How to Build Outstanding Fitness Experiences

By Nan de Bruin

Published 23 August 2021

This week we chatted to Tom Skyrme from Affinity Spaces in our bi-weekly Lunch & Learn webinar. In our conversation with Tom, he revealed how you can build outstanding fitness experiences for your clients.

Affinity’s mission is to fundamentally change the way health is perceived through the creation of active spaces. Active spaces are not a type of facility such as a health club, big box or boutique, nor is it a franchise or workout.

Host Alex von Hagen and Tom discuss how to get online more effectively, how you can build experiences to increase retention and the Space Station modelCurious to what that is, and why organizations should adopt it? You will hear all about it in this episode of FitNation Lunch and Learn.

Watch the full episode here:

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Alex Von Hagen: Welcome everybody; it is that time again for another episode of Fitnation’s Lunch and Learn. We want to thank everyone for taking the time to join us for today’s session. It will be one that shines a spotlight on the role of online presence and also member experiences in the fitness industry that, as we all know, is changing by the day.

The person who’s going to help us give us the insight and the actionable points here is none other than Tom Skyrme. So Tom is the founder and CEO of Affinity Active Spaces. It’s a team of people whose aim is to fundamentally change the fitness industry with a focus on the development of active spaces and they’re also helping usher in a new era for the industry that’s really centered around the ability to deliver personalized coaching at scale.

So in today’s session, what we’ll be discussing is getting online more effectively, building experiences that ultimately retain your members better and then also why organizations should adopt something called the space station model, which Tom has developed and I think has a lot of actionable insights within it as well. So as mentioned, this topic is going to be super prevalent for an industry that is changing pretty much by the day. It will be a really important conversation for those who are looking to keep their competitive edge in the next 12 to 18 months. Tom, thank you for taking the time to join us.

Tom Skyrme: Thanks for having me on, excited for the chat and what a lovely introduction that was.


Alex: Thanks. So Tom, always a good background point here, maybe you could tell us a little about your background and what you do.

Tom: Certainly, so I started off like a lot of people in the fitness industry as a coach, started down in the bottom in the gyms doing all the coaching. From there I sort of moved a slightly different angle, I was working towards nutrition and that’s where I first started working directly with gyms with Affinity.

What we were trying to do was help gyms get better nutrition support within that framework of health support. So in a lot of cases there, wasn’t a very clear message going within the gym about what supplements to take, maybe what recipes are good, where to get good meal plans and as we know, there’s that huge opportunity within nutrition as an addition to fitness within the gym spaces.

So what we started doing was working with gyms to ensure that they had much better systems to allow them to deliver nutrition and so that was helping them get nutritionists on or in a lot of cases using a framework that allowed them to gather the right information and then deliver that to their members and that’s sort of where the next stage occurred, which was just before the pandemic.

We were doing a lot of work with helping gyms deliver these nutrition strategies, but a lot of it was online because you didn’t really need to be in the actual gym itself and so the support came through these online networks, whether it was via an app, whether it was via their social media pages or whether that was via sort of just their online sites that they had.

So we started working to make sure that all the information that they were getting was being delivered in a really efficient way through their actual digital platforms that they were having and then all of a sudden the pandemic happened and everyone had a digital platform. So that was sort of when the time came for us as well and we’ve been working with gyms first of all, to get their nutrition online and then we thought, okay, this is really now the opportunity to help, not just from a nutrition perspective, but to look at different elements of health that a gym could provide on top of that fitness services and really then start to stick out in an industry, which very quickly moved online and the market became very saturated and everybody came quite competitive and so it became, okay, how do we add more than just fitness to a portfolio when it comes online?

And that’s where we’ve been really focusing over the past 18 months is how do we get online more effectively? How do we do things differently to the way everyone else is doing? And that includes the likes of Peloton and Apple Fitness Plus that they have that’s really a good way of bringing in members, but in the same way, the average gym has such an opportunity to do something different and to bring in members in a really unique way.

So together with all of those components, we built up all of these strategies and systems that can be implemented into businesses, which is a really effective way of expanding the business and doing more for your members. So it’s been an exciting 18 months of development for us.

Vision and Mission of Affinity

Alex: Nice, definitely. So, yes, it sounds like you guys are really, as you said, growing from nutrition and then pulling in a lot more different areas of this. So as far as Affinity goes, I mean, what would you say is your vision here or ultimately the mission that you guys are really trying to help with?

Tom: The much broader vision and sort of what we talk about on a day-to-day basis is how do we get more people being active and how do we get more people into gyms and studios and I think there’s always been this case within the industry that we target the individuals who want to be healthy and we target the people that are already wanting to invest their time and money into the ends up being active.

