Julian Kaufman and his wife Mary Elizabeth opened Forte Fitness (originally Fitness Together) back in 2004. For the most part, the gym was back then what it remains today -- a small operation on Chattanooga's North Shore dedicated to providing one-on-one training and healthy lifestyle education. Forte Fitness offers three private suites where clients are able to work with trainers without outside distractions. This is Kaufman's 30th year as a professional in Chattanooga, having also spent 14 years in public schools as a teacher and coach, and 16 years in athletics at The Baylor School.
What is your best business habit?
Every day, for the last 20 years, I have mailed out five hand-written letters. For us, our strategy is somewhat of a non-strategy. It's the personal touch.
So much of fitness industry is about vanity and sex appeal--finding that insecurity and using it as a way to get into peoples' wallets. For me, these are lies. People are more than a clothing size. People are spiritual, emotional, intellectual. They're relational, physical. We're not about an image. We're about substance.
I think that, in the impersonal, fast-paced electronic-messaging world we live and work in, a hand-written letter catches peoples' attention. Who gets a hand-written letter? I think because it's so rare, it's something that stays with people.
How did you develop it?
When we were first starting out, I tried it all--newspapers, television, billboards, radio, mailers. I just wasn't satisfied with traditional marketing. I was trying to think of how to create a positive first impression that wasn't as costly as those methods, yet more effective.
I remember people telling me I would go out of business. But that didn't happen. I truly believe that what people really want is the truth. It's more dangerous than telling them what they want to hear. But we're still here.
How has it improved your work and/or personal life?
Letter writing has, by far, been the best return on investment we've had. I remember spending $10,000 on a billboard at one point and had a zero return. That was a complete waste. Then when you write a letter and, at the end of the quarter, find that you've made an estimated $15,000--that's a good sign you're doing something right.
Writing the letters takes 10 minutes a day, and then I make five phone calls a day. Using that basic formula, we've been through the Great Recession in 2008, been through COVID pandemic, and all the other ups and downs of life and business.
How might others apply it?
I think anybody who sells a product could benefit from taking that more personal approach. People want to do all sorts of gimmicky things on social media these days, but they don't want to have conversations with human beings, or talk about their needs, or find ways to offer education. In these crazy times, thought, I believe the personal touch is extremely important.