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Launching Iron Tribe Fitness from a garage gym hobby to one of the fastest-growing fitness franchises in America


Forrest Walden, CEO

Iron Tribe Fitness Franchise Corp


How to Enter a Saturated Market and Turn a Garage Gym Hobby Into a Major Fitness Brand

If you like underdog stories, you're going to love this. Iron Tribe Fitness is a brick and mortar fitness franchise that started in Homewood, Alabama –– as a garage gym hobby.

It all began when founder and owner Forrest Walden invited a group of friends over to workout in his backyard garage. 

In only a few short months, this small band of brothers started getting better results than anything they had ever done before. It was clear to Forrest his hobby had real business potential. 

That’s when Forrest recruited me from Agora financial (where I was working as a financial copywriter) in sunny Delray Beach, Florida, to come back to Birmingham, Alabama, to become his marketing director to launch Iron Tribe Fitness. 

The challenge was this: How can we enter a saturated market, in one of the most competitive industries in the world, charge more than double what others are charging, create a mass movement, and turn it all into a major fitness brand? 

Forrest and I have a couple of advantages working for us. First and foremost is his leadership skills and visionary spirit.

The second is we've partnered together in another fitness business prior to Iron Tribe's launch, and have worked together for 20 years.

The third advantage is we both understand the power of marketing, copywriting and branding.


We started with the mindset that we are marketers first, who offer training services.

The initial result of a single email campaign: $89,108 

146 redeemed the offer

50 have already signed

$89,108 in contracts

96 are still pending

"Aaron, this is incredible work my friend! You absolutely crushed this project. This single email campaign brought in a quick $89,108, with upside potential in the multiple hundreds of thousands! I'm really excited to deliver this to my franchisees. I sincerely thank you and I know it’ll pay immediate dividends. I’m obviously thrilled!"

Forrest Walden, CEO,
Iron Tribe Fitness

We knew if we were going to be successful, we'd have to be disruptive. My strategy was to begin with a well thought out, intentionally conspiratorial, 20-page free report. We knew it would have to be radically (and graphically) different from anything the market had seen before. Once it was written, we took out display ads in community newspapers and invited people to go online and download it.

When a leading oncologist walks into your gym, reaches into his pocket and hands you one of the ads you’ve placed in a local paper, you think it’s working. But when he downloads the 'graphically ugly' report, sends it to multiple physician friends across the country, signs his wife and kids as members, and then recruits six other families to join, you know it’s working.

I created a 'graphically ugly' special report with a ripped paper effect as a pattern interrupt, and stacked several emotion rules (key behavioral biases) on top of another to increase persuasion as much as possible. Here's the cover and why it tapped into the market so well:

Stacking Emotion Rules Increases Persuasion

Every time we placed a new ad for this special report, we got an average of five new members. Each member was worth $3,000 per year, and the Average Lifetime Value exceeded $6000. This launch promotion did so well because we stacked as many Emotion Rules as possible on top of each other.

Tapping into the reader’s perceptual and epistemic curiosity and then stacking the bandwagon effect, in-group bias, social proof, and the fear of missing out — all in the headline section — made for a powerful disrupter in the industry. 

From there, we enticed the reader with a paper clip picture that tapped into the aesthetic-usability effect and the physical attractiveness principle. Moving into the body copy, we made the reading fun by incorporating the metaphor effect in conjunction with the cocktail party effect. 

Finally, we left the reader hanging with an unfinished sentence, thereby taking advantage of the cliffhanger principle. This, in turn, naturally leveraged the Zeigarnik Effect.

One year after launching Iron Tribe, I wrote a second free report to generate leads for the second location. It worked so well the second location grew faster than the first. Here's the cover and the psychology as to why it tapped into the market so well:

We called this report "Transformations" because in the original, we didn't have any before and after testimonials.

This special report was 24 pages long, and we continued to tell the story of how Iron Tribe Fitness started as a garage gym hobby and was becoming a thriving fitness community.

It was filled with before and after pictures and testimonials that was absent in the original report.

As you can see on the front cover, we packed in as many Emotion Rules (psychological triggers) as we could manage. This report was incredibly well received.

In preperation of Iron Tribe Fitness launching its Franchise offering, we opened our third location. As a marketing and support piece, I wrote this special report for newly launched franchises. It contains some of the best client stories in the system. You can also see the evloution of the brand in terms of design, layout, and visual appeal. Here's the cover and the psychology used:

Evolving design, same direct response style copy.

As Iron Tribe Fitness grew from a single location to a multi-unit franchise, the brand naturally took on a more corporate look and feel. 

Up to this point in ITF's evolution, we continued using dynamic direct response copy. 

As you are about to see, however, we began testing more subtle messaging to see how the audience receives it.

As of this year, 2021 –– a full decade after ITF's initial launch –– ITF is undergoing yet another evolution. With a move away from large-group training to more intimate 4-on-1 training, we've begun experimenting with more subtle creative, while still ascribing to Emotion Rules. Direct response is still at the core of the message, too, but it is drastically dialed back. In the image below, you'll see four different display ads we are testing in hyperlocal, community-specific newspapers. It's coupled with a digital marketing component using banner ads, Geo-Fencing, and Addressable (household) Geo-Fencing technology that's location-based mobile advertising powered by latitude and longitude data:

The Iron Tribe Fitness Franchise Brochure.

Iron Tribe Fitness is a leader in the fitness franchise industry having made Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies. What makes ITF unique in this respect is we built Iron Tribe from a garage gym hobby to one of the fastest growing companies by using direct response marketing throughout its 11-year history. 

The Iron Tribe Fitness Franchise brochure is a 36-page document sent to interested investors looking to enter the fitness market. Below is the cover and a few double-page spreads:

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