Develop distinctive programming that members will want to pay for.
In today’s competitive marketplace, group fitness must consistently be a revenue producer, just like personal training and other profit centers. When you add rising instructor costs and member demand for individualized classes, a club can struggle to maintain its budget. To meet this new level of accountability while offering diverse programming, many fitness facilities are now charging for select classes. But will members pay to play?
There are obvious pros and cons to offering fee-based programs. These special classes offset the free offerings and provide more variety and cachet to members. On the other hand, many feel group fitness is “part of” the membership fee and resent paying extra. Intelligent research and selection are the key to making paid programming successful with as little resistance as possible.
The following types of programs lend themselves to being set up as separate and valued add-ons:
Semiprivate Training. This is a good option for goal- and results-oriented members who don’t want to invest in one-on-one training but still want individual attention. Offer this alternative on a smaller scale than larger classes by either narrowing the attendance or providing more than one teacher, depending on instructor pay rate and member interest. Small groups of 6–8 or as few as 2–4 get the attention they crave, and the instructor doesn’t have to spread herself among a roomful of participants. Boxing, martial arts, yoga, body conditioning, strength training, flexibility training and Pilates mat or reformer classes all make good semiprivate selections.
Entry-Level or Beginner Classes. This option accommodates the new person who needs slower, more intensive training without the pressure and possible intimidation factor of the more experienced members. Unlike a traditional multilevel class, participants learn with others who are at the same stage. The pace is considerably slower and features more in-depth instruction. Offer these sessions as a progressive “series,” with sessions focusing on a different component each time until the entire skill set is mastered. Classes that have a variety of elements to master make good options for this type of paid programming. Examples include yoga, step, dance, Pilates and martial arts.
Advanced-Level Programming. Members who want to specialize or increase their expertise above and beyond what you provide in traditional group fitness classes will like this option. The same series-style approach is effective here. Once again yoga, Pilates, dance and martial arts make good choices for this type of training.
Specialty Classes for Members or Nonmembers. Do you want to provide classes that your “free” club schedule doesn’t already offer? This is your best opportunity, as members don’t feel that they’re already paying for the classes and are therefore more open to a fee. Specialty programming is also a good way to pitch your services to nonmembers, who get a chance to see the value in your product. Effective examples of specialty member or nonmember sessions include swim lessons for seniors and children, restorative yoga, and kids’ hip-hop dance classes that end with a recital. Senior-specific programs that involve therapy or focus on health issues like arthritis or postural alignment are also good choices. Make a commitment to bring in experts when dealing with issues outside your scope of practice. This is an excellent way not only to respect your participants but also to bridge the gap with the allied health community.
Unique, Cutting-Edge Classes. Programs such as tai chi, chi kung, Feldenkrais, guided meditation and the Alexander technique are hot and create buzz.
Stacey Lei Krauss, an instructor at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York, offers a paid program called “PLAYground,” in which teams of six people move through the training floor completing cardio, agility and strength circuits.
Event training and short-term series programming (seasonal and nonseasonal) also generate interest. Outdoor bike races or touring rides, walking and hiking clinics, “stroller walking for moms and babies” and “mommy and me” yoga series are all excellent ideas for extra fees.
Equipment-Based Training. Classes that include specific equipment and require more supervision are another avenue for paid programs. Pilates reformer classes and boxing programs that use heavy bags, gloves and other training tools draw participants in. Dedicating a room to this type of offering enhances the fee-based initiative and provides a more specialized training atmosphere.
Many of the larger club chains offer equipment-based training along with their regular, “free” classes. Town Sports International offers “exclusive” time slots such as boxing technique, Pilates ring and highly specific indoor cycling.
Offering paid programming can boost your club’s bottom line and add a layer of creativity, but will your members feel the lineup is worth the additional cost? They may feel “cheated” that the exciting new classes carry an additional fee, but you can face this challenge head on. Make sure all programming is well-researched, high quality and taught by skilled instructors. If your supplemental schedule is diverse from the start and carries expertise, validity and benefits, it will be looked on as an additional perk instead of something for which members have to pay extra.