better physical results, increased safety and storage space savings). Design-wise, it also stood out amongst its contemporaries, appearing futuristic, modern and stylish. And this point of differentiation gave it an edge with clubs looking to own the ‘cool’ category. That look and performance came at a cost, however. It was two-and-a-half times more expensive than any other barbell product and Les Mills knew that demonstrations and experiential activity were needed to get potential customers and advocates up close and personal with it.
Once users had witnessed the advantages, it was confident it this would translate into sales. To do this, it emphasised social, online, mobile and search; engaged with its best advocates, especially the 90,000 instructors around the world; and launched the product at IHRSA 2012, a massive fitness convention in Los Angeles, on the 20th anniversary of Bodypump.
Agents received customisable materials to support their own sales and marketing efforts, as well as a programme of online activity enabling them to leverage centrally-executed campaigns.
For clubs, Smartbar was a solution for space and storage issues, for participants it increased results, and its availability to home exercisers established Les Mills’ in the international consumer market. As per usual, Les Mills had bold business objectives. And those objectives were blown out of the water. 12 months after launch, sales of close to 20,000 Smartbar sets and an additional 13,700 weights sets meant the product returned on its investment five times faster than anticipated, all without cannibalising sales of its low-end weights brand Don Oliver.
Les Mills has successfully tapped into a high-end market with the offer of a superior product (it is currently awaiting a global patent). And, as a tribute to the success of this innovation and the reputation the company has earned for developing advanced fitness equipment, the company has created an umbrella brand for future technology called Smarttech.