In the area where I teach, I’ve noticed a pretty distinct attendance cycle. Jan / Feb the gym is busy and classes are PACKED. March and April, attendance tapers off a bit. May, people come back to get ready for “bikini season” and then through summer attendance ebbs and flows as people vacation. In September, attendance bumps up again when kids go back to school, giving parents more time. October attendance is good. But from Thanksgiving to December, you can hear a pin drop. OK, I exaggerate, but Thanksgiving to the end of the year, class attendance drops big time.
Just curious about others’ strategies for retention during a slower time of year. Now’s the time to be thinking about it, before it dips.
You just perfectly described the typical fitness professional’s calendar & the ebbs & flows – at least for regions that experience seasonal weather. I’m in the Philadelphia area & know all about weather changes. I don’t teach classes (I do in-home training) but I know there are better months than others – I’ve seen this pattern in the gyms & with my own business for over 30 years. I don’t think you can break it – it is what it is. You simply have to capitalize on the active months & survive the lean ones.
I think Paul is right…. I’ve been in fitness for many decades and definitely that is the pattern. There is some difference where you have an urban or suburban setting, or if you offer specialty programming.
One thing a studio can do during the summer is to offer camps. If you are in an area with lots of families, particularly if the families are reasonably well off, everyone is looking for camp experiences for the kids. Most parents do not get the summer off.
You can also plan for down times by scheduling your own training for those ‘lean’ months, or use it to catch up on paperwork and marketing and so on, so you have to spend less time on that when things are good.
Since I do not travel a lot during the holidays I make myself available as a sub during those times. A lot of people are glad to have the opportunity to visit family, or attend events, and are glad to have someone they know won’t try to ‘steal’ their students, and will provide good continuity of service.
Discounts, specials, and groupon can all work, but I think can be tricky. Groupon in particular we have used a few times, but the retention rate seems low. I think the slower route is better and does not devalue your service as much. I am sure some places have figured out how to make it work. What I used years ago, and have seen used to advantage is a special that gives a student/client a discount on their class ticket when they buy a gift certificate.
One studio I know uses distance online classes to great effect. Because they have a teacher who is wildly popular and a very well off clientele and because that teacher being also well off and off vacationing most of the summer, they provide summer online classes. I think it can work, but there is so much online stuff available I think if you want people to pay for it it has to be that there is a strong teacher/student bond where they would rather have that person online than someone else in person.
Good question. I am sure most of us have thought about this at one point or another.
Although the ebb and flow are predictable, I do think there are things we can do to keep members engaged. Here are some of the things we’ve done.
1) Group-ex attendance contests – have people sign in and the instructor initial when a member comes to class. And then give prizes of varying value. Depending on the gym, we’ve given cash prizes, free massage (to build our massage therapist’s business), free personal training, a basket of fitness goodies, etc.
2) Resilience planning with training clients – I know their attendance is going to go down with holiday parties etc., and we build that into their wellness plan for November / December so they don’t completely fall off the wagon for 2 months.
3) Special holiday group-ex classes, events, fundraisers.
4) This year, I might add a little extra to my existing classes, or do a few specialty seminars. For example, I’ve been letting people in early to my Thursday morning class and showing them how to foam roll their calves and do small-ball rolling for their feet in preparation for class. I don’t charge extra for it, it’s something I do for myself anyway and now I have a group that does it with me (started with 2 gals who are always early 6 weeks ago, and now we’re up to 8). I’m thinking I might add that as an extra, optional, service to a few other classes where I have time, or do a special class on foam rolling / SMR.
Something that I implemented is a “Freeze the Gain” challenge that runs from the week of Thanksgiving through the New Year. This is something that you can do with GEC and personal training. The program includes a pre/post weigh in, weekly email tips, handouts, and healthy holiday recipes. Participants who are able to stay within 2lbs of their start weight is entered into a raffle drawing. I found it helped participants stay on track and offered some in direct motivation.
You can also do a raffle drawing for members who participate at least “x” amount of times over the holiday season.