Timeframe: 1999 to present
Budget: None (online promotion from
When is an e-commerce site not an e-
In the case of Bodybuilding.com, the answer is simple: When it becomes a loyal community fueled by word-of-mouth PR and enthusiastic audience input. "We look at everything we do from the customer's point of view," explains Ryan DeLuca, CEO. "Many businesses say this, but we live it."
Founded in 1999, Bodybuilding.com is a family-run operation based in Boise, ID. It has no shortage of competition from major fitness product retailers with mega e-commerce operations. But whereas other e-commerce sites feature products in their spotlight, Bodybuilding.com takes a very different approach by splitting its site in half. One half will not come as an e-commerce surprise: A cyberstore consisting of more than 5,000 products.
But the other half is very uncommon: A "supersite" with over 17,000 pages of information and original photography that has been created almost entirely by the Bodybuilding.com audience. And it all began with the muscular equivalent of the "American Idol"-style talent competition.
For the past six years, Bodybuilding.com invited its audience to vie for the honor of Bodybuilder of the Week. Iron pumping readers who think they are in line to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger send in their photographs for consideration. If chosen, they are profiled in a weekly article that is permanently archived online.
There are currently three different categories for this competition:
- Amateur Bodybuilder of the Week
- Teen Bodybuilder of the Week
- Fitness Competitor of the Week (which is for women who prefer the lean yet athletic look - female bodybuilders who opt for the muscular bulk compete in the Amateur competition)
"From a PR standpoint: Wow, how great is it that each week we add three more Bodybuilding.com evangelists to the world?" asks DeLuca. "They tell everybody for years to check their profile out on our site, and these are the type of 'sneezers' that people listen to in the gym."
DeLuca and his staff have no shortage of gym rats to consider. "We get about 100 to 200 entries per month," he adds. "We have enough winners already picked to last for the next year! It's a good problem to have. We can be very selective now. This is the reason we are adding more categories soon like 'Over 40' and 'Military'."
No Pain, Big Gain
The ROI on this PR endeavor is the ultimate easy lift. To date, DeLuca opted solely for on-site promotions, and occasionally his staff will meet aspiring bodybuilders at fitness expos and invite them to submit their photos for consideration.
Within competitive bodybuilding, winning the Bodybuilder of the Week honors has proven to be a PR stepping stone for unknown athletes trying to gain attention. Champion competitors, including:
are among the well-known bodybuilding stars first seen in this competition (all have since gone on to tournament victories, fitness modeling gigs, and endorsement contracts).
Typical of the aspiring bodybuilding stars-of-tomorrow who come to Bodybuilding.com is Mike Way, a 16-year-old from Waterbury, CT, who scored his first major exposure as Teen Bodybuilder of the Week last fall.
"I started lifting two years back," says Way. "I heard about the Teen Bodybuilder of the Week contest through a friend. I looked on the site and saw the article with all of the kids there, and I thought this was my chance. I won the contest and it inspired me to get a trainer and work as hard as I could to get a perfect physique. Now I'm on a quest to become one of the best teen bodybuilders out there, and I plan on going into my first contest in November. I am glad that I found this site."
The success of the Bodybuilder of the Week competition encouraged DeLuca to go further than most (if any) e-commerce sites would do - by allowing the readers to build the original content.
"We know that our customers run our site, and that is what the next generation of the Web is all about," says DeLuca. "In fact, we are working on implementing a plan that is focused on giving even more control to the customers. Let them have it all. They know better than we do what is best for them."
And there is no shortage of information for DeLuca's customers to behold. Bodybuilding. com is stocked with health, fitness, nutrition and training articles that run the gamut from fighting obesity to getting the most out of a workout to knowing how to strut and flex on the bodybuilding competition stage.
Interviews with professional bodybuilding stars are also included, along with features relating to subgenre activities such as powerlifting. All of the authors voluntarily contribute, and the range of writers includes personal trainers, medical professionals, and even a few unexpected contributors including an officer in the U.S. Marines and a Pennsylvania cop.
The PR windfall has been substantial. The mainstream media (which often ignores bodybuilding as a sport) has paid attention, with generous coverage in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Inc. Magazine. Even better: DeLuca has beefed up his bottom line.
"We get over 200,000 unique visitors per day, according to ClickTracks, our web analytics package and confirmed with other packages like Urchin," says DeLuca. "Last year we did $47 million in sales and we are already on track to beat that by a good amount in 2006. Our goal is $65 million. Our growth has been very exciting.
Starting in 1999, we've experienced $5 million in sales by 2001, $10 million in sales in 2002, $17 million in sales in 2003, $32 million in sales in 2004, and $47 million in sales in 2005. We have moved warehouses so many times (starting in my garage to two 30,000-plus square foot warehouses - one in Idaho and one in Florida), that people say we should start our own moving company! In fact, we are just in the beginning stages of planning our next move for 2007.
Quick Tips For Building E-Commerce Power
PR professionals involved in coordinating e-commerce site content can consider a few "gym tips" from the successful Bodybuilding.com example:
Make Sure All Copy Is Accurate & User-Friendly
Ryan DeLuca, the CEO at Bodybuilding.com, reports: "We do our best to pick the writers that know what they are talking about and are respected in the online community. And one great thing about the number of dedicated visitors and members we have is that they tell us quickly if they notice mistakes or problems with the content. They help us a lot to make it better for everybody."
Keep It Family-Friendly
One key concern in having readers contribute copy or photographs to a Web site is the frequent lapse in taste. Pre-screening submitted material before posting it online should be a must. DeLuca's response to inappropriate contributions: "The delete button," he says, with a laugh.
Keep It Fresh
Nothing drives off customers faster than a stagnant website. Updates should be frequent to ensure repeat traffic. "We have over 300 articles in our backlog right now," he says.
"We are also working on adding new features to the site. We are also going to be working closer with bodybuilding show promoters to get content from them about their shows and from the competitors to get them to become loyal site visitors/customers, since they are the opinion leaders in their gyms."
Related External Media Links:
- Bodybuilding.com to Get Personal After Beefy 2005 Sales
- 3 Idaho Businesses Make Inc. List
- Bodybuilding.com's Inc. 500 Profile (#230 in 2005)
- For Some, There Is Such a Thing as Too Thin
- Your Month to Diet Makes Self-Help Firms Hungry
- Surf's Up On Web Shopping
- Waterbury Teen Sculpts New Life and a Body Marvelous with Muscle