I own a small (400 member) 24 hour health club and we have charged for classes since the day we opened 5 years ago. In celebration of 5 years we are considering switching to free classes. Our reasoning is to increase the number of paying members, increase the size of our classes (currrently we have about 4-6 averaging in every class) and broaden our market base. Our current class goers love the classes and feel they are a great value, but we are competing with the free classes at our local Y and the fee based boutique classes at the smaller gyms in town. Doing so will result in a 15k per year drop in revenue for us which is super scary! (That 15k could be recovered by signing up 26 new full price members.) Has anyone ever had experience with this? Are we crazy? Any advice on how to implement this successfully?
this is a very interesting suggestion, and I have never heard of it. There are a few questions that popped into my mind:
A class size of 4 to 6 is more small group personal training than group exercise. They are likely from a pool of the same participants. Their experience of the class will change when it is open to everybody, and the personal touch will disappear. Are they still going to be participants after that change?
Did you do a member survey to find out whether interest exists in group exercise?
Did you get input from the current instructors? Have they signed on to that process?
You used the free classes at the Y as a point of reference. Typically, the membership at Ys is more driven because of the family exercise options than the group ex program. What makes you assume that they may become members with you?
Once you have made the transition to free classes, there is no going back. If you want to celebrate 5 years in business, why not just offer free classes for 5 weeks and then go back to the way you are doing it by now. This will give your current members a chance to pop in without commitment, and some of them may see the value and will continue.