“The key to building community in your facility is to embrace a mindset of giving without expectation,” says Jess Kichura, Fitness Director at JFIT, part of the JCC in Bridgewater, New Jersey (US).
“I always say to my team that our focus must be on delivering value and an exceptional experience to the JCC members at every opportunity. With this as our mission, even if we were to charge 10x our current monthly rates, our members should still want to pay it and even shout about us from the rooftops because of the value they feel they’re getting for it.”
It’s an interesting philosophy for how to run a fitness facility, especially at a time when many clubs are still operating on a shoestring as they count the cost of the pandemic. But it’s one that’s clearly paying off, with JFIT facing no such struggles as it surges back to growth.
The 20,350sq ft club surpassed its pre-pandemic membership levels in late 2021 and continues to welcome fresh faces to the facility on a daily basis. The JCC has grown to 3,561 members and counting, with most classes at capacity and the community-centric strategy paying healthy dividends.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Taking up the Fitness Director role in October 2020 during the depths of the pandemic, Jess knew the only way to make it through was to seek out the unprecedented opportunities presented by the biggest crisis the industry had ever faced.
“I started teaching at JFIT as a BODYCOMBAT Instructor in 2012 and became a manager in 2018, so I knew the facility and the members well, but it was a very daunting time to be taking up the Fitness Director role” Jess explains.
“But at the same time, in a strange way, the chaos of Covid was liberating, because it gave us license to take risks and try new ways of working. That commitment to putting community at the heart of everything we do – whether it’s the way our team works together, or the experience we deliver to our members – was really forged in the adversity of the pandemic, and it galvanized us to power through and come out stronger.”
So how does JFIT create this sense of community across the club? Jess says it takes three things, “Member Engagement, an Inclusive Team Approach, and Community Events.”
Helping members forge friendships and enjoy frequent social touchpoints – elements that were sorely missed during lockdowns – form a key pillar of the team’s approach. Identifying the most important things that members have been missing and what keeps them coming back to the facility has enabled the team to create a multi-faceted member journey that plays to its greatest strengths.
JCC adult memberships start at around US$55 for gym access, but the majority of members take the premium US$82+ option that grants access to the group workouts the facility is famous for. The timetable offers over 70 classes per week – spread across six studios and two outdoor spaces. It features a spine of well-known Les Mills workouts, supported by Zumba, Silver Sneakers, and an array of freestyle classes.
The team has expanded the timetable several times in the past year to keep pace with growing demand and is now exploring how to bring in extra equipment to raise the capacity of its bustling classes.
“Group workouts form the cornerstone of our club’s community feel and are something members buy into heavily,” explains Jess.
“Our strategy centers around moving people as quickly as possible along that four-step journey from prospect through to member, onto retained member, and finally to becoming a referrer of others to the facility. Group workouts are undoubtedly the most effective way to embed people into our community, form friendships and inspire advocates, so introducing them to classes is an integral part of the onboarding journey.”
The steady influx of new members the club is attracting – both fitness beginners and lapsed members who now feel ready to return – receive a flurry of personal touches from the team to help bed them in, as well as support through Les Mills SMART START to help them gain confidence in joining group workouts. Staff are well-drilled on every aspect of the timetable, offering tailored advice and encouragement to new members based on their personal preferences.
A team effort
Without question, the strength of the club’s community and group workouts stems from JFIT’s talented Instructors and the team supporting them.
In a region where the national labor shortage is causing many clubs to struggle to find Instructors, Jess has a full and flourishing team. So what’s her secret?
“Drawing on my experiences as an Instructor, the training I received and my time at JFIT, I wanted to emphasize from day one of my new role the importance of ‘team’ and working collectively towards shared goals,” says Jess.
“None of us are in fitness because we think it will make us rich. We’re here for the purpose that inspires us and the passion that drives us to keep doing what we do, so it’s vital our culture reflects this and ensures everyone feels connected to our mission.”
“When you’re an Instructor, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the wider facility if the only contact you have outside of your classes is the occasional email reminding you to put equipment away! That’s when people can lose connection and passion, so we strive to involve and support the entire team, making sure they bring their unique ideas and – most importantly of all – constantly have fun.
“It’s helped us to create a really strong and enjoyable culture which means teammates want to stay with us. And as word has spread, we’ve attracted a steady stream of new recruits as well.”
Building a buzz
While group workouts and Instructors form the beating heart of JFIT day-to-day, the club’s marquee events are when the community feel really cranks into overdrive.
Rather than an ad-hoc afterthought, the club treats its monthly events calendar very seriously, taking great care to ensure each section of the membership is catered for. The team also strikes a delicate balance between value-add engagement events for existing members and open-door events for the whole community – which lend themselves more to member acquisition and growing awareness.
“Rather than throwing up a random flier on the noticeboard every few weeks, we wanted to bring a sense of cohesion to our events, so members can expect and get excited by them, which helps create a sense of anticipation and hype around the facility,” adds Jess.
“Things like our quarterly Les Mills launches are calendar mainstays that help light a fire under our timetable, but we’ll also set up day trips and games nights that don’t have anything to do with fitness and are all about dialing up the sense of community.
“Coming back to our focus on adding value, we’re always striving to add personal touches to our events and marketing to evoke strong emotions and show our members we truly care through action rather than words.
“For example, we took the Les Mills UNSTOPPABLE campaign and created this amazing photo wall of our members – demonstrating how they’d each been UNSTOPPABLE in fighting through the pandemic. We also created a video version that had everyone in tears.
“After such a tough couple of years where many people have been isolated, it’s been the community and genuine caring of our team that’s kept our club together. And now it’s helping us to power out of the pandemic and hit new heights. Even though it sounds simple, creating genuine community takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but when you truly believe in your why and stick with it, the results are spectacular.”
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