How to Leverage Past Successes: Guest

Starting a new business is daunting, even in an industry in which you’ve previously thrived. The trick is how you leverage your past successes and disappointments to work to your advantage. As the former CEO of Bally Total Fitness, the nation’s largest health club company, I spent over a decade driving growth and profitability. I left believing I could better drive industry change through a smaller, nimbler company. Here's how.

Leveraging market knowledge to create more innovation than bigger companies

The fitness business is rife with gimmicks and trends, some of which can be profitable, but most of which lack real innovation. The key to making a successful business is creating a unique product that addresses a specific market need. For example, there are only four major pieces of cardio equipment -- the treadmill, elliptical, bike and stepper -- the most recent of them was introduced more than 20 years ago. It's cliché, but to be successful, think outside the box on how to address a critical need and you will find true innovation.

Find your inspiration

I had my epiphany while running on the beach of Lake Michigan. Using that inspiration, I developed a low-impact but challenging workout that simulates the benefits of exercising on the beach. Draw from your inspiration and experiences. It might surprise you and turn out to be a profitable business opportunity.

Leverage past experience and relationships

Through an industry connection I met Steve Lenz, former head of engineering at Life Fitness. Together, we built a Sproing prototype out of wood, camping mattresses and lawnmower tires. We used our relationships to ask senior industry executives to give us valuable feedback. Tapping into industry veterans’ expertise can help refine an idea, provide perspective on how to make something good, great and do it before making an expensive mistake.

Listen to your target audience

We used our customer knowledge to design a machine that challenged what is currently in-market. We understood building a machine with two impact-absorbing cushioned surfaces and elastic resistance-training harness would accommodate athletes, average exercisers, rehab patients and seniors alike. We conducted focus groups and enlisted surveys to hear from customers: Techniques usually reserved for bigger companies, but invaluable as tools to understanding customers. By doing this, we beat buyers to the punch by anticipating their every concern.

Give the people what they want

Most importantly, through our time at Bally and Life Fitness, we are in tune with what consumers need and desire: a low-impact workout that provides real results. By leveraging consumer and industry insight and tapping into past experience, entrepreneurs can create a successful, innovative business. By continually listening to our audience, we are bringing the most innovative, customer-oriented, effective pieces of fitness equipment ever made to the market.

Paul Toback previously served as chairman, president and CEO of Bally Total Fitness Corporation, which, at the time, was the largest, publicly traded health club company in the world. Toback's diverse background also includes experience in local and federal government. He served as the executive assistant to President Clinton's first chief of staff and assisted in operations and strategic planning at the White House.

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