Total Gym's Team Concept1 Jan, 2011 By: Thomas Haire Response
Jim McFadden gives much of the credit for the fitness product’s 15 years of success to his team, outside agencies and vendors, and — of course — Chuck and Christie.
Asked what the Total Gym’s 15 years of DRTV success says about direct response as a marketing method, Jim McFadden, CEO and president of West Chester, Pa.-based Total Gym Fitness LLC/American Telecast Products (ATP), responds firmly.
“It demonstrates the true value of DR marketing. It shows the true diversity of the industry as a whole,” he contends. “It shows how the industry has changed over the years. Twenty-two years ago, you produced a show, set up the call center, bought the TV time and waited for the orders to come. Today, a campaign like Total Gym will have a plethora of different marketing channels — long-form and short-form TV, QVC, retail, social media, eBay, Amazon, pay-per-click, search engines, banner ads, affiliates, product placement and more. The list is constantly evolving, and being able to successfully maneuver through the myriad of opportunities is what is needed to be successful.”
McFadden joined American Telecast in 1989, and played a number of roles with the company and the Total Gym product before becoming CEO in 2000, taking responsibility for all of the company’s executive actions. But the history of the Total Gym — almost indisputably the most successful high-ticket product in DRTV history (the current version, Total Gym XLS, has a retail price of $1,948) — dates back to 1974, when Tom Campanaro developed the incline plane training device with partners Doug Marino, Dale McMurray and Larry Westfall.
Since joining forces in 1995, more than 4 million Total Gym products have been sold worldwide. And customer surveys show that three out of four customers still use and enjoy their Total Gym regularly.
Of course, the ubiquitous series of infomercials featuring actor Chuck Norris and model Christie Brinkley have had plenty to do with the Total Gym’s success. But McFadden is quick to point out the work that went behind those campaigns — from external agencies and vendors to long-term internal partners like Dave Scudder, vice president of media/telemarketing at ATP who has been with the company since 1994, and Joe Crowley, the company’s vice president of marketing who joined ATP in 1992.
“It is very important to keep in mind that, as a direct response program, the Total Gym has been going since 1996. If you think about those 15 years and the way the DR business has evolved, you can start to appreciate the efforts the entire ATP team and its partners have put into the program,” he says. “Without our key partners, Total Gym would not be where it is today. It is the responsibility of Joe Crowley and Dave Scudder to manage the relationships with our partner vendors.”
Expanding the Market
The idea created by Campanaro’s team behind the device was to use the individual user’s body weight as resistance as rehabilitative exercise. A simple change of position on the glide board allows users to perform any exercise and incorporate the use of multiple muscle groups together in any plane of movement — something now referred to as “functional training.”
In 1995, though, Campanaro and his Total Gym Inc. team decided that the product might have a broader reach in the home fitness market via demonstrations of its use that could only be provided by a long-form DRTV campaign. They decided to license the Total Gym Fitness brand to ATP.
“Upon entering into an agreement with Tom, we both worked to create an infomercial and market the Total Gym to the home consumer,” McFadden recalls. “Prior to this, Tom and his company had a successful business with Total Gym in the rehabilitation and hospital market. Tom had a true vision that the Total Gym would be embraced by the consumer market but previous attempts had not been successful.”
McFadden says that Campanaro and his team have played a major role throughout the 15 years of DRTV success due to their expertise on “fitness trends and leading-edge developments.” He adds, “With their help, we engineered the product to be more conducive for home use.”
It’s no surprise to hear the self-effacing McFadden credit others. “The founding partners of ATP and the staff have finely tuned their DR expertise over the years and found the ability to apply this expertise to the various DR channels available,” he says. “Added to this expertise is another vital ingredient, which has been a major part of ATP’s success: creating a strong team concept within the company, as well as outside with key strategic partners.”
Still, he’s had his hand in much of the success of ATP for the past two decades. “During my 22 years with ATP, I have been involved in many projects representing various categories. Working within the ATP team, we all wear many hats and, as such, get to be involved in all aspects of a project,” he says. “My main role is to coordinate the management team and make sure all efforts are focused on priorities. During the past five years, our primary focus has been on continuing to produce strong infomercial creative and fine-tuning our call center and Internet offers.”
15 Years, 4 Million Total Gym Users
After re-engineering the product for home use in 1995-96, the next step was producing an infomercial that would appeal to consumers.
“A long-standing key to ATP’s production success has been the utilization of celebrities within an infomercial or spot,” McFadden says. “Chuck Norris had been a Total Gym user since 1980 and quickly agreed to be part of the project. Next, the production team at ATP selected Christie Brinkley to team up with Chuck.”
As McFadden says, “The rest is history.” During the past decade-and-a-half, Norris and Brinkley have helped produce 12 Total Gym infomercials. “We are completely fortunate to be working with such professional and wonderful people as Chuck and Christie,” he contends.
