By Barry Janoff
March 21, 2016: BodyBuilding.com, which launched in 1999, knows how to pump it up when it comes to reaching a core audience, attracting newcomers and forming a network among consumers and participants.
The site has some 32 million visitors, carries more than 13,500 health and fitness supplements and accessories and has customers in more than 155 countries. It provides more than 35,000 pages of free information, including more than 25,000 articles and 10,000 videos, expert-designed online training programs and new content added daily.
In addition to its plethora of material and traffic on-site, BodyBuilding.com has more than 2.9 million likes on Facebook, nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter and its own YouTube channel. Last week, it unveiled its latest commercial, "Remember Why You Started." Leading weight trainer Ashley Horner (pictured above) is among the company's spokespersons, targeting women with her fitness regimens and advice.
The company, based in a 100,000 sq. ft. building in Boise, Idaho, where many of its 800 employees work (and which includes its own weight and exercise room and an outdoor basketball court), said it passed $500 million in sales in 2015 and, since opening its e-commerce doors, "has shipped over 25 million orders in its history," according to Richard Jalichandra, who was named CEO in January.
Bodybuilding.com, which since 2008 has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corp. — making it a sibling to QVC Group, HSN and Zulily — has had its share of crisis.
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. In 2012, founder Ryan DeLuca (now a consultant to the company) entered a guilty plea for misdemeanor charges in a federal case that alleged the company sold five misbranded products marketed as dietary supplements but which contained undeclared illegal anabolic steroids. The FDA fined DeLuca, his brother Jeremy (the then president of the company) and BodyBuilding.com more than $8 million.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Jalichandra, who came to BodyBuilding.com 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, about the growth of the category, the upcoming Olympics and the challenges of marketing to both core and casual participants.
NYSportsJournalism.com: What are your key challenges just a few months into your job at BodyBuilding.com?
Richard Jalichandra: The first thing I believe is the classic cliche: Don't screw anything up. The most important aspects to following that are watching, learning and listening a lot. And then turning that observation into analysis. And then start to press buttons and turn knobs. I see a number of tremendous opportunities both in what we are doing today and in some slight variations. Our founder had a fantastic vision of building this entire category out. So now I come in with a fresh point of view and new energy to add to that vision.
NYSJ: Is there a challenge in speaking with people and marketers who are not fully aware of the category to break the stereotype of bodybuilders and those who do heavy lifting?
RJ: 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. There are pre-conceived perceptions, but there are people who understand what the overall category entails. If you go to any enthusiast site, there are hard-core users and casual users. Our audience is 32 million a month, and not all of them are hard-core bodybuilders.
In the week after I was brought in, there were more than 1,000 in my business circle who told me, via social media, in person, that they had been on the site. Looking for diet and weight-loss tips, exercise regimens, app workouts, nutrient plans. And a fair number said they had bought products from the site. So we definitely speak to that spectrum of visitors and consumers. 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.
NYSJ: What is the main marketing strategy?
RJ: We have a pretty comprehensive marketing mix. 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. This is a big business and we have to run it like a big business. A decent percent of our overall revenue is generated by marketing. In the digital age, you want to have as much earned opportunities as you can via social and other viral techniques.
NYSJ: Considering the fact that bodybuilding is a hands-on category, how important is it for your site to interact with visitors and give them the opportunity to have hands-on experiences?
RJ: That's important. There is an important viral element. We provide a lot of 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.
NYSJ: Do you find yourself having to defend bodybuilding, either by association due to the PED situations in MLB, NFL and other sports or because of the stereotypical image the public tends to have of bodybuilders?
RJ: The entire industry and sport, like all the others, has cleaned up over the past decade. We have really fine-tuned our focus. That is an area where we are doing everything to run as clean a business as possible. We have two dozen people who are making sure that we are in compliance and in perfect sync with whatever the regulations require. We sell 13,000 different products. So we spend a lot of time making sure that the product that goes in the store is absolutely within regulatory framework.
NYSJ: Bodybuilding.com is the focus, but how did you get here as CEO?
RJ: I am a lifelong fitness fanatic and have worked out almost every day of my life. And I track it like crazy. I can tell you every workout I've done since I was 17, so that's more than 30 years ago. At this point in my career, there are only a handful of things that I am interested in working on in health and wellness. So I've combined everything from my career in technology with my personal interest. Those opportunities are rare. And it's ever rarer to be able to work on something the scale and size of BodyBuilding.com. When I got the call to see if I was interested in becoming CEO, I immediately jumped on.
NYSJ: What do you feel were your strengths in your previous positions and how are you using them with BobyBuilding.com?
RJ: (Laughs.) I am a classic generalist. I'm not great at any one particular thing, but I'm really good at five or six things. I have an MBA in finance, but I've spent most of my career in marketing. I'm very good with numbers, but my natural tendency is growing companies through smart strategies and good marketing. I've also spent a fair amount of time in sales and revenue generation. So I have the ability to work with numbers and generate revenue.
NYSJ: Do people generally tend to take your advice?
RJ: (Laughs.) All you can do is offer your point of view. If people buy into it, they'll run with it. And sometimes they won't. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.
NYSJ: How aware were you of BodyBuilding.com before you joined them?
RJ: I was totally aware of the company but I wasn't fully aware of how big they were.
"We have two dozen people who are making sure that we are in compliance and in perfect sync with whatever the regulations require."
NYSJ: When you watch athletes from various sports, and not just those associated with bodybuilding or heavy weightlifting, do you see advantages for them to come to your site and use your content?
RJ: Some of those athletes are already at our site. I would think that most elite athletes would have weight training and nutrition as part of their normal program. We provide both, and more. Certainly if you go through our content you'll find that there are workouts that are specifically designed to support different sports and nutrition to support different sports, not just heavy weightlifting.
NYSJ: Do you see with the Olympics coming up, where weight lifting has long been a medal competition, or when major bodybuilding events happen, more traffic to your site and more product purchases?
RJ: We are not seeing anything now from the Olympics, but (moving forward) that might drive interest and awareness from which we would benefit. There are events that drive traffic and create some spikes. But we are relatively steady. We do see that January and February are very busy because that's when people are conscious about weight loss after the holidays or come into the new year wanting to start a health regimen.
NYSJ: It is still early in your tenure, but what are you looking at now and moving forward as goals?
RJ: What we are working on now is our various mobile products. We have launched a bunch of new apps over the past few months and will be launching more. 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.
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