In a fitness market saturated with small studios offering a personalized, boutique experience, the neighborhood gym can sometimes be overlooked. According to Liftetime Fitness’ 2014 Investor and Media Daily Report, the number of boutique studios in the United States grew by more than 400 percent from 2010 to 2014. Further research from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association’s 2015 Health Club Consumer Report revealed that of the 54.1 million people paying for U.S. health club memberships, 42 percent were doing so at a studio. With focused-fitness concepts on the rise, we explore how big box gyms can remain competitive even with a series of boutique studios popping up around the corner.
SWEETEN THE POT
Gyms need to up the ante in ways that are low-cost, but high-return. First up, take a note from boutique studios: If you’re not allowing members to sign-up for classes in advance online and via an app, you should be. And be sure to save a few spots for last-minute members.
More than ever, you also need to be utilizing guests passes for all of your members and anyone who comes in for a tour. As the saying goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money, and if you want to make money, you need new bodies in your gym, experiencing all that you have to offer.
Now is also the time to be offering enrollment discounts. The summer slump is likely creeping in, and to combat it, waiving the initiation fees—or steeply discounting them—is a smart idea. Even if you’re not advertising the discounts, let your sales managers know they can work with new clients on price cuts.
While an upside of studios are smaller classes and hyper-experienced teachers, the downside includes lighter schedules due to smaller clienteles. Take advantage of this by offering classes throughout the day, especially in the early morning and late evening (for members working early or late hours).
NEVER BE BORING
Cater to the gym-goer who needs variety from the studio down the street by offering a curriculum that is both cutting edge and versatile. But says Larry Track, owner of Track Fitness, a 10,000-square-foot gym in Toronto, “If you’re not good at it, then don’t do it.” Meaning: Don’t add ballet classes to your roster just because a ballet-themed studio opened in the neighborhood. “Competition is great, but don’t go changing your recipe unless you’re 100-percent sure that you’re good at it.”
Track also suggests constantly evolving your tried-and-true classes so that your regulars never get bored. “It should never be the same workout twice,” he advises. “Your instructors should be developing each class to be progressing forward, so that your students aren’t coming to the same class over and over. For example, we’ve brought in some new tools, like Lynx core boards, as integrated add-ons and they are super low cost and people love it. So it’s providing the same workout, but in an ever-changing way, and we’re not letting muscle memory set in.”
Let’s not ignore the fact that you’ve got an army of loyal clients—so now it’s time make sure you keep them. There’s nothing more frustrating than approaching an elliptical or stairmaster only to find a piece of paper taped to it reading, “Out of Use.” Schedule regular maintenance on all of your machinery to ensure everything is operating properly. On that note, make sure your gym is well-prepared to have the space and equipment to handle an influx of visitors during your peak times, typically early morning and after work hours. One of the key value propositions of a gym is convenience and being able to work out when you want to. No one likes to wait for a treadmill, so make sure you have enough equipment or a system in place to ensure availability of machines during those high traffic hours. Offer thoughtful amenities and pristine facilities in every way—throw out tattered or ripped towels; clean bathrooms, locker rooms and shower stalls three times a day; and replace any dirty or fraying yoga and stretch mats.
“Provide the latest and greatest, so people don’t get bored, so they know when they come back there will be new cool stuff, and that you’re not just set in your ways,” says Track.
Consulting firm Kurt Salmon recently published a review on studios in its biannual Kurt Salmon Review, where it stated boutiques were benefiting from the fact that “More and more consumers aren’t just looking at the product but the connection.” Add to that what Physique 57 founder and CEO Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi told Market Watch last year: “In a small studio everyone from the instructor to the studio director to the front desk staff can really build a relationship with the client and clients can build a relationship with one another and that’s what I also think keeps our clients coming back.”
Gym owners can capitalize on this by sharpening training methods—remind all staffers how important friendliness and connecting with members is, especially when it comes to retention. Addressing members by their name, inquiring how their day is going, checking in with them mid-workout—all of these tactics go a long way in making a member feel comfortable and at-home in a space that could otherwise be anonymous.
REMEMBER YOUR VALUE
Studios specializing in the latest trends may be dominating the fitness conversation, and yes, churning out a great product, but also remember that they’re charging upwards of $35 a class. This is a lot of money for anyone to spend on fitness, and it’s important to take pride in the product you’re offering and the fair price you’re offering it at. By continuing to focus on maximizing convenience and accessibility at a valuable price point, with great customer service and engaging classes to boot, you’ll be in a good position to build out a successful gym platform.