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Fitness Buffet opens coupon site for activity

February 20, 2012

While coupon/group discount media continue to grow, while also coming under increasing scrutiny, New Zealander Callum Laing has founded Fitness Buffet - a coupon site for fitness and sport programs, that offers discounted pricing for those wanting to try a range of activities.

Singapore-based Laing's start-up company sells sets of downloadable fitness and sport offer coupons for a one-time fee of US$99. The coupons contain over US$1,000 worth of deals for activities as diverse as yoga, kettlebells, boot-camps, nutrition classes and Australian rules football coaching along with limited term fitness club access passes.

Laing explains "everyone knows they should be doing more fitness and most people assume the answer is to head to the local gym and spend half an hour on a treadmill.

"Many people have become turned off by that experience, (so) it's no wonder they lose motivation so quickly."

Laing's creation of Fitness Buffett is based upon a belief that it is better for those wanting to be active to try a range of new activities and to introduce activity into their lives by trying products and services such as Zumba dancing, kick-boxing, dragon boat racing or touch rugby.

Laing told Reuters "on your way to the gym, you probably pass three or four places that are offering great services that you're just not aware of. Fitness-Buffet gives you an easy, low risk way to sample them."

Once purchased, coupon buyers have two months to try as many of the activities as they want, and all offers are included at no extra cost.

Launched in June 2011, with current availability in Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore and the USA's second city of Chicago, Laing reports that Fitness-Buffet's sales have been "brisk".

The business also plans to open in 25 more cities in the United States this year, as well as in cities in Asia and Europe.

One key are of the business' growth has come from companies using the product for employee wellness schemes.

Employers, under pressure to boost the overall health of their staff, can accomplish two goals at once by improving the fitness of their employees, and by so doing, stave off rising medical insurance costs.

Such programs are finally taking hold in Asia, said Joan Collar, Employee Benefits regional leader-Asia for insurance broker Marsh.

Collar explains "this trend will continue as companies recognise the value of the programs ... as a way to fight absenteeism or staff sickness rates."

With employee insurance costs one of the fastest growing expenses in many businesses, maintaining overall health has become a critical business issue, Laing believes, adding "a fundamental shift in lifestyle for hundreds of millions of employees worldwide is the only long term solution."

Laing says Fitness Buffet is learning fast from corporate clients, with HR directors demanding customised versions of the product which allows them to run weekly team-building activities.

The company will also be rolling out a marketplace offering, which will target business travellers who wish to pick and choose one-off classes in Asia and beyond.

Laing's vision began in Bangkok, where had lived for nine years while running an events company and the annual Samui International Yacht Regatta.

He saw a disconnect that he felt stiffled those with good intentions from getting into regular exercise regimes. With Fitness Buffet, he saw a chance to address this.

"I knew a few people running fitness classes, but they struggled to compete against big gyms and their marketing budgets.

"The real irony is that the smaller organisations are the most passionate and keen to deliver value, yet most consumers will just go with the schedules that run at the large gyms."

Laing began speaking to smaller outfits that specialised in niche exercise programs, such as yoga, dance classes, Muay Thai kickboxing and more, with the aim of building a package to offer buyers value. Crucially, also, Laing wanted to give the kind of diversity that is so often lacking at chain gyms.

The initial testing amongst friends and selected members of the public in Bangkok garnered plenty of interest. Laing's mind was sparked when one person asked to buy 100 sets of a package, and the possibility of offering deals in bulk for corporates thus evolved.

Thereafter, Laing's testing moved to Chicago, following which, buoyed by impressive results and Laing returned to Asia see Fitness Buffett go fully operational.

Aiming to get more people active, Laing also stresses the social benefits of fitness, concluding "if you have fun and meet people, fitness is just a bonus. Then there's really no need for motivation at all."

While coupon/group discount media have been an internet and business phenomena of recent years, Laing stresses the differences between these ventures and Fitness Buffett, pointing out that his venture "delivers one customer to lots of venues" with a greater chance of repeat custom.

He believes that sampling of services is a great marketing tool and he does credit businesses such as Groupon for helping more small business understand its potential. However, Laing argues, the real value is how businesses own each new prospect and convert them into long term, repeat spenders.

With that in mind, Fitness Buffet is aiming to provide an online portal that will help business owners with this challenge.

Laing concludeds "even if a business manager upsells a customer, the teacher or instructor may not have the tools or skills to convert them into regulars. We want to be the conduit to make that happen."

Laing believes that this relationship is a win-win, businesses can target repeat customers while consumers get good value and variety for their money.

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