Jo Archer and Nikki Spalding were initially disheartened to learn that, in the wake of challenges posed by COVID-19, their club had decided to drop the license for BODYCOMBAT. However, when they learned of the Les Mills partnership offers, where new facilities could launch a program at no costs for six months, both jumped at the opportunity. In a matter of weeks, the pair had created their own thriving business with an average weekly attendance of 90 members. So, how did they do it?
Based in York, England, Jo and Nikki were introduced by a mutual friend who realized both Instructors were considering taking up one of the Les Mills UK partnership offers (where a club who already had a license could add an additional venue or program or a new facility could launch one program at no cost for six months). “We were even thinking about using the same venue, a local community center,” says Nikki. “It was perfect.”
Joining forces offered the advantages of combining the pair’s different skillsets. “Jo is a fantastic people person, so she manages the Instructor team and the timetable,” says Nikki. “I look after the booking system and the social media side of things. It’s great because we have totally opposite skills that we bring to the table.”
Operating a pay-as-you-go model, the pair invested in an online booking system which was “invaluable” for their business, says Jo. “It was recommended to us by [LMUK TAP member] Lyndsey Morrison. We use it to manage all our bookings, which makes it so much easier. We charge £6 per class and people can buy bundles of 10 at a time.”
Calling themselves the “Combat Warriors”, Jo and Nikki set up a Facebook page and an Instagram account. Knowing how popular BODYCOMBAT had been at the club, they were confident that there would be appetite for the program, but to gauge the level of interest they also set up a mailing list. “It gave us an idea of who our market was, what sort of age range, how many people might be keen…” says Jo. “It also meant we could build a sense of anticipation before we actually launched. We knew we had 140 people who were definitely interested.”
The offering attracted local BODYCOMBAT regulars, as well as those new to the program. The pay-as-you-go model has also brought in a clientele who “wouldn’t necessarily be able to commit to a gym membership,” says Nikki. "We also gained people who used to do the program years ago, and are now coming back."
Mindful of anxiety around COVID-19, the team ensured they maintained clear communication around the steps they were taking to reduce the risk of infection including: face masks, social distancing and cleanliness. “We wanted to almost overcommunicate with our members,” says Jo. “We knew that people were feeling really anxious, so we prioritized transparent and regular updates.”
Supportive Instructor team
Jo and Nikki recruited five more Instructors from the local community, many of whom had also delivered classes at their former club. The team currently run a weekly timetable of four BODYCOMBAT slots.
“It’s obviously been a really difficult year for Instructors, so I think they really appreciate teaching somewhere they actually do come first,” says Nikki. “Jo is also a Group Fitness Manager at a club and she really cares about the Instructors, so she looks after the team. There’s zero bureaucracy because we don’t have any external factors to consider or any boxes to tick. I think the team do feel like we really care about them, and that they're as much a part of the business as we are. That feeling comes across to the participants as well, which is really nice.”
Strong community feel
“The response from our participants has just been incredible,” says Jo. “They had missed the program so much when the license was cancelled [at the local club]. I mean, the Saturday morning classes used to get booked out within about 30 seconds, so there was a lot of disappointment when BODYCOMBAT was removed from the timetable."
“I think that everyone really appreciates the personal feel of our classes,” says Nikki. “We’ve learned everybody’s names, we know stuff about their personal life, it’s more than just a fitness class. Somebody commented recently on how passionate we are about it – we wouldn’t have done this if we weren’t. I think it makes our participants work even harder in class, knowing how much it means to us as well.”
Despite the less than luxurious feel of the community center, the loyal attendees of the Combat Warrior classes can’t wait to get back in the studio once the current pandemic restrictions are eased.
“We came from a club that had a swimming pool and a spa and a sauna and a cafe, and now we’re in a community center which has an unsprung floor and you can smell what they’re cooking for lunch in the canteen,” says Jo. “But none of that really matters to our participants. As long as we can get the music working, that’s all we need. It’s been quite humbling in that sense. It just feels like a very different atmosphere than in the gym, despite the fact we have a lot of the same people. Everyone's very loyal and committed. It really does feel like our own little community.”
Both Instructors have “day jobs” but would love to continue their business beyond the end of the current six-month license period. “We’ve started so strong, despite the global pandemic,” says Nikki. “We’d love to carry on and also add other programs to the timetable. We want to continue to grow Les Mills classes in the community. But even if we don’t carry on with the business beyond the end of the six-month period, it’s still been worth it. We’ve absolutely loved it.”
Jo Archer is a group fitness manager and swimming teacher, as well as an Instructor for BODYCOMBAT and BODYBALANCE™/ BODYFLOW®. She has been teaching BODYCOMBAT for 10 years.
Nikki Spalding is a product development manager in the EdTech industry. She qualified as a BODYCOMBAT Instructor at the end of 2019 and is currently studying to become a certified Adaptive and Inclusive Trainer.