The health club industry is facing strong competition from boutique studios, particularly those that specialize in mind-body practices like yoga, Pilates and barre. “Boutique studios represent the fastest-growing business segment of the fitness industry,” declares Stephen Tharrett, co-founder with Mark Williamson of ClubIntel. “Mind-body studios generate the second-highest level of consumer participation, second only to personal training studios/small-group training studios, attracting just over 9% of all consumers.” Tharrett and Williamson predict the popularity of boutiques will rise even further in 2016.
And many of these boutique consumers also belong to a fitness facility. As of year-end 2014, 42% of health club members also identified as members of boutique studios (ClubIntel 2015). This would indicate that mind-body boutiques offer an experience members don’t receive at their home health club.
While building a competitive mind-body program isn’t easy, especially given the rising popularity of boutique studios, now is the time for fitness facilities to invest in mind-body offerings. One trend that Bobby Verdun, senior partner at Atwood Consulting Group LLC, sees for 2016 and beyond is the increase in recovery classes. “With everyone beating themselves up with HIIT and other high-intensity programs,” Verdun notes, “it’s more important than ever for clubs to incorporate some aspect of recovery into their programs.”
Incorporate the following tips, and you’ll be on track to compete with the mind-body boutiques cropping up in your area.
Invest in Space
From sound to lighting to layout, the environment of a typical mind-body studio encourages meditation and relaxation. Many fitness facilities, on the other hand, don’t put much thought into the ambiance associated with mind-body classes, believing that as long as their programming is solid, where the classes take place doesn’t matter.
However, environment is critical to member retention. As Bruce Carter, founder and president of Optimal Design Systems International, observes, “Most people hate exercise, so anything you can do to make the environment more pleasing will increase the chances that people will want to keep coming back.”
That’s not to say that health clubs have to spend a fortune outfitting their mind-body studio. Carter offers a few easy, cost-effective ways to create an inviting mind-body environment:
- Use lighting creatively. Bright, unforgiving fluorescent lights make people—especially newer exercisers—feel self-conscious, especially when those lights are paired with walls of mirrors. Instead, Carter recommends getting creative with accent lighting such as wall sconces, pendant lights and drum lights—all using energy-efficient LEDs—to add drama and excitement to the studio.
- Freshen with color. “Color is one of the most inexpensive ways to create an effective environment,” Carter advises. He recommends sticking with earth tones, as they are universal, have longer staying power and allow greater design flexibility. Also consider white walls with pops of accent color.
- Limit distractions. “Clutter is bad energy,” Carter remarks, and bad energy is the last thing you want in a mind-body studio. When the studio is littered with equipment from the previous class, members notice. Invest in shelves and storage space where equipment can be stored out of sight when not in use.
Get the Best Talent
Great instructors have the power to attract scores of members to their classes again and again, which makes hiring and retention crucial to the success of any mind-body program. “If you’ve got the right people, it’s very easy to build the right classes and programs,” says Lashaun Dale, vice president of content and programming at 24 Hour Fitness®.
So how do you find the best instructors? Watch them in action. Try out local mind-body classes to test different instructors, and pay special attention to packed classes. The best instructors quickly become known entities within their communities, and they often boast the greatest attendance. Don’t poach talent, but rather explore options, get to know the talent pool and market your facility as a good place to work.
While outreach is important, consider that your next star instructor may be right under your nose. After all, many industry leaders started out working at the front desk or in sales before settling into their niche, comments Dale. So keep an eye out for passionate, enthusiastic people who may be interested in transitioning into the instructor role. When you’ve identified good candidates who have expressed interest, train them in the skills they need to succeed. Skills can be taught, but passion and integrity—characteristic of any quality instructor—cannot. Dale notes, “I don’t hire anyone who is unkind. Kindness rules.”
Thanks to their smaller classes and specialized programming, mind-body boutiques excel at fostering community. And when people feel they are part of a cohesive group, they keep coming back. Creating community is a little more difficult for fitness facilities. After all, one of their greatest strengths is also one of their greatest weaknesses: the ability to serve a wide variety of people through equally diverse programming, all under one roof.
However, savvy managers create opportunities for members to get to know one another. Abbie Appel, group fitness manager at Equinox in South Beach, Florida, has experienced great success holding special classes and fitness events. Occasionally, the facility invites members to happy hour, or hosts special classes like Block Party, which is a yoga class centered on using blocks. “These little connections are what keep people coming back,” she observes.
But don’t rely solely on one-off events for building community. Make sure instructors are making the effort to connect during each and every class. Appel encourages her instructors to show up 10 minutes early so they can chat with students, introduce people to one another and get to know the students’ likes and dislikes. “You’d be amazed how many instructors don’t do this,” Appel muses, “and when they don’t, their classes typically are the ones that have lower participation.”
Get Creative with Programs
Boutiques frequently experiment with their class offerings, incorporating the latest and greatest trends and research. This nimble, innovative approach keeps members interested and engaged. Follow their lead by staying on top of budding science and fitness trends. Dale, for example, dedicates one full day per week to research in order to determine what will become mainstream over the next few years.
Your own research may include reviewing the latest industry news, attending in-person trainings at fitness conferences and local workshops, and soliciting feedback. For example, Appel suggests talking to your current mind-body instructors to see if they’ve learned something new or if they’d be interested in teaching a style that’s not currently on the schedule.
Don’t be afraid to look to your competitors for inspiration. Attend classes at other studios to see what methods and techniques are out there, and decide if you want to incorporate them into your own offerings.
Market Mind-Body Benefits
Once you’ve got the right instructors and great programs, you need to attract more participants. Members may be apprehensive about trying a facility’s mind-body program if they don’t know much about it or if they haven’t engaged with mind-body practices before. So while advertising your mind-body program is a no-brainer, you’ll want to consider other creative strategies for introducing mind-body novices to the benefits of restoration.
Verdun highlights the “BEE” method for attracting and retaining mind-body participants:
- Build a mind-body following from other aspects of your facility. Mind-body programs like yoga can augment other strong programs, so incorporate aspects of it into already-existing classes.
- Expose members to the benefits of yoga and other mind-body offerings by doing exhibition classes in the lobby or other main area. Bring the program to your members, instead of waiting for them to try it.
- Educate members about the benefits of mind-body programs by offering introductory classes.
Competition from specialty boutique studios doesn’t have to be the death knell of your mind-body program. Instead, view that competition as an opportunity to learn new ways to meet the growing wellness needs of your members.