The Ultimate Fitness Mix For Your Gym

Instantaneous, personalized, and hyper-flexible: this is what today’s consumer has come to expect from services across the board. And when it comes to the gym, in particular, research shows that the modern fitness consumer isn’t going to settle for a gym simply because it’s close. Their gym of choice will need to offer exceptional value, flexibility, and the unique fitness mix they’re looking for.

The stats tell us that up to 50% of Americans won’t be returning to their gym after reopening, and up to 60% prefer outdoor and online fitness. Your potential clients don’t want to schedule their day around their workout any longer, instead, there must be an offer that fits into their schedule and provides extraordinary value and freedom beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar gym.

That doesn’t mean that your on-site services are lost to time. It simply means you’ve got to put together the ultimate fitness mix that attracts and keeps clients coming back. At this point in time, all trends point to on-site training coupled with outdoor and online fitness offerings. 

Outdoor Fitness Mix

People readily took to all manners of outdoor fitness when it was one of the few available ways to get in a quality, socially distanced workout during the onset of COVID-19. Not wanting to lose the social aspect of in-person classes, the popularity of outdoor fitness skyrocketed.

Outdoor fitness was an easy integration for gyms and personal trainers alike who could plan classes based on their schedules, not to mention the obvious benefits of working out in the fresh air and taking in some vitamin D. These have remained popular even as many gyms have reopened. And even with the beginning of fall, outdoor workouts are still going strong, especially in regions with milder climates.

Outdoor fitness classes are a way to significantly expand your brand and get more clients. Especially those who might otherwise have chosen to forego joining a gym altogether. Considering how your gym or facility will integrate engaging and challenging outdoor fitness experiences for your clients is a critical piece to the new hybrid fitness mix approach.

Haven’t yet set up your outdoor fitness offerings? Here is Everything You Need to Know to Start an Outdoor Fitness Class.

With many clients still asking, is it better to work out outside or in the gym? Research continues to be published stressing the importance of good ventilation, thus outside workout spaces endure as a COVID-safe option.

Online Fitness & Fitness Apps

Online fitness has gone through an unprecedented boom. Since lockdown, smartphones have become, more than ever before, an extension of the people who use them. An app exists for almost everything you could ever need, including fitness.

And all signs point to nothing but growth in this area: as 85% of all gym members also now do workouts at home, and 70% intend to maintain or increase their use of online fitness, offering online fitness options for your facility is imperative.

People have become more health-conscious, but have also become more accustomed to convenience, as life has become a lot more flexible since we started working from home, and we like it. Getting all your gear, packing up the kids or finding a babysitter, commuting, finding a parking spot… The list of hurdles to work out goes on.

When fitness can be as simple as changing into your workout clothes, getting your digital training plan, queuing up your workout video or favorite class and working out, people will gravitate to these simple digital solutions. Offering online options will help you keep your members engaged for longer. As well as attract new clients looking for this flexibility.

See More: Are Fitness Apps the Future of the Fitness Industry?

But, can digital fitness improve health? It certainly looks like it. Online fitness is engaging, offers a sense of community, is inherently flexible and available at the touch of a button. Fitness apps offer customization and personalization that can rival any in-person trainer.

And, when it comes to onsite training, online fitness apps can handle scheduling bookings. But also taking payments and many other backend solutions to make your client’s life easier. But you will also free up time for yourself and your team! Virtuagym is your one-stop shop for streamlining your business with an all-in-one software solution, with your own branded app.

See: 10 Advantages of Having a Gym Management System and How gym management software will save you hours of time and Gyms Share How Virtuagym’s Fitness Technology Helps Them Thrive.


Gen Z

It’s impossible to speak about online fitness offerings without specifically calling attention to Gen Z. Millennials and Gen Z together now account for a whopping 80% of all gym-goers, according to

As Gen Z enters adulthood with more discretionary income, not having an online or mobile presence means you are missing out on a massive segment of the population. This generation has grown up on the internet and this is where their life takes place.

