The Story of Xercise4Less
Xercise4Less is the Yorkshire-born success story that became a driving force in the fitness industry.
When founder Jon Wright saw the low cost gym chain movement coming into the UK, he was convinced it was something big. Very quickly he found himself with four clubs on his hands. It was at this point that the Yorkshire Post wrote a story that proclaimed Jon’s passion for providing affordable fitness to the masses. This story is the origin of their moniker, The People’s Gym, which Xercise4Less has never been able to shake off since.
Not that they’d want to. They’re proud of the brand launched by the news story, and they’ve been building it ever since. “Obviously we were delighted to see ourselves being called ‘The People’s Gym’,” says John Nasta, Marketing and E-commerce Director. For the first time, the team could clearly understand the mission to bring affordable fitness to as many people as possible. After internal re-education and strategy revision there was a defined focus in the business.
"We’re seeing higher retention rates than we’ve ever had, we’re seeing higher visitor numbers than we've ever had and we genuinely feel that’s because we are creating more touch points with the members.
Marketing and E-commerce Director, Xercise4Less
A branded fitness app, customized for Xercise4Less
Scheduling & Booking
Automated booking system that allows clients to book any type of class or session via our mobile apps.
Social features that allow Xercise4Less to engage their members with targeted brand expressions.
Delivering the Brand Promise
But a moniker like this is also a promise, which should be delivered on. "A couple of years ago when we reached a certain point of success," says Nasta about the period when they were nearing the milestone of 30 clubs, "we started asking ourselves what it really meant to be the people's gym."
An agency-led research period followed. Staff, members, ex-members , people who have never even been a member - all opinions were taken into account. The results showed that the real meaning of being the People's Gym was more than just making fitness accessible. It was about a sense of community, of going on your own fitness journey, of seeing others as fitness partners instead of merely fellow members.
Enhancing Success With Technology
While the success of low cost gyms rose, another development was poised to impact the industry - digitalisation. Nasta firmly believed that it presented one of the biggest opportunities for the health and fitness world. "They keep telling us that the biggest threat is digital and online, whereas I personally have always seen the biggest opportunity for brick-and-mortar health clubs as online fitness and communities." It's how you can create touch points with your members outside of your club. While ten years ago, the number of visits indicated how long people stayed with your business. But these days, there are many more options to create meaningful and relevant touch points for members when they're not inside the club. This allows a business to keep members connected whether they're coming in or not. And Nasta recognized the huge opportunity this presented.
Starting the Search
The biggest challenge Nasta ran into was finding something that could deliver all the components they wanted. "I could join up many different solutions," explains Nasta, "but then I'm having to deal with a number of different providers. And operationally, that was just never going to work."
One of the providers Nasta had his eye on was Virtuagym. "I first came across Virtuagym years ago, on a tiny three by two stand at the Leisure Industry Week, with two lanky Dutch brothers on it telling me they were going to change the fitness world. I knew it was a product to look out for at that time straight away."
Finding the Solution
Virtuagym was ready to partner up with Xercise4Less to develop a solution that could really help deliver on their brand promise. After a period of discussion and deliberation, Nasta was confident that Virtuagym could offer what he required of a software system. "It was my eureka moment. My life was a lot easier after that - and my blood pressure was a lot lower."
The Challenge of Implementation
At this point, Xercise4Less operated dozens of locations all over the country. Making sure a new software system was successfully implemented across the board was a challenge. "We learnt some lessons at that point," says Carl Smith, National Health and Fitness Manager. "Initially, we sent out three emails. We got all excited. We gave everybody access… and nobody used it."
At that point, they were firm believers in the product. They knew the benefits, but for some reason people weren't using it. To improve the adoption of Virtuagym, management decided on a roadshow. Smith and his team attended virtually all locations to give on-site training, to explain the benefits, and to support the local teams. "Suddenly, you started to see this little increase over a number of weeks, to where we are now. I believe our staff is now fully engaged with the platform."
With local buy-in established, the road was clear for implementation of Virtuagym in the member journey. Xercise4Less adds technology to every step. Members enter the club using fingerprint ID scanners, and they can use their Virtuagym accounts to partake in gym challenges, comment on community posts, or talk to trainers and other members.
To facilitate quality control, Xercise4Less uses Virtuagym's centralized management portal, with which they can manage training plans and other content in all locations. "It's super helpful," says Nasta. "There’s consistency, something that we would previously have had to do via word."
The effort put into implementation paid off in terms of activation. Virtuagym app downloads are as high as 90% for the best-performing locations - after smartly making account creation required upon joining.
Facilitating Brand Love
"Compared to other brands, we have something called brand love," says Nasta. A lot of their members have passionately bought into what Xercise4Less is delivering. "When you've got that voice, tools like Virtuagym provide a catalyst to energise these people and be more connected to them."
Another contributing factor to high levels of engagement is that the business is very popular with 20-35 year olds, a generation that expects to be connected. The blue dot generation, as Nasta calls them. A major trigger for them was access to the closed communities that Xercise4Less set up within Virtuagym.
Client feedback was stellar, compared to the old app they were using before. A one star rating in the Google Play store went to a 5-star rating with hundreds of reviews. Before less than 1% of class bookings were performed. Now, every single one of their classes is booked via Virtuagym.
"Our old app was the number one source of complaints from our members," says Smith. "Now we don't get any complaints about the app. We know we're just beginning our app journey, so we feel it's going to go from strength to strength."
This increased satisfaction is reflected in platform usage. The platform currently has around 140,000 unique visits per week - nearly half of some 300,000 Xercise4Less members.
Looking back, Xercise4Less is confident they made the right choice. "We’re seeing higher retention rates than we’ve ever had, we’re seeing higher visitor numbers than we've ever had and we genuinely feel that’s because we are creating more touch points with the members."