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?
Thanks for your input Sue and Karin… for the sake of more discussion I will answer your questions..
We have 3 trainers on staff and they also do small group training. We actually think we may be able to increase our small group training if the classes are free. The current class set up is more group oriented. $5 per class and taught by group fitness instructors like Zumba, Indoor Cycling, and Circuit classes. Our class members love it when we have bigger classes because they come for the class and the social aspect.
Did you do a member survey?
Yes we did, it is currently in process. So far people are afraid that we will increase our prices as well. But that is not the plan.
Did you get input from the current instructors? Have they signed on to that process?
I have not actually told them our plans, but all of them have expressed that the biggest hurdle for our small town is the stigma on fee classes. We are the only “health club” that charges at this point. But we started as a small personal training studio 10 years ago and built the health club 5 years ago.
What makes you assume that Y members may become members with you? We are becoming very much a community center and offer classes to ages 10 and up. We share many of the same client profiles except for the fact that we don’t offer childcare.
We have done several “bring a friend for free months” and “attend for free” weeks over the last 5 years in an effort to gauge response to a permanent change. We had great feedback with a small boost. But each time we try something like this people had the opinion that if it isn’t permanent they don’t want it. I spoke with several members that chose not to participate when we made classes free for a week. They said that if it wasn’t something they could maintain long term, they didn’t want to “get addicted” to the class and then not be able to go.
Bottom line… financially we can make this pencil. We have enough members and training clients that we can cover the group payroll for a few months as needed. But I certainly don’t want to take a pay cut that I created for myself after 5 years of hard work.
Thanks so much for your input, I look forward to hearing more and others experiences!