They are a group of health and budget-conscious digital natives looking for fitness to fit their life, which is why livestreaming, in particular, has been a monumental solution for engaging these clients remotely. Gen Z’ers focused on health and wellness require a fitness experience that is as connected as they are.

But when it comes to Gen Z, the social aspect of fitness is just as important as staying connected. In fact, Gen Z’ers account for 81% of all fitness class participants, meaning they are also going to want the added value of a hybrid approach to in-person, outdoor and live-streamed classes.

Your Ultimate Fitness Mix: A New Business Model

One thing we cannot deny is that COVID-19 has awakened within consumers a deeper awareness of the underlying importance that fitness plays in their overall health and wellness. Some 68 percent of survey respondents communicated that they are now prioritizing their health more since the beginning of the pandemic.

This means that though the fitness industry is changing, a new normal is taking its place. The focus must be on providing digital and outdoor solutions in addition to on-site offerings so that our health-conscious consumers may pick and choose the fitness experiences that appeal to them, on their own schedule. Keeping your clients connected in-person as well as digitally will build up your relationships and keep them engaged as a community.

The ultimate fitness mix for your business will ultimately be about offering both outdoor and online fitness. The emphasis will be on group workouts and special attention paid to bringing in Gen Z’s and Millennials. A mix of digital and physical workouts will keep members engaged and connected in and out of the gym.

Getting Rid of the Paper Weights – Why Digital Training Plans are the Future

At long last the health and fitness industry seems to finally be making a turnaround. After lengthy COVID-19 related shutdowns and clients wary of returning to in-person training, what we have long hoped for is becoming a reality: people are returning to gyms and health clubs.

Gym giant Planet Fitness just posted a 241% increase in revenue from 2020, and hope is on the horizon for smaller boutique fitness studios as well.

The fact is that people still want to work out, to focus on their health and appearance, but now, post-COVID and the rather quick digitization of fitness, they now want it fast and completely tailored to their life and personal goals.

The shift consumers have gone through in the past year and a half has had a huge impact on their expectations within the realm of health and fitness. Clients no longer want to schedule their day around their workout – they want something hyper-personalized that fits into their daily life.

Many gyms and personal trainers alike still design exercise programming using paper training plans, old-school clipboards or binders to deliver workouts to their clients. Some then “digitize” these pen-to-paper plans by painstakingly adding everything into an Excel spreadsheet to map out client progress.

But what if we told you there was an easier, faster and more client and trainer-friendly solution? There is: digital training plans, by using a training plan software.

Customers Have Higher Expectations

While we celebrate the return of in-person and on-site training, we have to acknowledge the fact that the expectations of gym-goers have irrevocably changed. The consumer is more empowered than ever and if we want to support them in their health and fitness journey as well as keep them coming through the doors of our gyms and health clubs, it is crucial to get on board with a streamlined set of services.

As a personal trainer or gym owner, you want to spend your time making sure your clients are on the right track to reach their goals and give them the personal attention they desire and deserve. You want to do your job: training and supporting your clients.

One way to get back to doing what you love is to stop wasting precious time writing out and then meticulously digitizing paper training plans, and instead look to the future with digital training plans.

The Member Experience

It cannot be overstated how much the member experience comes into play with the return to onsite training. Research shows that your returning gym members are expecting more and more personalized experiences and services. In fact, some 63% of consumers expect personalization as a standard of service.

They want personalized communications, amenities, and, of course, exercise programming. This means that cookie-cutter training plans and run-of-the-mill spreadsheets are not going to cut it for your clients.

61% of the people surveyed in the above research felt they were treated like case numbers rather than people. As a gym owner or fitness trainer, this means we’ve got to get away from seeing our clients and members as another name on a roster and put the personal back in personal training.

Your members want to be treated as individuals, and if they don’t find this experience at your gym, they will most definitely look for it at another. Both client acquisition and retention is going to hinge heavily on hyper-personalizing the experiences and services you provide- and a digital fitness plan is just one way to do so.

Personalized training plans could not be easier with thousands of exercises available to create the perfect plan for your clients based on their individual goals and personal needs.

