“How can I future-proof my club by attracting the next generation of fitness members in droves?”
This was the question pondered in 2013 by Amir H Behforooz, Group Exercise Manager at the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Country Club, as he sought to steal a march on the competition.
As someone with 15 years’ experience in the world of fitness and an eye for what’s next, it quickly became clear to Amir that a world-class HIIT offering would be one of the biggest determinants of success in the future of fitness.
This was just 6 months before the annual American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) survey ranked HIIT as its number one fitness trend for 2014, ushering in a five-year period of sustained growth for the training method.
Fast forward to 2019, and it’s clear Amir’s assessment has been proved right, with his club reaping the rewards of HIIT’s meteoric rise in popularity.
As one of the biggest premium health clubs in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi Country Club has built much of its success around a substantial group fitness offering, spanning 7 studios and 120 classes per week.
The club has positioned Les Mills GRIT™ as the jewel in its group fitness crown, leveraging the program to attract Millennials and Gen Z as new members.
“GRIT is the star of our timetable as it’s quick, brings awesome results, and is exactly what the new generation of fitness fans want from their workout,” explains Amir.
“It’s been a great way to engage young people and we see a slew of students and flight attendants joining our GRIT classes because they want a great workout that leaves them looking as good as they feel.”
“Every club in the world needs to offer HIIT these days – it’s what the market demands,” he adds.
“When deciding which type of HIIT solution we wanted for our club, I spent a long time scoping out the market and considering whether we should create our own HIIT concept.”
Having travelled around multiple clubs worldwide and tried a huge number of HIIT classes, Amir was initially impressed with many of the classes he saw and the results they brought, but found they quickly became stale and stilted.
“I was tempted to try to do my own thing, but ultimately it was clear Les Mills GRIT would provide the best solution,” said Amir. “It’s got the best group fitness team in the world behind it and they give you fresh moves, music and marketing kits every 3 months. As a club operator, you’d be mad not to take this.
“I’ve seen really solid HIIT concepts, but none of them can compete with GRIT when it comes to longevity and the constant refinement that keeps members eager and engaged.”
All play, no pay
Once Abu Dhabi Country Club had chosen GRIT – part of the club’s large Les Mills package which accounts for 70% of its group fitness timetable – the team were eager to make good on its investment from day one of the launch.
But rather than charge extra for the boutique-style class and follow the lead of other clubs which had deployed GRIT as a source of ancillary revenue, Amir and his team took a completely different tact and opened the class up to all members.
He explains: “Our goal was always about bringing more people into group fitness at our club – particularly Millennials and Gen Z – so we went against the grain somewhat and tried to make GRIT as accessible as possible.
“The members love it and more than 55% of them have tried GRIT to date. That’s a huge proportion of our members who are experiencing a world-class workout, coming back for more and bringing their friends. The benefits in terms of retention and member referrals have been immense.”
The member test
With 80% doing at least some group workouts each month, the members at Abu Dhabi Country Club are a discerning tribe, who know exactly what they’re looking for in a group workout.
But implementation support from Les Mills Middle East, allied with a strong social media marketing effort and Amir’s sheer will to make GRIT a success, ensured the program has become a firm member favourite on the Abu Dhabi Country Club timetable.
“It’s created by the best fitness brand in the world and the variety of GRIT Cardio, Strength and Athletic helps to keep it fresh. Factor in the music and science that go into it and you’re looking at a very powerful proposition for members.”
For the club, the combination of science-backed moves, licensed music and quarterly updates make the difference.
“Delivery, service and quality always win in my region. Education is the most important way to win over and engage our members with a program. Many of them are afraid of HIIT at first, but by ensuring we offer lots of options to suit all abilities, as well as coaching them on the benefits they’re bringing to their body, these hurdles are easy to overcome.”
Instructors are integral
With the latest industry research (2019 Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey) showing that quality of the Instructor is the biggest single influence on where Millennials and Gen Z choose to do group workouts – 37% list this as their top reason for attending a class – it should come as no surprise that an experienced operator like Amir places huge emphasis on the quality of his team.
For Amir, the calibre of the Instructor is one of the most critical factors in the success of a program and it’s for this reason that he’s willing to pay above market rates to ensure high quality.
While many clubs will pay half rates for a 30-minute GRIT class, Abu Dhabi Country Club pays AED150-175 (US$41-48) for a half-hour class, just shy of the AED200 (US$55) it pays Instructors for an hour-long class.
“I’ve noticed many clubs pay Instructors half rates for GRIT and I think this is one of the main reasons why clubs are not successful,” says Amir.
“It’s vital to reward Instructors for focusing on quality and also recognising the time they will spend practising and learning the choreography, so we pay better and it helps us to attract the best.
“I’ll insist on my Instructors pursuing Advanced Training and attending Quarterly Workshops – an ongoing commitment to education and development is what sets us apart. To this end, I’d like to make special mention of Carlos Mendez and Aleksandra Jerina – two rockstar Instructors whose tireless efforts have been integral to the outstanding success we’ve achieved with GRIT.
“It’s one of the world’s best programs for sure, but it’s having great people who are highly trained and committed which really helps bring it to life.”