So we help apply strategies that reach out to people who are maybe taking their first steps and so we do a lot of work to really consider who are those people that are on the fringe, who are those people that really aren’t active, and what does it take to get them to step one and then to step two and if we will do that as an industry, we can make so much of a bigger market of individuals and make such a difference to the way that we make more people healthy and not just that the sort of 20% that we know are going to continue to buy from us.

So the big picture for Affinity has always been, how do we get more people into the industry? How do we make health more meaningful, more accessible and that’s important to us.

Alex: Yeas, and I’ve also had this conversation with a lot of other people, it’s that 15 to 20%, we knew that they were going to be part of the industry. We knew that they were going to be, as you say, buying from the industry, using gym subscriptions, but as the pandemic hit, you kind of realized that it was that other 80 to 85% where attention should have been focused on because that’s where probably most of the problems occur within the pandemic.

I’m glad to hear that you guys are really focusing on that because I think this is the next stage of the fitness industry, it’s not just about that small 15% and fighting over the same members, it’s about addressing that wider audience and really making health accessible for more people.

Tom: Yes, don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. It’s that sort of situation where everyone wants to be a part of that solution, but it’s never just oh, okay, we need to do more of this since there’s a really dynamic set of sort of situations that everybody is on their own unique health journey and we’re finding people on completely different points and we have to really understand where each individual is with their health and start to then bring that person in step by step and it sounds so difficult.

How do we get one person and how would we get every unique individual to take that step? So it’s about really trying to understand where everyone is in a society that is changing so quickly and with so many different ways of actually influencing our health and so we bring those together and we really try and focus on, okay, what are the best strategies of getting this done more effectively? So no two days are the same when trying to work all these things out.

Current Status of Fitness Industry

Alex: A lot of different things to consider or consider for sure. I mean, it’s a huge population set now that we’re all trying to focus on here. So one of the main talking points we wanted to focus on today was getting online more effectively. Obviously, this show, this kind of reared its ugly head for a lot of operators when the pandemic hit, when they realized they had no solution whatsoever, but at the same time, it also accelerated that move towards digital by maybe some estimates five to ten years for some organizations.

From your perspective or the position that you guys are sitting in, what would you say is the current status of gyms or just the fitness industry as a whole? We don’t really want to target just gyms only here, but I think the industry as a whole being online.

Tom: Absolutely. So a lot of times when we talk about it internally, we talk about traditional health and fitness or traditional fitness, which is like the gym studios, health clubs and what their transition has been from almost strictly physical, maybe five years ago to a very, what we’re now calling a hybrid approach where they have to have digital services and what scale of digital services are they going to apply?

Is it they’re now more a digital service than they are physical service or they find a balance which optimizes more for their members. So there’s definitely that traditional side of gyms and studios that are trying to focus on that transition that they need to make, which is manageable for them as a business and then we’ve got new fitness as well, which is you’re saying connected fitness, the apps that came out of almost nowhere and have tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers, they’re very much part of the industry and they’re very much a massive support system for bringing new people into the industry.

So if they’re digitally native, then what strategies and services are they using, and why are they so effective in bringing people together online and supporting around a brand.

So, I mean, we’ve seen numbers that 84% of traditional health and fitness businesses went online during the pandemic. I saw 84% in on top of all of those other businesses, there’s a lot of competition, but some of them have dropped off. Some of them have decided, look, now things are beginning to reopen and our physical space is more accessible and profitable, we can go back to just doing that and so there is been a drop-off from a lot of the traditional fitness, which is fine, but then there’s also those who have gone right, okay, we’re really into this market now, and not only are we competing, but we’re really starting to make grounds on the way our business works.

So it’s exciting to see where the blend is between new fitness, new health and fitness services, especially those who work in a particular vertical and then the traditional brands who are really [inaudible 12:51] weigh-in and said, look, we are a more traditional brand and our training and our services are of a really high standard and now we’re doing this online and we’re doing it really effectively. So it’s great to see that sort of amalgamation of all of these brands come together online. So it’s definitely a big step forward in helping more people be active and be healthy and a lot of it is online.

Alex: Nice. Two things to point out from what you just mentioned. I think some good points from my day job, I talked to a lot of fitness chains and I am talking with a lot of different players in the fitness industry, you’re totally right that now there’s just this plethora of new providers on the market.

I mean, I can’t remember this is a big difference in the numbers, so I don’t know how publicly I should say it, but it was something between like either 20 or 70,000 different kinds of fitness apps were released onto the app stores I think in 2019 or 2020. I should probably have these stats a little more drilled down before I announced something like that but the point is that this is a huge number and so, yes, there’s obviously now it’s just like this, what do they call it?