Show your training clients their progress from a multitude of angles with detailed achievements, hundreds of available metrics to display and spot trends at a glance. Your digital training plan dashboard gives you access to graphics complete with statistics, detailed progress tracking, and over 250 measurement metrics to truly personalize the member experience.

Fitness Technology to Help Your Gym Thrive

So we understand that consumer demands and expectations have changed and that people want fitness services that accommodate their schedules – not the other way around. Fitness technology is the answer to push your business forward. Digital fitness plans provide clients with additional value and flexibility they are looking for outside the gym.

For trainers, they are easy to create, simple to edit or duplicate and can be seamlessly sent straight to clients’ smartphone or computer. With an ever-growing exercise database of 4500+ movements and a drag and drop setup, designing fitness and training plans is simple, user-friendly and time-saving.

Case in point: Virtuagym Success Story Akasha London. The simple and straight-forward Virtuagym system has allowed Aksaha to simplify and integrate almost every detail of their business- not just digital training plans, saving hours of time each week. What it comes down to is that fewer hours spent on performing menial tasks means more time that can be spent on growing your business and increasing your bottom line.

With Virtuagym’s platform, you can automate things like client acquisition and retention, managing booking and scheduling classes, email marketing, membership management, and renewal billing, financial reporting, client coaching, and more.

Ready to Say Goodbye to Paper Training Plans?

Moving on from pen and paper plans doesn’t mean opening up a clunky Excel spreadsheet. With Virtuagym’s workout editor, you can create and assign professional training plans in minutes. Save a base workout to personalize for clients with similar goals, as duplicating a training plan is easy and simple.

The plans can be accessed on any computer, on your branded fitness app, or even as branded print-outs. Digital training plans work for every kind of business, from independent personal trainers to boutique studios all the way to big box gym chains. With new exercises being added to the database and new features to use, we strive for constant innovation to make sure the Virtuagym app keeps working hard for you.

Getting more clients into your gym means having a seamless user experience. It may start with digital training plans, but it certainly doesn’t have to end there. Hybrid business models give gyms and personal trainers the opportunity to find new streams of revenue. They help create a cohesive online and offline experience for clients. Digital training plans are the future of personal training, as they follow the clear path of the overall digitization of our industry.

They’re easier and more comprehensive than any Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet could ever be, and they are always accessible through your Virtuagym app or online portal. They are easy to edit and with a clear overview of plans and progress, both trainers and clients benefit. So, out with the old and in with the new: get rid of the paperweights and offer your clients an easy-to-use modern solution to reach their fitness goals- wherever they need.

Gyms Share How Virtuagym’s Fitness Technology Helps Them Thrive

Fitness technology is becoming more and more important to the industry. Rapid digitization has given way to a host of fitness technology trends – it’s hard to imagine running a fitness business without a gym booking app or maintaining an active online community. And there’s so much more! So how does technology actually help fitness businesses?

In this blog, we share how Virtuagym technology has helped certain fitness businesses thrive. We will look at their journeys through quarantine and since reopening. And, of course, how it can help your gym, studio, or as a Personal Trainer to get ready for a tech-driven future and growth!

DAG ÉÉN – Hyper-Personalization Through Fitness Technology

How does technology help fitness? In many ways – but the personal trainers at DAG ÉÉN make the absolute most of the digital tools at their disposal. Their unique and highly successful, yet completely remote, program utilizes Virtuagym’s app for nutrition, coaching, and fitness together with the NEO Health Watch and the NEO Health smart scales.

Specifically, technology helps the trainers securely gather data on their customer’s daily lives remotely. And so they can hyper-personalize the plans for their clients and give them the exact support they need. Ultimately, fitness technology helps their clients to stay accountable, as the trainers successfully lead them through a uniquely personalized 6-week program.

How successful? Let’s just say that since starting in October 2020, there has consistently been a waiting list for new clients.

“It is a daily ritual – every day we check the weight and measurement results, the number of steps taken, how they have slept and their nutrition according to the nutrition plan – it is a lot, but that is the secret to success: data is the means to achieve the goal.”

