“How was the wolf to blame, if the sheep were roaming free?” – Rachel Hartman, Tess of the Road
With some studies showing up to 59% of health club/studio members will not return to gyms post pandemic, the uphill battle they face to keep membership from dwindling and doors open may indeed feel insurmountable. Whether you are a fitness instructor, group exercise director, personal trainer, or club owner, the future of the industry certainly feels differently than it did just one year ago.
In many markets of affluence, members outfitted their homes with a gym all their own. With Peloton still filling backorders, SoulCycle bikes shipping like crazy, and strength equipment sold out for months on end, it seems like the basements and garages are the new local gym, with a membership base of ‘one’. The barrage of virtual workouts both LIVE and Video On-Demand (VoD) group workouts that are affordable and effective is astonishing. Let’s be clear, fitness instructors, trainers and clubs/studios were, in many cases, the first to pivot and bring workouts directly to home users. Shoot, maybe we did this almost too well. The attrition of members during shelter-in-place was inevitable. But what about now that, slowly but surely, restrictions are lifting and there is some capacity for in-person, on-site training?
Add to this the incredible fitness applications available at affordable pricing, and we have an industry evolving faster than most of us can keep up with. Apple Fitness + launched with huge media engagement and incredible reviews, a superb customer interface and workouts for everyBODY. SoulCycle jumped right in with their at-home bike and signature “party on a bike” workouts, partnering with all the fitness experiences that the celebrious brand, Equinox, offers. Specialty apps like Physique 57 for Barre enthusiasts, along with tried and true on-demand programming like Daily Burn, are all bringing incredible quality for a low price to consumers, no matter where they are.
So, what should you do now? Have we lost these members or clients forever as they wandered off and stumbled into varying virtual training platforms and apps? How can we appeal to them and bring them back into the fold?
There are two old adages we’re all too familiar with that are almost too easy to apply here.
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and “Keep your friends close; keep your enemies closer”
In this case, I want to steer you away from seeing an app or service as the “enemy” of a traditional health club; rather, let’s start to think of them as partners. Instead of fearing the technology stealing your business find ways to integrate it into yours. This may seem counterintuitive, but there are a myriad of ways health clubs can interface with technology and remain a pillar in the domain of “work, life, home, community”.
Back in the 90’s I owned a health club, and as yoga studios began to open up in my locale with the same prolific speed as Starbucks, I feared the adversarial effect they would have on my business. However, rather than letting fear dictate how I chose to operate, I introduced myself and struck up partnerships with these studios, dovetailing significant discounts offered to my members, and, more importantly, creating a collaborative approach within the local fitness community. They were able to grow and I was able to retain- that is how I’ve approached competition in all facets of my fitness initiatives.
Now, present day: post-pandemic and technology-overloaded. These are different times…So how can that independent and large gym alike serve their members? Good question! You are all likely overworking and overwhelmed right now just bringing business back “in person”- adhering to government regulations, dealing with customer optics as they return and just trying to retain the members you once had. Remember when we could just focus on growth? We’ll get there, but let’s first round up the home-gym, virtual-users and get them back to working out with YOU.
A few big ideas!
- Hey y’all- Group VoD at our place, not yours. Imagine four or five friends utilizing your space when the club’s group exercise (GX) room isn’t in use as a place to gather and workout together. Create a space in your facility where friends, co-workers, old group fitness participants can take a VoD workout together. What about mounting a screen with an HDMI adaptor for phones and ipad to connectivity? Right now, offering a full GX schedule may not be possible (from a capacity and cost of experience perspective), so allowing small groups to workout using any of the apps right in your space brings them together…and back to you.
- Offer the “experience” on your turf. What about purchasing a couple of Peloton, Soul Cycle or Schwinn bikes (maybe one of each) for your cardio area and allowing members to ride there in your facility with their favorite app? Regardless of how many stationary bikes have been sold in the last year, we must consider the following: there are a lot of people that still don’t have one; and those that do have one would be grateful for the change of scenery: a different type of bike that’s not stuffed into the corner of their basement.
- Let your fave in-house trainers and instructors star’s shine! Even as a smaller facility, creating your own VoD content for members to access anytime can be affordable and incredibly effective. Grab your superstars and let them shine on camera. Many members have grown comfortable with your zoom classes and experiences, so even if a full virtual 2-way class line-up isn’t fiscally plausible, maybe VoD with their favorite instructors will keep those members happy. Companies like Intelivideo can literally create an interface, fully branded for your members that looks and feels just like you!
- Partnership + Collaboration = Winning. What about partnering with some of these apps? Lifetime Fitness just announced a partnership where members receive Fitness + by Apple with their membership here. Ok, maybe you aren’t Lifetime, maybe you are a small mom and pop, so what can you do? Well, there are smaller apps and services that might be able to provide your members with a significant discount on their services when providing direct connection to your members. At Homeroom Fit, I offered subscription pricing to gyms where they receive our LIVE 2-Way stream classes for a nominal price. Why? I need consumer eyes and the instructors on my platform wanted to grow their following globally. Don’t forget: brands small and large are competing for the “consumer eyes” so you never know- and it never hurts to ask.
- App features for you and yours. Have you checked out some of the unique features some of these apps are offering? Apple Fitness + created a walking app that is meditation, movement and learning all at once. Could you create a “book club” of sorts where members would walk, then talk later about what they heard and experienced either virtually or right there in your facility? Maybe you meet at the facility and walk together? These types of initiatives are easier than you think. Create a sign-up sheet for those who want to participate, provide a space or meeting room (virtual or in-person) for the follow-up. With new releases coming out weekly you can literally count on weeks of connection through these experiences.
I am hoping these ideas maybe inspire you, help you think-tank and above all bring your herd back to your facility as soon as possible. Happy Herding!