Analysis paralysis on what should be the best one for you on that same note, I’ve also talked to some gym chains who are more or less actively not pursuing the online avenue because in the presence the physical club, like that experience, that face-to-face experience, that’s the most important thing for them. So I think as you mentioned, it’s about helping people understand what’s best for them and understanding what their options are.

Tom: Absolutely. Every business is different in terms of what is going to be the best direction for them moving forward because they can have a really good community of individuals and they can secure that business going forward without having to go online or doing it in a certain way. And like you said, I’ve heard some data similar to what has been rattling around in your head there about 20,000 or up to 70,000 new apps being put onto an app store and I’ll tell you now, 90% of them will not last a year because it’s just not good enough in terms of the standard of coaching they’re providing. It does have to be better online.

It’s certainly different online, but when it comes down to it, a stat that I saw, which was probably more staggering and hopefully I don’t misquote here, but it was 1.1 billion downloads of health and fitness apps and so it’s just a staggering amount of people. A download doesn’t mean they’re using it every day, but it just goes to show there really is a market for people being active online.

Alex: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I also think I’ve seen a similar statistics to that one probably from the same, if not similar source and it shows you where that interest really is and you figure people also have multiple apps on their phone for fitness. I mean, I think I probably have six or seven apps that are related to one form of fitness or another, whether it’s biking or [inaudible 15:48] for my gym or forest tracking progress or something like that. So yes, there are a lot of options out there for people.

Tom: Absolutely.

Strategies for Growth

Alex: Okay. Let’s talk about some of the strategies that you guys are helping or discussing with your partners in order to help best position them for growth. What kind of conversation topics are you guys usually having?

Tom: Yes, sure. I mean, we touched on it at the very start about the space station model, which I know we’ll come on to, but as a company, we look at the idea of the space station actually came from this idea of a galaxy because within online fitness, there is just absolutely so many components that go into delivering it effectively and operating the business effectively and so we were like, okay, how are we going to contain this tool?

And so we started off by saying, right, it’s the galaxy model and so within there is the space station model, which is how you deliver experiences online and then there’s the idea of complete health and that’s an assessment on the different opportunities we have to deliver different forms of health online.

I think in the physical space, as a contrast here in the physical space, we’ve built out for a gym, there are machines there, it’s all built to do physical fitness. But online those same gyms are now capable of delivering nutritional advice, mental health support, creating very unique communities that you wouldn’t be able to harness necessarily in the physical space and so it really opens the door to helping any individual work on their health in a much more dynamic fashion and I think that’s a massive step forward when we consider some of the flaws of the traditional industry was that someone could be working out four times a week and they could be active, but it was their nutrition that let them down, it was their mental health that’s got them going and so it was so uncontrollable for these gyms and that they would lose members because of well beyond their control.

So one thing that we’ve really tried to focus on is how do we make solutions that go beyond fitness and online there are huge opportunities for that. We can dig into that further because it then links to personalization, because again, with the tech that we’re getting, whether that’s the wearables that people have on their wrists or the belts that they wear, the heart rate monitors that they wear, whatever it may be, it adds that layer of personalization. We have more data, we have greater access to what their motivations are, what their goals are, who they’re interacting with, why they’re interacting, what coaches do they want to work with, which coaches are best for that particular set of goals.

We have all of this data, all of this information, and it’s going to be so important to start understanding what data we have available to us as a business and then how do we start applying that data in a way that can personalize every member’s experience, whether we have a hundred, 300 thousand, a hundred thousand members, and that really will be the case of we’re going to be able to personalize a lot of the services.

How do we understand that data? What have we got to use and what avenues do we need to look to secure more opportunities for personalization? So it’s a huge opportunity within different systems and strategies of working online and operating a business online, whether that’s in addition to the physical space or whether that’s as a primary role.

Role of the Community in Effective Online Strategy

Alex: Gotcha. I think when we talk about personalization communities [inaudible 19:20] to start popping up as well, it’s one that they usually mention in the same breath. So maybe, could you talk to us a little bit about the role you see community playing in terms of an effective online strategy?

Tom: Perhaps it’s the most important factor. I mean, I’ve seen so many different brands go online and I’ve seen some incredible programs through my time as a coach, I can tell what’s a good program and a bad program and I see all these good programs, and I see all this fancy marketing and I see all these really good components, but the business has nowhere near the same amount of growth as another business who just clearly has this core community of people who are all doing it for each other, who were there supporting each other and this business is just doing a lot better.

It’s acquiring members quicker, they’re retaining members, all of the key statistics that you’re getting from a good, successful fitness business is coming from the ability to connect people much more effectively and it isn’t easy. A lot of the time when you’re making a community the big problem is keeping people engaged, getting people to sort of be open to other people online, which is always difficult. You’re not meeting someone face to face.