Patrick Janssen, Co-founder DAG ÉÉN

Your Personal Training – Offering an all-in-one solution for Personal Trainers

One of the United Kingdom’s most successful personal training management companies, Your Personal Training helps Personal Trainers reach their goals with a team of dedicated and skillful regional coaches. So they, of course, could not miss out on the fitness technology trend to help them hybridize their approach.

With Virtuagym’s fitness technology, Your Personal Training launched their ‘Your Wellbeing’ app. This is a unique fitness management app that can be personalized for each user – consolidating the aspects of three or four different fitness apps into one.

Your Wellbeing supports Personal Trainers in running and managing their business in a more efficient and streamlined way. And ultimately this enables them to focus on what they do best – training clients!

By embracing a hybrid approach, our Personal Trainers can give their clients direction and support based on their needs in a cost effective way, helping them to achieve more holistic all-body health”

Aaron McCulloch, Managing Director, Your Personal Training

040FIT – Engaging the Local Community Online and Offline

You would assume that with seven locations, it would be a real challenge to keep clients engaged through the lockdown – and beyond. So allow us to introduce 040FIT, known for the tight-knit fitness communities at each of their locations, who didn’t hesitate to jump on the hybrid fitness trend and move their community online.

Through their gym booking app they offered outdoor classes, slots for indoor work-outs, and livestreamed lessons for their remote customers. In the meantime, staff personal trainers have intensified their efforts with the coaching and nutrition apps too. And so they have made huge strides in personalizing workout schedules for clients at home and in-facility.

040FIT kept their online community engaged with challenges and prizes, but also organized social events such as hikes, which clients could enjoy while socially distancing.

And this all achieved great success. The combined effort of digital outreach to their online community through their app, and good old-fashioned phone calls from trainers to customers, resulted in an average of 1,500 class bookings a month in 2021.

Through the app we were able to coach our clients remotely and support them with nutrition advice, work-out schedules, outdoor training and a lively community! It’s an asset to every club.

Eric Thus, Manager Asten – 040FIT

Power40 – Enabling a Complete Health with Tech

How can you grow your fitness business in the middle of the pandemic and thrive? Power40 did it with the help of fitness technology: by providing their clients with additional value outside their brick-and-mortar gym.

Customer demands have changed, with people looking for fitness services that accommodate their schedules – not the other way around. If you ask this future-focused team, fitness technology and gym booking apps are the way forward. Above all, they will give the customer of tomorrow the flexibility they desire.

Accessibility for everyone is one of Power40’s core values. And with Virtuagym’s apps and content, their clients can access a full suite of health and wellness content. Whenever they want it, wherever they need it.

“About a month ago, we had a snowstorm that hit Memphis, and everything was knocked down for about a week, and people were not able to come to our studio. But, through Virtuagym, we were still able to provide them with workouts to do at home.

Wesley Ashcraft, the Director of Power40


As you have read, fitness technology helps gyms, studios, and personal trainers in a plethora of ways. Virtuagym’s all-in-one software solution supports your fitness business in all aspects – from scheduling, to payments and your own personalized fitness app.  It’s time to discover what we can do for you – so book your free demo today!

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How to Prepare your Gym for the September Peak

After gyms finally reopened, hopes were high for a peak in new clients coming in. Clients, who finally, after a long winter of closures and rise in awareness of the importance of health in quarantine, would join gyms in droves. After missing out on the wave New Year’s resolution-ists in January, gyms are looking to recoup some of the losses they suffered during the pandemic.  But as schools are out for summer, and with social life finally getting back to normal, people are pushing their ‘getting fit’ plans back. First, enjoy the summer, then get back to work in the gym.

So what can you do to prepare to successfully entice and convert the prospects that will be looking for a gym to shed the summer-fun pounds? And maybe more importantly, how can you get your business ready to offer them the best possible customer experience in your gym this September peak?

Getting Ready with Your Marketing Strategy

First off, don’t wait. If you want clients to join your gym at the September peak, you need to fire up your marketing machine now.

Competition in September will be stiff: many gym-goers are free agents now. And they will be inundated with offers in September to restart their fitness journey. So you want to stay ahead of your competition – not only with a modern and complete fitness offering, seamless user experience, but you want your brand to be top of mind for your prospects.

When your prospective clients start thinking about joining a gym in a couple of weeks, yours should be the first place they think to check out. By showing them ads on social media or Google, sending emails, or even printing a flyer and putting it in their mailbox, you can prime your prospects to your brand. By the time your prospective clients are ready for the decision, they will already be familiar with your brand and offering. This will put you several steps ahead of the competition on the journey to conversion!

Essential marketing tools to get clients back into your gym

The possibilities when it comes to marketing are endless. From easy-to-use channels like Instagram all the way to optimizing your website with SEO techniques, there is something for everyone. But whichever tool you choose to utilize, make sure it’s the right one for reaching your target audience. Learn more about effective communication strategies for your gym!

Social media is an easy yet effective tool to only increase your online visibility, but also a great basis for building your online community. People are more likely to stick to a brand if they feel emotionally invested – for example, if their friends or family belong to the same community. Go to where your target audience is – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. – and encourage people to share, download, and comment on your videos can increase engagement and get people talking!

Do you want to start building your online presence? Check out 7 Instagram hacks to boost your fitness account!

Are you looking to invest in quicker conversions? Google Ads is the way for you. Publishing Google Ads based on keywords and local search criteria (fitness studio near me, gym in X, etc.) can bring you customers who are more eager to buy because they are searching for their exact needs.

Pro Tip:Local SEO works wonders in gym and fitness studio niches. Since people search the facilities around them and optimizing your search engine results with local keywords, addresses, and working on Google Maps and Google My Business listings can boost your Google presence basically for free!

Click here for more tips on increasing your online visibility.

Finally, your current clients are your strongest (and cheapest!) marketing tool. Up to 92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth marketing, from, for example, their friends and family. So make your clients your ambassadors!

A referral program, or special trial membership for prospects introduced by current clients, is the most direct and sustainable route to take to new memberships.

Go Hybrid for the September Peak

We have all had the chance to get acquainted with the advantages of a hybrid fitness offering – mixing online, offline and outside workouts and classes have given clients more choice and flexibility. And this hybrid trend is far from over!

Despite any ongoing restrictions, you want to be able to serve more clients in your gym. With a digital offering alongside your brick-and-mortar gym, you have an ongoing offer for your clients, no matter the circumstance.

As occupancy indoors may be limited, your clients don’t have to miss out on classes when the physical sessions are fully booked. Prepare your gym for the September Peak with the 5 Things Fitness Businesses Should Have Set Up Online in 2021.

A great way to make your offering hybrid – tried and tested in the last 18 months – is livestreaming classes through social media such a Facebook, Instagram, or even YouTube. This way you not only keep your clients engaged when are not, or can’t be at the gym. And you give them more value for their money!

As local restrictions may still be subject to sudden change, you don’t want to lose prospects or clients. Imagine they need to for example quarantine because of a sick roommate or family member. Or maybe a client is moving away but wants to continue their fitness journey with their personal trainer of choice. By going digital, it is easier than ever to adapt nutrition and workout plans for these unforeseen circumstances.

And the one trend you don’t want to miss out on? Outdoor fitness endures as the most popular option in gyms, studios, and personal trainers.

There’s an app for that

How can you engage your clients from one central hub, and offer them the most seamless customer experience when it comes to booking classes, time slots, accessing video content, and getting in touch with your community? Your own app of course!

Your own branded mobile app is the ultimate tool for the modern fitness business to keep clients engaged and active. And it’s not as difficult to get one as it sounds, trust us.

Learn from Your Personal Training in the UK, who went on the journey to digitize their operations. With Virtuagym they launched the Your Wellbeing App, which supports PTs in running and managing their business by being more efficient and streamlined. This enables them to focus on what they do best – training clients!

A management system will save you time

Getting more clients into your digital gym or online classes means it is important to create a seamless user experience. For your clients, for your staff, and, well, for you! You don’t want to be stuck doing endless paperwork when you should be focussing on making sure your clients are getting the attention they need.

A gym management system will help you get your back end – so your administration, membership management, and scheduling –  automated and integrated. No more paperwork, lost post-its, or unclarity about missed payments or following up prospects. But digitizing and centralizing the running of your business will enable you to spend time focussing on your growth and future-proofing your business. Do you want to learn more? Discover the 10 Advantages of Having a Gym Management System.

And it’s not just about making your back-end operation smoother. To get your gym ready for the September peak, you want to be able to easily convert your prospective clients. Lead Management software is essential to keep a firm grip on all potential clients requesting information, trial lessons, referrals from clients – you name it.

As the competition for new clients will be fierce, you don’t want to miss opportunities by forgetting to call a prospect, or failing to follow up. All this is discussed in depth in Locating Prospective Clients Has Never Been Easier With Virtuagym’s Lead Management Software!

Do you feel like it’s a lot to take in? Don’t worry. Virtuagym can help you and your gym make the most of the September peak. Book your free demo with Virtuagym today, and discover how our software can help your business make the most of the coming months. Because it’s never too late (or too early!) to start with building a better business!

Top 10 Retention Strategies to Avoid

We are proud to welcome Dr. Paul Bedford, also known as the fitness industry’s very own Retention Guru, to our FitNation webinar to discuss the top 10 retention strategies to avoid. Paul is a researcher, international speaker, and fitness industry expert on retention, attrition, and customer experience. A regular face at the world-famous IHRSA conventions and many others, it promises to be an exciting and informative episode!

Watch the full episode here:

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Alex von Hagen: Welcome everybody. Thank you for taking the time to join us for another FitNation Lunch and Learn. The weather is getting warmer, at least where I’m at here. So hopefully some of our listeners are also tuning in during a walk or maybe just enjoying some sunshine. Recently, we’ve been privileged to have several guests from the UK join us. Today’s session is with someone who doesn’t need any introduction either inside the UK or out of it. That would be Dr. Paul Bedford.

Paul is the driving force at the Retention Guru. He’s a researcher and international speaker, a fitness industry expert on retention, attrition, and customer experience. In today’s session, what we’re going to focus on is Paul’s 10 retention tips and myths, how retention strategies have changed in the past year, and of course, how operators can adapt to that. And then also how operator actions will influence member reactions. Retention, of course, it’s always been a top priority in the fitness industry and these days it’s even more critical in today’s environment. So I think there’s going to be some very actionable insights from today’s conversation. Without further ado, Dr. Paul Bedford, thank you for taking the time to join us.

Dr. Paul Bedford: Oh, you’re welcome Alex. I’m the same as you. The weather has changed and the sun is out and I’m in my office with all the doors and windows shut to try and minimize noise. Now I’m at that point where I’ve got my paper towel next to me to dab my forehead because the room’s getting hotter and hotter. But we’ll be fine. It’s just nice to have some decent weather.

Alex: Yes, exactly. And for any of our listeners who decide to listen back to this in January or February of 2022, we’re sorry but hopefully, most people will be listening to this when the sun is shining and they’re happy. So yeah, Paul always a good opportunity when we start one of these up for those who don’t know, you, maybe we could give us some background on what you do and who you are.


Paul: Okay. So I’ve now been in the fitness industry for 30 years, and I started as a gym instructor working at my local YMCA, and then I’ve worked through that process all the way up to fitness manager. I’ve run a PT business. I spent a very long time actually training people to be personal trainers and group exercise teachers and so on more than 10 years. And I trained over 3000 personal trainers and a lot of people don’t recognize that in my background. They know me from the work that we do academically within the business. But there was a point where I just changed focus. I want to study more academically; I want to understand what drives people’s behaviors within health clubs. And I went off and I did a Master’s in Exercise Psychology, another one in Research Science, and ended up doing my Ph.D. focusing on how you keep people exercising using the onboarding process.

My business has just expanded since then slowly at first with small independent operators and now I work with some of the largest international chains in the world. While I continue to work independently, it’s a really nice sort of juxtaposition. Sometimes I’m working within a business and the only person in the business is the manager, the owner. They’re also front of house and the trainer, and other times there’s a department for each one of those. We do a lot of analysis, a lot of data analysis to try and get a better understanding. So our decisions are made based on data rather than just gut feeling.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. And so, yeah, as far as Retention Guru, you already talked about it a little bit there and I know due to the nature of what you guys do, you can’t talk about who you’re working with specifically. Maybe you can, yeah.

Paul: Some I can. Yeah. I can look back on previous clients and some of the stuff we’ve done with them.

Alex: Okay.

Paul: Yeah, you’re right. They’re all clients who just go, “You’re going to sign a non-disclosure agreement. You’re not going to be able to tell anybody you’re working with us because we don’t want people to know you’re working with us.” Because sometimes that’s seen as a failure by their board or by external people that if they got me to come in and help them, then oh, there must be problems. Well, as far as I’ve seen within the industry, pretty much everybody needs some improvement in their retention. It’s just whether people are bold enough to go, “Actually we can’t do this on our own. We need some support.”

Alex: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And I think that’s a really good one to keep in mind, but yeah, it’s not that you’re needing help and you’re desperate. It’s actually that you’re focusing on making the business better and consulting the resources with someone very qualified to do that. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Paul: Yeah.

Alex: Okay. So obviously we’re going to spend a fair amount of time talking about retention today. Retention, topics, strategies, operator actions. Throughout this conversation, we’ll come across a lot of these top 10 that we’ve talked about and I think will highlight and drill down on some of those points where necessary. We all know what retention is. I think anyone working in the industry is familiar with this and what it means. Outside of the literal definition of what retention means, how do you think about it and how do you think gyms or any operator in the fitness industry should think about retention?

How do you think about retention in the fitness industry?

Paul: So for me, there are two ways I think about it. One is it’s about how well we support our members. Now, not all members are going to need as much support as others. Some are going to just need the doors open and enough equipment, and then they’re going to use it and leave. Others, they’re completely new to the environment that we’re so familiar with. So what we see as being an everyday activity for them is completely new, it’s novel and sometimes it’s overwhelming. So for me, it’s about managing that experience because I think if you’ve managed the experience well over time, people stay longer. They’re having a better experience. I also see it because it’s the way I have to see it for a lot of operators as a way of driving revenue. You know, a lot of operators, I did a piece recently for an operator where we compared how many personal training sessions they would have to sell relative to increasing the average length of stay by one month and they need just to sell an extra 500 PT sessions per site, per week to equal the revenue generated by one extra month. And it’s like, first of all, can you even find those trainers? Then you have the capacity in the building to actually deliver it. So for me, it’s about revenue generation without it just being purely focused on sales.

Alex: Okay. Yeah, I think the more people start to think about that rather than just keeping a member making sure that people don’t cancel, it’s the bigger picture there. I think that’s where they can start to realize the other opportunities that are there for them. And I think people they’ve heard, there are always common retention topics coming up. Maybe a good starting point for us would say, do you see operators may be losing touch with some of the basics in terms of tried and true retention strategies?

Are operators losing touch with tried and true retention strategies?

Paul: I think sometimes yeah and I think some of it is technology-driven. And I don’t mean that to be, I think it’s because people are going, “Oh, I wonder if we can solve that with technology. I wonder if we can solve that with technology.” I know one of the areas that we’re planning to talk about is personalization and things, but there’s nothing more personal than a person-to-person conversation because you can hear the nuances in someone’s voice. You can hear the pauses and you can’t get that at the moment through tech. And you know, for me, when I’m working with operators, I’m going, “Look, if you’re a smaller business, if you’ve got a problem with retention and you’re a small business, actually you’ve got a problem with your whole business because, at the smallest scale, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Whereas you start to scale beyond a thousand members or multiple sites, you then have to put practices into place because not everybody in the business is as passionate. So often what I see is there’s a loss of focus on helping the customer achieve what the customer wants out of a relationship and it is too one-sided. It all being only about revenue generation and additional revenue generation. So those will be the initial bits. Operators just losing track of asking what their customers want or even focusing on what their customers want.

Alex: Yeah. Okay. You are correct. We’re going to look at personalization a little bit later in the conversation. I think that is a point that probably a lot of people will look over is personal contact is probably the biggest form of personalization. There’s a big difference between someone at the front desk knowing your front name versus the app knowing your first name. Right.

Paul: Yeah. No, definitely.

Alex: Okay. Yep. And on that same thread of conversation, going back to the basics, I mean, do you think there are some common retention strategies that operators really believe in that actually don’t move the needle or don’t have an impact or at least as big of an impact let’s say?

Common Retention Strategies That Don’t Have an Impact

Paul: I think what a lot of operators do is they focus on the period of time when people have indicated they want to leave or already trying to leave, and then they try and save them and they put time and effort. It’s less common now, but there used to be a huge practice of calling everybody who’s left and see if you can get them back, which, when I look at that, you can have an impact on that. The best we’ve seen is about 20% recovery from that group. But it’s a so destroying activity for staff calling people that have already left. So I refer to it, as I say, you have to do, what’s called, I call it upstream thinking rather than worrying about them, going down a river and going over a waterfall and you’re trying to save them once they’ve gone over the waterfall. Be upstream and stop them from going in the river in the first place. So the focus is generally on when they leave, not how do I keep them?

This is a slightly different context and I first started thinking about it because when I was studying academically, we were posed the question, do you study obese people and look at their behavior to try and cure obesity? Or do you study thin people and observe their behavior and then try and teach that behavior to obese people. And it’s like, oh, because changing one group of behavior is very different from adopting some else’s behavior. And so for me, it’s like looking at this and going, okay the last resort should be calling people. But it shouldn’t be the first and only thing you do and I think a lot of operators for a long time focused on that. And I think the other one they’ve focused on particularly in their business has been it’s okay to let people go to sleep because if they go to sleep, at least we’re getting income from them. And we pretty much see in the data analysis we do, yes, you get income from them. But actually, if those people visited just a minimal time, like once a week they’d stay even longer as a member, than if you let them sleep. So you actually generate more money from them. So, it was don’t call the sleepers because you’ll wake them up. Well, some of them you should not let go to sleep in the first place, and the others, why not try waking up a proportion of them. But the [unclear 13:49] of if they’ve not been in for 30 days, don’t talk to them. But it’s just not an approach I subscribe to anymore.

Alex: Yeah. Well, it sounds like it’s really addressing it at the root cause not once the action has already happened or, you know, fix the foundation, not the crack in the drywall if you will.

Paul: That’s it.

Alex: So yeah, I agree with that like try and get ahead of the curve, understand why they’re leaving in the first place. Not trying to win them back after the decision may be in their minds has already been made and either to move on or just cancel altogether.

Paul: The thing is Alex with data what you can do is you can plot when people are most likely to quit. If you see that on like the sort of charts we use, you can see this uplifting a curve and you can go, “Okay. So there’s a bigger proportion of people leaving after four months, than those who leave after three or after five. What do we need to do then? If they go at the end of month four, what do we need to do in months two and three to flatten that curve back down? Whereas most people aren’t looking at their data in that depth. They’re just going, “They’ve left. What do we do?”

Alex: Let’s try and win them back.

Paul: Yeah.

Is personalization underutilized in the fitness industry?

Alex: Okay. Got you. And personalization in the fitness industry, outside of just someone knowing your first name at the front desk whether it’s technology or whether it’s any form to create a more personalized experience, do you think this is underutilized in the fitness industry? Like how do you see this?

Paul: I think it’s massively underutilized and I think of the human to human level, there’s a lot more we can do even without knowing someone’s name. