Michael A. Cecchi is a small business owner in a finicky market. He must constantly adjust to the economy, local competition and—like the rest of Aquidneck Island—the ebb and flow of seasonal residents.
So when the Groupon craze caught his eye, he and General Manager Anne Marie Antolino saw it as another way to reach people where they live these days—the Internet.
"With nearly 40 responses, it certainly exceeded our expectation," Cecchi said on Thursday, just a few hours after the first Groupon "featured deal" for Bridge to Fitness had closed.
Bridge to Fitness isn't the first Middletown business to take advantage of the Groupon craze. Innerlight Yoga partnered with the company in January, and plenty of other Aquidneck Island businesses have as well. The company has been expanding across the world since it launched in November 2008 and, according to its website, has sold about 32 million Groupons to date. Here in Rhode Island, the coupon company sends about two new deals to Providence-area e-mail subscribers each morning.
At 6 a.m. on Wednesday, March 2, the Bridge to Fitness Groupon launched its ticking clock window offering a 30-day membership for $30, a 57 percent discount. By 9:06 a.m. enough people had signed up and the website declared the "deal is on," which meant that whoever bought the deal by the end of the day would be able to redeem their Groupon coupon.
By 11:59 p.m., 38 deals were sold and Bridge to Fitness had, according to the deal terms, 38 brand new members who already had paid for or had been gifted a one-month membership.
"The caveat to our deal was that these had to be first-time members," Cecchi said. "Honestly, we don't make any money off the actual Groupon deal itself, in terms of when you look at the man hours and staff we need to accommodate those extra people. But if we can convert those to memberships, it's worth it.”
The management at Bridge to Fitness had to do very little work to sign up those 38 new members in such a short window of time. Cecchi said Groupon "runs a very tight ship" and everything went smoothly with Bridge to Fitness just having to fill out some basic information and Groupon taking care of the rest. The hardest part was waiting, as it took about one to two weeks to go through the Groupon process before their ad was posted, given the number of other businesses looking to post their own daily deal, Cecchi and Antolino said.
Cecchi has worked hard to keep Bridge to Fitness at the forefront of local marketing, using social networking sites and creating a partnership that now encompasses 45 other local businesses that cross-promote each other.
"We're probably one of the more active health clubs when it comes to social networking," Cecchi said.
"We're just trying to stay ahead of the curve with all of these new things," Antolino added. "People tend to get their information in new ways now."
With its location not far from the summer rental homes and the beaches, Bridge to Fitness tends to draw a lot of seasonal members on monthly or summer membership packages. But with at least four other membership gyms and fitness centers in Middletown, landing those year-round memberships tends to be more competitive, Cecchi and Antolino explained.
That's where the Groupon deal helps the most, Cecchi said.
"The timing of this had to be right," he sid. "This is before the summer season and these are local people who are saying they're ready. They wouldn't spend $30 on it if they weren't ready to work out or weren’t already looking to join a health club and those are exactly the people you always want to reach. It’ll be exciting to see how this all turns out."
What's the latest featured deal on Groupon? A half-price registration for the Cox Sports Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K races in April.