You’re not necessarily building a bond in person. We’ve all been online over the past year and some of us have struggled and some of us have sort of seen the opportunity that’s making friends online and creating relationships online is doing for our own health and it’s doing it for our own wellbeing in general. So community is playing this massive important role in bringing people together and essentially having that accountability and having those people around you to continue to reinforce good health habits and good health behaviors and the better the community is the less it feels like you are building a habit or working out every day or any of those sort of circumstances that a lot of people seem to think are a tool or something I don’t want to do.

If you have a community around you, it completely changes the dynamic of how you adjust your health. So, yes, definitely the most important component.

Alex: Do you have any good examples or initiatives you’ve seen some operators take on that you could share?

Tom: Yes, I mean, there are loads of great ideas and often, when I see it, I’m always writing them down because I’m like, that’s a great idea. Stuff like daily challenges it alerts everyone to something different every day towards their health and so it doesn’t have to be okay, this is our daily challenge, go and do a kilometer or two and a half kilometer run or this is our workout.

It can be get out and meditate in a local park or go and find a recipe which allows you to cook with certain foods, which will enable you to have more fiber in your diet. So it’s challenges that you don’t know what’s coming because it’s a daily challenge and it’s something new and it keeps the idea of being healthy fresh, because you always have something different to do. So I like the idea of daily challenges and another initiative I really like is it’s time away and I can’t remember which brand and what it was called, but what they tried to do was say, okay, we’re going to do half an hour, anyone who wants to do this particular class, you have to stay for half an hour after and all it is is just having conversations with people who have also done that class.

So I think quite often when we’re doing classes online, whether that is the live classes or on-demand, it’s okay do the class and we’re done, next thing what’s going on in life? Have I got to do this, have I got to do that, am I back to work, what might it be? To take that half an hour and to have those conversations with people that you wouldn’t have necessarily had the conversation with, it builds community in a way that a lot of us expect from the traditional, the physical spaces and it gives you a moment because a lot of the time you’re either wrapped up in work or you’re wrapped up in family life or whatever it may be and you don’t get the opportunity to spend all the time with people who are like-minded and so those are some of the initiatives that really help build community online.

Alex: I think that that second one is actually interesting because that is a great community builder right there. It’s almost like a forced community builder, but not one that seems like it’s too forced like speed dating or something. So it’s like, hey, stay have a chat, hang out, see who else is also interested in the same class as you are and yeah, those are the kinds of things when you see those people at the gym, they’re probably going to attend around the same time that you usually do as well and then, yes, that’s exactly how these things start to get built and it’s organic as well, which is really nice.

Tom: Yes, as you say organic is spot on, those are those authentic organic connections that you can get from just setting time aside and the people who would sign up for that class knew that it was just almost semi-compulsory. They want it to be there afterward because they knew other people would be there and other people who wanted to share that time with them as well. It’s not like you’re going into a room and no one’s really paying attention now. Everyone’s there just to be with each other and I think it does feel really organic because people just start chatting and people would just like really feel like they’re in a room together and it’s so important when we’re talking about online fitness, building communities online, it can often feel very disconnected from what it means to build relationships in real life and so any strategies and systems that you can apply, which makes things organic and authentic are absolutely vital to that.

Delivering Content

Alex: Yes, big fan as well of the daily challenge that’s not just about, hey, do a hundred pushups or go run X amount of distance. It’s not just physical, it’s the finding the finding that new recipe to help you do this, and then that starts to just connect it all together. I think that was brilliant. I’m going to start sharing that one with some of the conversations that I have as well. There’s a huge amount of value in that to just get people doing something different. As far as delivering content most effectively, what kind of things are you guys advising on here?

Tom: See, when I was sort of thinking about the best way of delivering at home fitness, which is going to make you unique, you can’t compete with the way that Peloton sets up their cameras and their leader boards and all of that sort of software that they developed, and the same thing with Apple Fitness Plus.

These big brands, you don’t want to try and compete head to head with them, you want to think of what makes your brand unique and what makes your brand different and how do you start implementing that into the way that you deliver your experiences and so if you’ve got an hour of someone’s day, how are you going to make it the best hour of their day and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be a sort of a 45 minute class and then 15 minutes stretch, whatever the class is, think outside the box a bit, think how can we add different components of the health of sort of an individual’s health on top of what the class may be and so don’t just make it hit class, don’t just make it a yoga class, think of what you can add and so there’s plenty of opportunity to show what your brand is really made of and how it’s unique and definitely lean into that.

Alex: Nice. Also, I mean, it’s worth mentioning, since the pandemic there’s been a lot of at-home videos of varying quality. Do you have any tips here as far as what can we do to up the quality of our video, if we don’t have well, as most people don’t have the endless pockets of the Peloton and the Apple Fitnesses and things like that?

Tom: Yes, sure. I’d say keep it simple. As long as your audio and video are good enough standard. I mean, you don’t need to buy a very expensive camera and all these microphones and apps and all these lights and just make it a good enough standard so that people can hear you clearly, people can see you clearly and make sure you get feedback on that.

Don’t just assume whether people can or can’t, just make sure you’re having those conversations and some of the things that we do with the companies we work with is say, listen, you need to be very open with the way that you’re developing online with your community, because if you’re new to it and if you’re a gym that’s moved online and you have all of these new individuals coming in, some of them were members and are members in your physical space, but some of them are coming in through referrals and through seeing your adverts and marketing and whatever that may be, bring them into the community of we’re building online and we want to know what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. So give us that open information, because we’re only making things better for you here.

I think a lot of businesses are afraid to say, what are we doing wrong and getting that feedback saying, oh, your video’s horrible but if enough people were saying your video is a bad quality, that’s when you need to know you need to upgrade your video as opposed to thinking, or someone or loads of people saying, oh, we’d love like a leader board, or we’d love to be able to see some sort of data about where we are.

Then you think, okay, well, what software is out there that we can look for to apply that on top of now that we’ve got a good foundation of good video and good audio, so what’s that next step for us. So always be listening to what your community is saying and what your feedback is saying, because that’s where you’re going to get the information of where is the priority of adding to our digital service and whether that is the service and the experiences themselves, which is the delivery of it or whether that’s the backend making it smoother, making it easier for them to decide off and making it easier for them to engage. So there are all those components that just listening is the best way of finding out.

Alex: Nice. I think it’s always really good from a retention standpoint too, is really kind of putting yourself out there and say, look our core reason for asking this is we want to make this the absolute best experience for you possible, what kind of feedback would you have and just it’s all about how you approach it. I think that’s a pretty good tip.

Tom: More and more brands are starting to sort of build-out in public in terms of saying, we’re a business, but we’re as much part of this community as all of the coaches and individuals. So we want to make the business a part of the community and the more you do that, the more open people will be as opposed to saying well, there’s the business and then there’s a community and they’re separate and they’re only sort of linked between the coaches who are the ones who are delivering the experiences.

As a business owner, if you put yourself in the community and say I’m building this business and we want the business to excel, we want it to grow because the more it grows, the more we can add, people to this community, so they’re going to help everyone out and so it helps bridge the gap between the idea of having a community of people and a business and if you bridge that gap, then it makes it a lot more comfortable for the people in the community to provide support for the business.

Building Experiences that Retain Members

Alex: Nice, yes. Okay, and so moving on a little bit to the experiential side of things, one of the things we wanted to really focus on was building experiences that retain members. So just as a basis point, always good to just kind of say what does your definition of an experience at a gym look like? And then from there we can dig in a little bit deeper.

Tom: Yes, absolutely. I know we’ve sort of been saying it a few times here. I’ve been saying experiences in a way that I like to define it and I think in a lot of circumstances, when you say customer experience, you think of everything that is involved in what the customer is going to do within the dynamic of the GM or of the business. The way we see an experience is that period of time where the individual is working on whatever it is to do with their health.

So it could be a class, it could be a workshop, it could be a community discussion forum that is an experience in of itself and I think where services and content are consumed, so if you were to just deliver a hit class, which is a bit more like a sort of a service then it’s just consumed and they just burn some calories, they don’t really know what’s going on with it.

But if you give them experience, which is continuing from the idea of a HITT class, if they understand why they’re doing certain movements, if they understand sort of where they are developing different areas of muscle groups, why they’re burning calories and what this means and so if you build out an experience, you can add ideas of themes and what you’re doing within your brand, learning what outcomes are coming from it and there are loads of these components that help make an experience more defining to each person.

Alex: Nice. I agree with that perspective on it. As far as how you guys are consulting, different fitness professionals on how to help them build these experiences, maybe we can do a deep dive on, you’ve already touched on it a little bit, but maybe just dive in a little bit deeper of like, hey, how can we help you take your, well, I don’t want to say just hit class, but let’s take the hit class example, you offer this, how do we turn this into that much more of an experience that’s going to get people coming back into more and more and more and really understanding it?

Tom: Yes, so I was just say in the particular hit class, what you want to do is you want to build more components around it in the way that enables each individual to take more from it in a personalized way. So if you say like a service, you can get a hit class on YouTube and you can press play and you can just follow the steps and that’s absolutely free in a lot of circumstances.

So you will think, okay, what do we need to add on top of that to make it more accessible and more meaningful to each individual? So it’s being able to have, obviously the coaches who are there engaging during the class is important and so you think of, oh, okay, wait, what are they doing to essentially bring everyone closer into the way that they’re looking after their health and so, yes, they’re doing the movements and they are understanding why they’re doing the movement?

Are they understanding what benefits is having and so you can link it to the way that each individual is working on their particular health and working on their particular goals and so, like we mentioned at the start about the importance of personalization, it’s bringing that back to, okay, why are we working in a certain way? What are your motives to continue to push harder? What are these components that go into the experience itself, which is going to benefit each person?

So I think that there’s all this depth that you can find within the certain avenues of delivering a class online and so irrespective of whether you’re doing a HITT class, or if it’s a yoga class, whether it’s a hybrid, I think we’ve got a lot better at programming for a larger range of individuals and so when we are online, say if 20 people turn up or a hundred people turn up, there’s still the opportunity to provide the depth that is in each individual’s ability to give them that personalization. So there’s all this opportunity that exists within it.

Alex: Nice. Would you say, are there any common things that you see pop up time and time again, that in terms of creating a better experience that you’re telling your customers you know, hey, these are the first two things that you can implement today to craft a better experience? Sometimes it can be a little hard to maybe just blink at that across the whole industry, but I guess what kind of common things are you seeing pop up that anyone listening right now could implement in the next one week or so like that to improve the experience that they offer?

Tom: Yes. Again, I like the idea that I always think is most effective, which is also most underutilized is the idea of emotion. So there’s not enough reflection on, okay, how are we going to make people feel during different stages of this class? So how are we getting them to feel as soon as they log on and as soon as they are in that space ready to go, they’ve turned up, they want to be there.

What emotion are we trying to craft from there? Which is going to heighten the experience for them. Because if we just turn up and say, all right, okay, off you go and then you’re doing this, you’re doing that and then it just gets away from them and it doesn’t ever become a true experience as opposed to just the service of doing a class. If we grabbed that emotion and think, oh, okay, well, we need to heighten the emotion at this period and we need to calm things down here, we need take a breather, we need to understand where our body’s moving and that can happen right in the middle of a hit class and it completely changes the perspective that an individual has of doing that particular class.

Then that kind of, okay, they’re more present in the experience and by being more present in the experience, whatever type of exercise it may be, or even if it’s something to do with sort of nutrition and mental health, which is the other opportunities that exist within experiences is how do they feel and how does that emotion trigger their continued success because they can flash through the class, they can finish it and burn the calories like we were saying, but how are the emotional triggers working to ensure that that’s taking more from the class and what we often find that the end as well is at the end of the session, what are the emotional triggers that are going to make them come back again?

Because we don’t necessarily think it’s going to be an emotional trigger that makes them come back. We think it’s, oh, they’ve enjoyed that class and they’ve burnt a certain amount of calories or they know that they’ve improved their mobility or their strength because of doing the class and we think that the issue of presumed progress is what really makes them come back again. But if not, it’s the emotion that they felt at the end is that, are we doubling down on that euphoric sense of achievement or are we say, okay, good job, well done, off you go.

So it creates that different emotion, which leaves them in a much better position long-term to think, oh, okay, that was a success. Not just because of the way that I did the class, but the way I felt and the way I applied myself during the class. I want to have that again and I want to have the sort of range of emotions that I got from within that class and a lot of people were like, oh, I really enjoyed the challenge of doing that class or I really enjoyed doing something different that I wouldn’t have necessarily done.

So you have to latch onto those emotions and say, right, okay, well, you have to negotiate a way that you continue to put those emotions into the experiences. I think that’s one of those big opportunities that not enough gyms and spaces sort of really reflect on when they’re making the programming or when they are thinking of what classes to put on. I think it’s very easy just to make sure the timetable is full or to make sure that there’s a arrange of an offering for example.

But the reality is if you think about the fundamental reasons why your members and your community are in those classes and are really focusing on different elements of their health and what emotional triggers you can utilize to help them advance the health and that sort of direction, that becomes the biggest opportunity out of all of them when creating experiences.

Adaptation to the Space Station Model

Alex: I definitely agree with that because, I mean, there’s certainly, it’s not everyone, but you can imagine there’s a certain amount of people who are there probably just because they feel like they need to be there and they may be probably on autopilot a little bit while they are there. So if you can start tapping into something a little bit deeper there, then it really starts to shift perspective.

So I think that’s a super good shout what you’re saying that it really appealed to like the different, not only just one emotion, but the different emotions that come throughout a session, whether it’s a HITT class, like you said a few times or a nutrition consultation or some good mindfulness, there are so many different aspects and avenues to go there. Okay, cool. A segue to revisit the space station model that we touched on a little bit earlier, but as you mentioned, there’s a few different things going on here. You feel that a lot of organizations should adopt the space station model and that you guys have created. So maybe we could revisit this, what that means, what’s entailed in that, and then what the opportunity is here?

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Because as you say, we’ve been touching on points throughout this conversation so far, but the space station module itself is a better way of crafting experiences that enable you to put them out efficiently and if you’re putting out new experiences efficiently, whether that is a different type of physical fitness class, whether that entails yoga, a strength class, or whether it’s a nutrition cost, a nutrition workshop, or whether it’s a talk on mental health, whether that is social health components and communication, there are so many avenues you can take when it comes to delivering health and fitness online that you want to have a system or you want to have a model, which works effectively as you go this is what we need to do, and this is how we need to do it effectively. So we broke that down into five stages.

So the first is the discovery stage, and that’s understanding each of your members and as a community, what are the real sticking points that each individual has with their health and that only happens through communication and that only happens by really understanding your community and this needs to be scaled because we’ve worked with sort of smaller gyms who have had a hundred to 300 members, and we’ve worked with others who have 5,000 or 10,000 members.

So you have to be able to gather not just the data itself, but the sort of you have the quantitative side, but you have the qualitative side as well. You have to understand where the feeling is within the community, about where the struggles all with health and that so often comes down to lifestyle components. So you have to work within your community to gain a better understanding. So stage one is always about that discovery. What are people’s real sticking points? There is no point in putting on classes that aren’t as beneficial as what your community really wants when it comes to that health.

So to create an experience, you have to start from the very start of it. What are your communities sticking points and what can you start to do to really work on them and that’s really what leads into the second point, which is the development stage.

In the development stage where you have a better understanding and now you want to make sure that when it comes to delivering the experience, you’re actually doing it right and you’re doing it in a way that is going to be beneficial. It’s one thing to say, oh, okay, we’re struggling with our nutrition, potentially around sort of summer and less people have keeping on top of their nutrition. So everyone you’ve gauged from that discovery stage that people were needing help in a certain direction and that may differ at different times of the year as well.

So you’re trying to understand where and that second development stages, how are we going to appeal to the breadth of our community and find a solution that is going to work effectively for them, and how are we going to focus on delivering it? So is that going to be like a workshop or is that going to be as just a class or a talk from a nutritionist? Is it something to do with gut health or is it something more broad to do with sort of the way that fiber is an important role within the diet as a whole?

So it has sort of levels of depth and breadth that you need to understand in that second stage, so that you deliver exactly where the struggle is for the majority of people who want to commit that point of view of their health.

So that leads to stage three, which is the practical stage, and that’s actually delivering the experience and that’s actually creating something which is meaningful to every single person. So when they log on and they come to do this experience with you, they’re like, this is exactly what I needed, and it doesn’t come without stage one and two, because you have that understanding and so in the third stage, that’s when you’re applying all of this, and that’s very similar to sort of the conversation aspect we just had about the experience themselves is when they’re there, what are they doing to really optimize that experience and that applies to both the coaches each member of the community and every person involved in the experience themselves.

We like to think of it as a whole system approach, who are the stakeholders, who are the people that have a role within this experience. So everyone needs to have an opinion on what the outcome is going to be, because at the end of the day, that is what is going to make your strongest opinion and that is what is going to allow the coaches to coach to their full potential and to deliver outcomes that are really going to be changing people’s lives long-term because it’s one thing to [inaudible 44:53] an experience and other things to deliver a service.

If you’re delivering just a service, you’re not connecting an individual to their health long-term. So that’s why we find stage three as the practical stage, sort of the pivotal stage, because what it does is it really transforms their idea of that component of their health.

So sometimes it is just a class that they’re doing every week, but when you’re turning into an experience, or sometimes it’s as a completely one off class, which they know they’ve needed for a while and you’ve been able to understand that as a fundamental way of doing it. So that’s what’s great about the build-up to stage three and experience itself is that you have with that information about what is the perfect delivery mechanism and going to really maximize outcomes and that needs to then stage four, which is what we call the specialized stage.

Because in so many circumstances, you can take a component of health and you can get it to a level that your coaches are able to deliver at and then once you get past that stage, a lot of individuals want something more, perhaps there’s a deeper level of personalization, and perhaps there’s more to it but you need specialist help and that is often always the case that there any certain level you can take it to before you need some sort of specialists to come in and really reinforce some of those core lessons. In stage three, you’ll learn a lot from those experiences, because you’ll be able to understand that, oh, okay, well, these are the points that we missed and like we said, at the start with a good set of feedback options, you can hear from your community to say, this is where we want to take it next.

We had a problem, you solved the big part of this problem, but look, if we can keep digging deeper on this area of health, or we can understand more, or we can paint it in a new light, and that’s going to add so much more to the way that we advance our health in that particular area.

So to specialize in the stage four is all about finding the right people to come in and support your brand and that’s certainly difficult and that’s a challenge we’ve definitely faced with working with a number of brands is identifying the right people, not just to come in and deliver something on top of which they may have done two or three times with other gyms or with other areas of their business, but how do they come in and really personalize it?

So we feel like a big part of stage four is helping them build the systems to ensure that they are finding the right individual, they’re asking them the right questions and so they’re getting the best out of that in that specialist, whether it’s a nutritionist, physiotherapists, wherever it may be, they’re getting the very best out of them and translating that into exactly what your community needs as the next step after what is the first level of experience that they would get.

So that often, when I tend to sit in, or when I see recordings of the stage four specialists experiences, I’m thinking about like wow, you can tell that everyone’s really engaged, and you can tell that with all the feedback coming in, that everyone’s really turned a new perspective on that element of their health, because it added more to it and they’ve created that depth and almost asked those questions, well answered those questions, sorry that they were sort of asking internally, but they couldn’t quite get out there and I think in a lot of circumstances within the fitness industry, is there are a lot of unanswered questions about different components of our health and that the services that we provide a good, but a surface level, and to really engage people with their health and to really engage people with the way they manage their health long-term, they have to apply more to it.

So what’s great about enhancing the experience through to what we call the stage four experiences is being able to sort of dig deeper and a lot of people have those sort of mini eureka moments where they’re like, that was the missing piece of that particular bit of puzzle for my health. And now I can move onto the next stage and now I can go and continue to eat in a much short of a healthier way, or I can go on to that advanced class that I was never able to do because I was never able to move in a certain way, or I never thought I was confident enough.

So having that extra layer of specialism on top is really, really effective and from a business point of view, bringing in a specialist in and adding an additional layer to the experiences helps you to charge more as a business and offer more premium services in different aspects. So to try and sort of push that across onto the way that we help with membership structuring as well, is that you can have say 15 to 20 pounds a month, which would be your base membership.

But if you want access to some of the specialists experiences, then you pay up to 30 pounds or a little bit more a month and so you get that advanced metric within your training. So to have those stage three practical experiences within the business setup, then you have the stage four, which is that climb up and you encourage more people to make that climb because they want to, because they know that there’s that extra progression up there and that’s the sort of the exciting addition to it.

Then to sort of cap it off, stage five is all about commitment. It’s all about bringing people together. It’s all about saying alright, you’ve learned, you’ve taken so much from that, how do we apply that into the community? How would you really reinforce the idea of stage five is going to be about retention because you’re going to bring people together at that end and you’ve shared these experiences together, you’ve worked on this area of your health together.

How would you sort of continue that as getting people engaged and really thinking more about how do we help each other’s health from the perspective that we’ve just learned? So stage five I think is great because it then completes the circle of a loop of right now, everyone in the community is talking about this particular experience and they’ve learned so much and had done so much, and they’ve taken so much from it that as soon as you introduce a new experience, so once you start a new idea from stage one and move that to stage two and three, they are already thinking of being engaged in that circle and so you’re adding so much to every individual’s health, because you know more about their health and you are adding so much more depth as you move through the sort of the circle of the space station model and that’s the sort of the crux of it, of like that the ability to work on each individual’s health with so much depth, even within a massive community and that is the space station model in it’s drawn out way.


Alex: Nice. Awesome. We’re going to have to start winding down here a little bit. I think the perfect segue that I can see is for someone listening to this right now, and they say, this is exactly what I am looking for, I need this, I as a business owner need the specialist help, where do people, or where to listeners go to find out more about the work you guys are doing, or get in touch to have them help you out?

Tom: Yes, absolutely. So you can come find me on LinkedIn, so Tom Skyrme, S K Y R M E, shoot me a message on LinkedIn if you’re on LinkedIn. We’re on social as well, Instagram everything. If you want to check out our website, it’s, go and have a look around their, contact details there and any other questions, any other ideas feel free to message me, I’m always open.

Alex: Awesome. And we’ll of course put some notes in, or some things in the show notes as well. Okay. Awesome, Tom, we really, really appreciate your help and your insights and just kind of the perspective you shared with us today. I hope it was enjoyable for you. I think our listeners are going to get a lot of valuable things from what we’ve talked about today.

Tom: Excellent. Cheers.

Alex: Awesome. All right. This has been another week of Fitnation Lunch and Learn. We will see you next time.

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Nan de Bruin

Visual storyteller and winter sports enthusiast


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