The initial infomercial was produced and tested in 1996, and rolled out in January 1997. “Before the actual roll out, though, we realized the importance of retail in this project,” McFadden says. “Through a meeting with Fitness Quest, we quickly realized the value they could bring as a retail partner. We felt their knowledge of the direct response business and retail expertise would be beneficial to the program. Fitness Quest has been a valued partner, and we continue to work hand-in-hand with them to coordinate retail distribution.”
By 2000, the Total Gym was debuting its fourth successful infomercial, and by 2010, the company marked the sale of its 4 millionth Total Gym product. The current version of the product is known as the Total Gym XLS.
But McFadden says the Total Gym’s success can be tracked back to ATP’s history, including product campaigns both successful and not. He believes the learning opportunities that come from decades of DRTV expertise cannot be discounted.
“To understand much of the success of Total Gym, it is important to have some knowledge of ATP, which has been a direct response company for more than 35 years,” he contends. “During this 35-year history, ATP has marketed all types of products — from insurance to skin care to Total Gyms. In total, ATP has racked up more than $3 billion in sales through DR channels.”
He tracks this history back to DR’s “origins in mail and print,” before mentioning the evolution to TV, “and today it has moved on to the Internet.” But even through the company’s great successes, McFadden says, it’s often the losing products that teach the best lessons.
“One of our least successful marketing campaigns was for a stationary recumbent bike,” he recalls. “We failed to account for the low perceived value that consumers placed on such products. In addition, we forecasted a much broader appeal than was actually present. The product was a tremendous product from an engineering and manufacturing standpoint, but unfortunately the bike category was not widely accepted by consumers.”
What were the lessons from these miscalculations? “From this, we learned the importance of strongly considering the consumer appeal to a specific product and category, as well as the cost of goods to perceived value ratio,” McFadden says bluntly. “Patience is another thing we have learned over the years. Taking time to get true reads on some back-end metrics — returns, bad debts and continuity retention rates — is vital to the long-term success of any campaign. If you roll out a project too fast, you may get some negative surprises that have you adjusting your cost analysis and reevaluating your marketing plan.”
And the ultimate lesson, according to McFadden? “Finally, we have learned that quality is something that should never be compromised,” he says. “Ensuring that products — whether cosmetics or home gyms — are manufactured to high quality standards is an integral part of building a successful brand. A simple policy to consider is how you, as a consumer, perceive a quality product. Then, you manufacture to that quality and standard.”
Partnerships Bode Well for Future
What’s next for the Total Gym team? “We are currently in post-production on a new infomercial and a new short-form campaign,” McFadden says. “We will be rolling out both programs in 2011.”
However, with the economy still struggling to move forward, the Total Gym creative team has made some changes to how this campaign will work. “The economy has forced us to tighten our belts and be more creative in our marketing strategy” McFadden contends. “We have been trying new things to generate revenue. We have been using social media to generate revenue through Facebook, as well as numerous blog sites. We have created a Flash Sale site, to help market Total Gym accessories to our large client base.”
McFadden also says that outside vendors have played a key role. “With the help of NETexponent we have been expanding our affiliate marketing campaigns,” he says. “We have also been trying new Web initiatives to penetrate different markets. These initiatives include partnerships with different ‘deal’ sites, as well as Amazon and CSN stores. We are also preparing a radio campaign for the coming year.”
Crowley, ATP’s vice president of marketing, is responsible for driving online marketing efforts for Total Gym and also speaks highly of outside vendors. “We began working with NETexponent several years ago to help us in expanding our affiliate marketing presence,” he says. “We were so pleased with the results that we asked them to assist us with growing our paid search marketing program. The NETexponent team has proven that they can deliver measurable and profitable results.”
He also lauds Touch Commerce. “Another agency that has been a great help to us as the DR world has changed in recent years is Touch Commerce,” Crowley says. “We began working with the company in 2009 for on-site chat. The solution that they developed for us, has not only helped us to grow our Web sales, but it also has provided us with great insight from our customers about our Web site, products and offers.”
Scudder, the company’s vice president in charge of media placement and telesales, also believes the Total Gym’s success would be muted if not for a pair of agencies. “There are two agencies that we have been working with since the beginning of the Total Gym program, and both have been integral to its success,” he says. “The first is R2Cgroup, which has been helping us place media successfully for almost 15 years. They are now also helping us with our short-form creative for 2011. Evolve Teleservices also has been around since the very early days of Total Gym. The sales team there has been a tremendous asset in allowing us to adapt the Total Gym program to keep up with the changes in the marketplace. Many of the agents and management has been working on the Total Gym program for almost 15 years. In that time, they have helped us double the order conversions and increase our average sale threefold.” ■