Group fitness has experienced massive change over the past three decades, and now it’s the main value proposition in membership pitches. If you doubt this, take a look at the rise in the number of boutique studios. Fitness facility managers are acutely aware of this proliferation, and some may be concerned about competing with studios that offer fitness enthusiasts an “experience” at a premium price. People will pay for a fitness community they enjoy. Understandably, even instructors are being drawn to studios that pay a premium for teaching to a packed room. How do you stay relevant and competitive?
Fitness facilities, program directors in particular, have a unique opportunity to appeal to the masses—and not just to stay relevant, but to be highly competitive. Group fitness is the community hub, and regular class participants tend to visit the facility more often and be more committed than other members. Many even bring their friends to experience favorite classes. Instructors are also engaged, but typically they’re overlooked by management. It’s rare that managers know the names of all their instructors, let alone understand the class offerings. As long as the room is full and the members are happy, the program is fine, right?
Well, it may be “fine,” but that doesn’t mean it’s operating at full capacity. This is why the group effect is needed. The group effect occurs when group fitness offerings create rich program variety that appeals to numerous demographics. It’s the key to expanding your reach. Group fitness groupies are quick to talk within their social circles about their workout experiences. This stimulates referrals, which drives guest traffic and brings new members. How do you take advantage of this untapped potential?
Over the course of my 25-year career, I’ve learned that while the solutions are simple, they’re not always easy. When it comes to creating a competitive edge, a few things remain true no matter what type of club you operate. Here are five strategies to create a compelling group effect.
1. Create a Memorable Experience
As discussed above, people want to be part of a community. That’s true of humans in general, but people especially need a community to help them make the fitness lifestyle stick! These days, it’s not just about offering classes; you must create an engaging experience that transcends “taking a class.” Members will connect first with the instructor, then with the member community and finally, ultimately, with your brand. That’s when they become raving fans and brand advocates.
2. Hire and Retain a Rock Star Team
Hiring the best instructor talent is the most important step in creating a strong group fitness community. Research the top talent in your market. Hire the best you can afford across several formats to build a strong programming base. The goal is to own your market and be the best place for high-quality instructors to teach. Hiring top talent doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. You can offer incentives (like education reimbursements) that stimulate instructor loyalty.
3. Implement Program-Driven Schedules
Does your schedule give people a compelling reason to join your facility? Again, your competitive advantage is to offer a broad base of programming that captivates across the board. Think about classes that appeal to men, actively aging adults, seniors and millennials, as well as to the women who usually frequent group fitness classes. Look carefully at your demographic base, and focus on member needs rather than instructor availability. All too often, program directors fill schedules based on who is available at a certain time, instead of recruiting to fill a programming need. Include dance, cardio, strength, mind-body and boot camp–type classes in all time slots—to make sure there’s always a class for everyone.
4. Execute Operational Excellence
Create a standard of success, and measure your progress regularly. The two best measurements are average class size and member traffic penetration. Average class size helps you understand how well you’re doing at driving capacity. You can also dig deeper and look at the averages across different formats to see where you might need to address specific programming issues. For instance, the average class size for Zumba® versus other dance formats will let you know which works better for you.
Member traffic penetration looks at what percentage of your regular monthly (or daily) traffic is using group fitness. For example, if you see 30,000 visits a month, and class attendance is 6,000, your penetration is 20%. This metric truly shows how effective your programming is; it could range from 10% (low) to over 50%! If you have multiple studios, look at the overall number as well as the percentage by studio, then improve those percentages by balancing your program and providing appeal for more people. Use a combination of these measurements to ensure that you’re putting the best instructor in the best class every time.
5. Integrate Events with Club Promotions
When events are done correctly, they can transition your group fitness from a retention-based amenity to a member acquisition tool. Traditionally, a themed group fitness event doubles as a member appreciation activity. However, if you’ve invited facility members to bring their friends, you’ve upped the ante and created an opportunity to acquire new members. Implement a special process for guests, so they can experience the facility as members and feel motivated to join. Make sure the check-in process at the front desk is easy and hassle-free. Then, ensure that instructors are aware that beginners may be in their classes, so they can pay special attention to these visitors’ needs. Invite personal training staff to participate and give hands-on technique tips during class. These small interactions may turn into bigger conversations about a fitness orientation or a personal training package. This is what an integrated event looks like: The front desk, sales team and trainer team are all on board with making guests feel welcomed, encouraged and assisted.
Taken singularly, any of the above initiatives can create incremental changes in your group fitness program. However, when they’re integrated into a unified approach, these strategies create transformative, lasting change.