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With their potential to enhance member sentiment and generate new sales leads, quarterly Les Mills relaunch events aren’t just a nice-to-have – they should be a staple of your business planning. Kate Cracknell reports
What does your club do when a quarterly release comes out for one of the Les Mills programs?
There were notable celebrations to mark the arrival of BODYPUMP 100 on 14 January 2017, with launch parties taking place in thousands of clubs around the world. No doubt this global party will kick off again when BODYATTACK 100 launches in March 2018.
But what about when it isn’t such a milestone launch – BODYCOMBAT 71, RPM 74 or SH’BAM 27, for example, which all launched within the last year? Do you also use these as an opportunity to re-engage members, attract prospects and inject excitement into the club?
We talk to a selection of operators who routinely run relaunch events that become focal points for their clubs, asking what they do – and why.
“When it comes to relaunch events, we’ve formatted as much as we can to make them manageable and high quality – but in spite of this, our events are almost never the same. I think that’s a big part of why they’re so successful,” says Heath Wiltse of Peak Health & Wellness in Idaho, US.
“You can’t blow the doors off the place for every launch, so some are huge and other quarters we keep it lower key – but we still find something to make it special every time. As a result, our events are high energy and high participation.”
He continues: “BODYPUMP events always draw the biggest crowds. We ran a ‘Pump in the Park’ event every year for 10 years, taking 120 bar sets to a nearby park and running a class in the pavilion there. We sold US$20 tickets in advance and would occasionally have to borrow a few extra bar sets to meet demand – we once had 130 people taking part. After the class, there’d be a charity auction and a live band. It created a huge sense of belonging: we still see ‘Pump in the Park’ T-shirts from 2005 being worn!”
There are echoes of this approach in the strategy adopted by UK health club operator 1Life in September 2017 – but it went one step further still, creating a two-day fitness festival in support of its chosen local charity, Willen Hospice. Headlining on stage were the Les Mills new releases, supported by other great group exercise concepts including Les Mills’ THE TRIP and 1Life’s own HIIT functional training programming. The event attracted over 2,000 people and achieved a social media reach of 212,000, as well as high levels of exposure through local media.
Les Mills clubs in New Zealand also place a big focus on their relaunch events, with entire clubs given a makeover for the day, or even week, of the launch. Group fitness operations manager Carla Fitzsimons explains: “Our relaunch events are open days – free for anyone to attend, not just members – and we create a real party atmosphere.
“There are balloons and a red carpet leading into the club, music outside, maybe a coffee cart out there too. We invite other local businesses into the club – to do massages and beauty treatments, for example, but also to provide food and drink, with a number of different stalls in reception. We might have special guests in attendance too, such as national sporting stars.
“Meanwhile, challenges take place on the gym floor all day, with on-the-spot prizes up for grabs: Les Mills water bottles, protein bars and so on. Some PTs even choose to offer free workouts. It really is a whole-day, whole-club event.”
This approach – making the relaunch a day-long, club-wide event rather than focusing exclusively on the classes and the studio – is mirrored around the world. In Japan, for example, Sports Club NAS Park Place Oita opens its launch events to non-members, selling special, limited edition one-day tickets at a discounted rate as a way of introducing potential new members to its clubs.
And even with its smaller events, Peak Health & Wellness makes a splash across the club. “We still run some really big events, but smaller, free-to-attend events have become the norm,” explains Wiltse. “We choose fun, timely themes and decorate the whole club to bring it to life – Hallowe’en, for example, or the Superbowl.”
He continues: “We really like what we started doing this year, whereby every program gets its own launch quarter. We still launch all the other classes’ new music of course, but we pick one program to get a full event each quarter. For example, our June 2017 launch focused on BODYFLOW to tie in with International Yoga Day.
“We will, if needed, cancel other classes or move the schedule around that day to focus all the energy on that one program.”
So you’ve planned a great event, but how do you make sure it really takes off? Wiltse explains: “The key is that the team believes in the launch: if they don't care, it won’t fly. And this is the real secret of our success: our team love our group exercise programs. That starts with the club’s General Manager, who teaches three classes a week, and goes all the way through to our front desk staff who take part in at least one class a week – and of course our group exercise instructors, who are the ones who really engage with members in the run-up to the event.
