“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
So says psychologist Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – and his excellent TED Talk.
Schwartz examines the challenges consumers face in a world of endless choice, but it’s a problem clubs can equally relate to. As the number of choices for how to work out continues to grow, the chances of a club being chosen continue to diminish.
Whether it’s a Peloton bike in the garage, a fitness app on your smartphone, or a Youtube workout on the living room TV, people have more home exercise options than ever before. When people can easily blast through their workout without leaving the house, there needs to be a seriously compelling reason for them to venture out to their club.
So what’s the answer? Now may be the most competitive and turbulent period in club history, but the core principles still apply. Ours remains first and foremost a motivation business – people can exercise anywhere, yet many come to clubs for motivation. With this in mind, providing inspiring fitness experiences that give great results is essential to keeping members coming back for more.
It could also prove key to winning new members. According to the Ernst & Young 2022 Future Consumer Index, 42% of consumers plan to spend more on memorable experiences post-pandemic, highlighting the opportunity for clubs to compete not just with other fitness offerings, but to win a greater share of the experience economy by rivaling theaters, escape rooms, bars, and pop-ups as an exciting place to spend spare time.
So what does it take to create a killer club experience that consumers can’t resist? Here are 8 ways to maximize motivation and drive serious footfall through your club’s front doors:
1. ENGAGING EVENTS
After a lengthy period of lockdown-enforced home workouts, appetite for live fitness experiences in groups is soaring. The 2021 Global Fitness Report found two-thirds of gym members (67%) now prefer working out in groups, while live classes in club are nearly twice as popular as doing livestream classes at home (favored by 44% of members vs 23%).
One of the best ways to show your club at its lively best is through events. Anyone who’s felt the electricity of a live fitness class will testify it’s one of the most powerful and motivational workout experiences you can get. Live classes remain the pinnacle fitness experience, because it’s where your people come into their own, building connections, and inspiring participants to beat their best. By tapping into these notions and showcasing your facility at its finest, events have long been a crucial pillar of building a successful club business.
One option could be to follow the lead of the YMCA Association of Northwest North Carolina, which kickstarted its peak sales period with a group fitness rock concert as a means of engaging the community through a dynamic event.
Meanwhile, the JCC in Bridgewater, New Jersey has powered past its pre-pandemic club metrics through a focus on community, with in-club events serving as a central pillar.
“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,” says Fitness Director Jess Kichura.
“We’re always striving to add personal touches to our events and marketing that evoke strong emotions and show our members we truly care through action rather than words.”
2. SUPERCHARGE THE SOCIAL EXPERIENCE
In addition to high-octane events, clubs are ideally placed to meet the more basic daily needs around community and human interaction that consumers have been missing. Across clubs that have made strong recoveries, dialing up the social experience has been key to re-engaging members.
The 2021 Global Fitness Report found that group workouts are now the single most popular gym activity, outstripping both strength and cardio training. That’s why a growing number of clubs are driving their recovery through a focus on group workouts, to dial up the social experience while delivering members the results that will keep them coming back.
“Since reopening our sites, we’ve seen a massive rush from members eager to get back into the club and we’re pretty much back to pre-COVID attendance levels,” says Ant Martland, Co-Founder and Marketing Director of fast-growing UAE chain GymNation.
“Group fitness and the power of our club communities have really shone through and we think this will be a key component in the wider industry’s recovery. Having been locked up and isolated for so long, people can’t wait to get back to the thrill of a buzzing live class and we’ve got members queueing at the studio door early to secure their space. People are desperate to get back to working out in groups and the past few months have been the best new sales period we’ve ever had.”
3. SHOWCASE YOUR STAR PLAYERS
With strong demand for social connection driving members’ return to facilities, it’s somewhat inevitable that the people fronting our clubs will have a vital role to play in our resurgence.
Rockstar Instructors are identified as the single most important factor for gymgoers when choosing a live class, favored by 28%, ahead of the quality of music (24%) and type of class (21%). Quality Instructors are cited as a key component of the live revival, meeting consumer preferences for added motivation and deeper connection in their workout experience.
Having great people is particularly important for winning new members. 30% of club prospects say “a good atmosphere” is a key factor in choosing a gym to join, while 59% say staff are also a consideration.
The push towards social workouts will see Instructors at the heart of these experiences, mixing hard and soft skills to bring enjoyment and results. In many cases, the quality of your Instructors will determine whether your new members keep coming back or switch to home workouts. Look after your Instructors – treat them well and reward them fairly – and they’ll look after your members.
With a global labor shortage starting to take its toll on all industries, operators are beginning to explore new ways to attract top talent and retain their existing star players.
“Given that the cost of labor is going to be higher whoever you choose to hire, I see this as a big opportunity for clubs to reinvent their recruitment strategy and set out to get the very best people they can within their given market and segment,” says world-renowned club operator Herb Lipsman.
“This may cost a little more in the short-term, but in a people-centric industry, having great staff and rockstar Instructors is going to set your club experience apart from the competition.”
4. INSPIRE MEMBERS TO MARKET FOR YOU
For Herb Lipsman, focusing on the social touchpoints of your club is as beneficial for your marketing as it is a driver of member experience.
“In the clubs I’ve managed over the years, group exercise has been the number one driver of membership sales and a great source of social media referrals,” he says.
“Let’s face it, people don’t go on Facebook or Instagram to talk about their favorite treadmill or resistance machine, they go on there to rave about the killer class they’ve just done with an awesome Instructor and to share their sweaty victory selfie. It’s a great driver of awareness and exposure for your club and the key to maintaining a healthy pipeline of prospects.”
So what can clubs do to spruce up their spaces and encourage members to get snapping?
“Social media – particularly Instagram – has played a big role in helping to bring fitness to the fore,” says fitness design legend Rudy Fabiano. “If you can create a great-looking space to showcase their workout, then members are happy to take snaps, share on social media, and rave about it to their friends.”
“Create Instagram-friendly walls that carry your club’s name and help members to tell their followers ‘This is where I’m at. I’m having fun – why don’t you join me?’ Get this right and members become a major cog in your social media machine and will soon do your marketing for you.”
5. INNOVATE TO EXCITE
In a recent keynote at FIBO 2022, Phillip Mills highlighted how leading big-box clubs are designing boutique-style studios within their existing facilities to amp up the member experience and attract younger audiences.
Citing the success of Midtown Athletic Club in Chicago, which has already exceeded its pre-pandemic membership and is believed to be the most profitable club in the world, he advocated the importance of investing in new innovations – in terms of both design and programming – to scale club membership.
“We’ve all lost members over the past two years and need to grow numbers back as quickly as possible, which means doing new things to create excitement,” said Phillip Mills.
“During the depths of the global financial crisis, there were still people lining up outside Apple stores to buy the latest iPhone. That’s the level we have to aim for – the latest equipment, exciting new class concepts, boutiques inside our clubs, chic and dynamic décor – offers compelling enough to motivate people, whatever’s going on in the world.”
6. GAMIFY YOUR GYM
The cultural convergence between fitness, fashion, music, and entertainment is fueling a new age of ‘exertainment’, sparking exciting collaborations and innovative products.
Exertainment was a standout trend of The Welltodo 2022 Consumer Wellness Trends Report, which noted how fitness brands must embrace the Gen Z-driven dynamic to stay relevant:
“With 86% of Gen Z saying that their passions have diversified even more since the start of the pandemic, it’s time for fitness brands to stop thinking about fitness as a siloed offering, but instead an entertainment lateral,” said the report.
“A place where the intersections, the crossovers, the spaces and places where entertainment – in its fullest sense – can really come alive for a whole new generation.”
One of the most exciting strands of this trend is fitness gamification, inspiring a new wave of immersive workouts where music, visuals, wearables and Instructors combine to offer participants an exhilarating fitness experience.
Companies like Fit XR and Supernatural have made early headway in this space, while Les Mills has made its mark by launching a BODYCOMBAT VR app that takes the world’s most popular martial arts workout into the metaverse for a thrilling gamified workout.
Clubs can tap into the trend by gamifying the in-club experience and building a buzz with engaging fitness challenges. Done well, these are a great way of building community and shared purpose among your members. This in itself drives member engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty.
But a challenge also drives loyalty simply by harnessing human nature: the desire to better ourselves, to prove our worth against others… to win. And to keep trying – that is, to keep coming back to the gym – until we do.
7. BECOME THE SECOND SPACE
A defining legacy of the pandemic has been the boom in home working, which looks likely to become a permanent shift. A recent study by tech giant Slack found that just 12 percent of workers want to return to full-time office work after the pandemic, while 72 percent want a hybrid remote-office model moving forward.
Having long sought to position themselves as the ‘third space’ between the office and home, clubs now have the chance to go one better. For facilities with enough room, there’s a huge opportunity to become the ‘second space’ for members who want to work away from the office and grab a convenient workout while they’re at it.
Big box operators and a number of boutiques have been offering work pods for a while now, with many more clubs starting to follow suit. Not only is it a great way to drive footfall and broaden the in-club experience, becoming a ‘second space’ offers huge potential for ancillary revenue, from renting desk space and WiFi, through to extra spend in your restaurant/cafe.
8. REIMAGINING THE MEMBER JOURNEY
Driving member footfall through a great experience is the name of the game in this article, but it’s worth noting that clubs can still be delivering great experiences – and increasing member loyalty – by reaching beyond the four walls of the facility.
Although the ‘Live Revival’ is gathering pace and people are relishing being back in their facilities, digital workouts aren’t going anywhere, with 80 percent of gym members planning to continue using them post-pandemic.
This means offering Omnifitness fitness – a blend of in-gym and at home digital workouts – is becoming a basic expectation as we emerge from the pandemic, with the majority of exercisers (59%) saying they now favor a 60:40 split between gym and home workouts.
For operators, this necessitates a total reimagination of the member journey and how we measure engagement. Instead of simply tracking club attendances, we need to pan out and look holistically at all the touchpoints a member has with their facility – including home workouts via your club’s digital offering, and even use of the club app – to accurately assess member engagement and take actions to enhance this.
“One of the most important strategies that health, fitness, and wellness clubs need to employ is to expand their reach beyond the traditional bricks and mortar to provide members with a total wellness solution,” says Kevin McHugh, COO of The Atlantic Club in New Jersey, US.
“The leading health and fitness clubs of the future will provide a full Omnifitness solution to members.”