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January, 2024

Fernwood Fitness hires out-of-category marketer to take up national marketing leadership reins

Switching from branded pharmacies to the Fernwood women’s fitness brand doesn’t look like a natural progression at first glance. But for Kathleen Looney, Fernwood’s new national marketing manager, it’s the kind of background she believes can help her drive growth as Fernwood’s new national marketing manager. 

Looney officially started at Fernwood Fitness in January, reporting to the group’s general manager. She directly replaces Alison Grego, who went on maternity leave in July after more than five years covering marketing at the group. 

Fernwood Fitness has been around in Australia since 1989 and maintains 71 fitness locations nationally, largely franchised, featuring wellness programs, personalised training, and various fitness and body conditioning classes. In its most recent franchisee prospectus, the group positioned itself within the broader wellness industry, which according to the Global Wellness Institute, was worth $120.8 billion in 2020. It has a membership base of over 80,000. 

Over recent years, however, and like many in the physical fitness sector, the group has had to battle tougher conditions off the back of pandemic lockdowns. Fernwood Fitness remains under the leadership of founder and MD, Diana Williams.

“What attracted me most to this role is its expansive scope and the potential to make a lasting impact on the brand,” Looney told Mi3 Australia. “The current phase of the business is particularly exciting, marked by a strong foundation, ambitious growth vision and a passionate team. This presents numerous opportunities for innovation and growth. Personally, my alignment with health and wellness adds a meaningful connection, making this both personally and professionally fulfilling.” 

At first look, it seems a big category switch for the marketer. Looney has spent the last seven-and-a-half years with Sigma Healthcare, an ASX-listed wholesale and distribution business in the community and hospital pharmacy space. She first joined as brand and retail communications manager, before moving up to senior brand manager for Amcal and Guardian marketing teams, then group manager of marketing in October 2019. 

“Fernwood Fitness, akin to Sigma Healthcare’s branded pharmacies, operates under a franchised model where I possess valuable insights and understanding of the intricacies in both B2B and B2C realms,” Looney commented. “With a proven track record in leading multi-brand portfolios and sizable marketing teams, I am uniquely equipped for success at Fernwood. 

“Drawing from a solid retail background, I bring a deep understanding of consumer behaviour, brand positioning, and the development of effective marketing strategies. Combining this expertise with my franchise experience positions me to identify growth drivers and capitalise on opportunities within the health and fitness category. I am well-prepared to establish a compelling brand proposition, drive growth, and lead a high-performing team for impactful business outcomes.”

In terms of what’s on the priority list, growth through new member acquisition is the dominant strategy. Looney said enhancing consumer insights into the Fernwood member base and pinpointing expansion opportunities in new segments will be key.

“With the digital experience a strategic focus, a key responsibility within the role involves consumer journey mapping and the development of marketing strategies to enhance the overall user experience, ultimately driving growth in online member joins,” she said. 

Another priority is revamping and reinforcing the brand proposition “to establish a strong market position and propel long-term market share”. 

Alongside this, Looney flagged plans to evaluate go-to-market plans and signalled her intention to review agency incumbents.