From kickboxing to Pilates to aerobics, fitness experts have made millions developing new exercise programs--and with the right program, you could start the next hot fitness craze. "It has to be creative, cutting-edge and put together in a systematic way," says Tom Perkins, chief fitness business coach at consulting firm Fitness Business Resources LLC.
Creating a solid fitness regimen that you believe in is your first step. Danny and Katherine Dreyer started ChiLiving LLC to pair the principles of tai chi with walking and running. Danny, a marathon runner, created the program to reduce injuries and knee pain from running. The pair instruct people to relax their limbs and joints, engage their core muscles and focus on good posture and breathing, says Katherine, 47. After starting a ChiRunning class in 1999, they focused on boosting their PR efforts, appearing on CNN and in The Washington Post. In 2004, they started an instructor certification program that's taught in major cities around the world, and they have since launched books, CDs and DVDs.
A national PR push is important for creating widespread exposure, says Perkins. He recommends starting locally and then expanding out, developing informational products like books or DVDs to supplement your efforts. National exposure worked well for Asheville, North Carolina-based ChiLiving, pushing 2007 sales to about $1 million and the number of U.S. ChiLiving instructors to 100. Exercise programs can't be gimmicky, says Katherine. "You have to experience real [change] in your body and know it works."
Distinguish yourself with a catchy name and logo, and promote your company with items like T-shirts and water bottles, says Perkins. Seek mentors and bigwigs within the industry for testimonials. "That will help a lot, especially in licensing," says Perkins. Test your program extensively and vet your exercises with qualified trainers and experts to ensure safety. "Make sure that in a studio or gym, you have fitness professionals working with [clients]," says Jesse Cannone, founder of ProfitMax Marketing, a fitness business consultancy. "And make sure the person in a DVD is an expert."
Fitness and dance expert Carrie S. Rezabek, 33, knew her Pure Barre program was effective and safe. The Encinitas, California, entrepreneur started teaching the program, which combines dance and Pilates concepts with a ballet barre, in her studio in 2000. When word-of-mouth got people clamoring for it in other areas, she began licensing in 2005. With six-figure sales, Rezabek says one of the most rewarding aspects of her business is "to see people feel better about their bodies and better about themselves."
For more on starting a fitness business, see "Perfect Fit" in this month's issue.