Pumping Up Bodybuilding With Marketing, Transparency

If your vision of bodybuilding is Charles Atlas, Lee Haney and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron, Richard Jalichandra is here to tell you that you don't have the entire picture.

Jalichandra, a self-admitted numbers junkie, marketing maven and workout zealot, was named CEO in January for, a destination that targets weight-training enthusiasts and bodybuilding fanatics. The site, based in Boise, Idaho, launched with humble beginnings in 1999 and is now a leading global e-retailer of sports, fitness and nutritional supplements with 32 million-plus visitors and in 2015 more than $500 million in sales.

The brand is majority-owned by Liberty Interactive, which knows something about consumers, marketing and sales via ownership of QVC Group, HSN and Zulily.

Jalichandra arrived at with more than two decades of tech, sales (he has a MBA in finance) and marketing experience, including CEO positions with iSocket, MapMyFitness and Technorati.

He also came with the hands-on experience of being a "lifelong fitness fanatic who has worked out almost every day of my life since I was 17. I can tell you every workout I've done for more than 30 years."

"There are people in this category who are bodybuilders and into heavy lifting and people who see the value in working out and using fitness to maintain or improve their health," said Jalichandra. "Our audience is 32 million a month, and not all of them are hard-core bodybuilders."

According to the 2015 "International Fitness Industry Trend Report," covering fitness professionals and gym operators worldwide, two of the fastest-growing and most-adapted workout regimens are personal training and weight training, both up 10% since 2013, with both used in some form by more than 80% of people or facilities in the category.

When it comes to reaching its core audience but also speaking to a more casual demographic, Jalichandra said that social media and word-of-mouth are key drivers, but, overall, it's a "pretty comprehensive" marketing mix.

"This is a big business and we have to run it like a big business," said Jalichandra. "We use social media, word-of-mouth among people in gyms, online marketing, print, all of the off-line channels in the category. We are experimenting with some TV. We have presence at a lot of events and do a lot of event marketing. In the digital age, you want to have as much earned opportunity as you can via social and other viral techniques."

Jalichandra said the company has launched several apps over the past few months and have more in the works. "The way people are consuming digital content today, it's obvious that moving to mobile devices and a mobile format is the way to go, and we are adjusting our business accordingly."

Like other sports, but perhaps more so, bodybuilding faces constant scrutiny regarding the use of supplements, nutrients and other products that go into the bodies of participants. paid the price in 2012 when founder Ryan DeLuca (now a consultant to the company) entered a guilty plea in a federal case that alleged the company sold five products marketed as dietary supplements but which contained undeclared illegal anabolic steroids. The FDA fined DeLuca and more than $8 million. 

"The entire industry and sport, like all the others, have cleaned up over the past decade," said Jalichandra. "We have two dozen people who make sure that we are in compliance and in perfect sync with whatever the regulations require. We sell 13,000 different products. We spend a lot of time making sure that the product that goes in the store is absolutely within regulatory framework."

With the Olympics coming, a new audience will be exposed to weightlifting and the benefits of working out and staying healthy. Jalichandra said that is ready to welcome them to the fold.

"We have a lot of hard-core athletes, but at the same time we have a lot of people who want to be more fit and lead a healthy lifestyle," said Jalichandra. "We provide a lot of information, articles and interactive opportunities and we see areas to expand on that. Any time you have an audience the size of ours, if you are not encouraging networking you'd be foolish."

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