“We harness that passion to deliver top-quality events. We only have two lead instructors for our launch classes – we believe it’s confusing with more than that – and we make it competitive to get one of those slots. We even do auditions throughout the year where instructors can show how they’ve improved. We then reward them after the event with either cash or a present: wine or gift cards, for example.”
“It’s important for all your staff to buy into the events,” agrees Fitzsimons. “You need full support from all areas of the business. If everyone in the club is talking about the events, people get FOMO [fear of missing out] should they not come along. So, we put a lot of effort into our staff comms in the run-up to events.
“We also use in-club posters, social media, radio where possible to build awareness, and we feature little snippets of video with our group fitness instructors to build the hype – they’re the best possible sales tool for these events. We get our group fitness instructors to use their own Instagram accounts on the day too, to do live videos of what’s happening in the club.”
Peak Health & Wellness also uses social media to promote its events, as Wiltse explains: “We’re a small club of 2,000 members, but we’re pretty active on Facebook and Instagram. We have our club pages, but we also have individual pages for each Les Mills program – Peak BODYPUMP, for example – where we market our events.
“We often create specific events pages too, so it’s really easy for members and staff to share and spread the word.
“We offer prizes to further boost interest – best costume, for example, or first five people through the door – and of course we promote the events in-club, as well as through the local businesses we work with.
“In addition, thanks to all the fundraising we tie to our launches – we’ve raised more than US$230,000 for good causes over the last 14 years – we’re known as the club that does all the charity events. That gives us a huge amount of additional media coverage, which is priceless.
“Nowadays though, even before we start promoting an event, most of our members know they need to get hold of an instructor as soon as possible to make sure they have a ticket!”
So, what do these launch events deliver for the business? Are they worth the time and money invested in them?
Wiltse explains: “We sell tickets for our larger events, but for the smaller events we have a maximum US$200 budget. This means we aren’t too badly out of pocket if an event bombs – which of course can happen – but it also means it isn’t hard to deliver a return on investment.
“We hold back around 20 per cent of tickets for non-members and members’ guests, and we usually sign up at least one new member at the smaller launches – of which there are two a year – and around five from the larger launches the other two quarters of the year. So, we make at least US$400 from the smaller events and up to US$3,000 from the larger launches.
“That said, our launches are more about creating a buzz in the club and retaining our current members: if between three and five more members become regulars of the program we’ve focused on, we view that as a success.”
The team at Sports Club NAS Park Place Oita agree. While its relaunch events are used to attract non-members – the impact on sales is, says club manager Mr Okawi, notable – member engagement is even more important, and in particular engaging new groups of members. Most of its launch events have waiting lists, and demand for classes is growing to the point that the club is struggling to find enough good instructors, but this is being driven by a core group of existing Les Mills class-goers. The events are therefore heavily promoted in-club to drive awareness among other members.
Les Mills clubs operate on a somewhat different budget. “We do sometimes try and negotiate sponsorships, but our clubs still spend anywhere between NZ$2,000 and NZ$15,000 for a launch event,” says Fitzsimons. “For us, it’s worth it. The events are generally full to overflowing, and they create a great vibe which has a positive impact on member and staff sentiment. You can’t put a value on that.
“We also find that, if people have a great experience, they’re more likely to continue to attend not only that program – we keep blitzing the new launches for a week or two after the launch to create continuity – but also to try other classes. So we sow the seeds of this at our launch events, offering sessions that are medleys of different programs – BODYJAM and SH’BAM, for example – so members try new things.
“But it isn’t just about retention: events are also a great source of new sales leads. A major launch event will result in 25-75 new members per club. We suggest offering a special joining fee just for the duration of the event, and keeping your kids’ club open for longer so parents have more opportunity to enjoy the event.”
Wiltse shares one final observation: ““The other very important benefit of these relaunch events is their ability to maintain your staff’s passion for what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. That’s so important – a club is nothing without passion – and our events play a huge role here.”
It’s clear that, on whatever scale you operate – whether small or large clubs, low-key events or week-long festivals – there are huge rewards to be reaped from running engaging relaunch events each quarter, both in terms of new membership sales and enhanced satisfaction among existing members and staff alike.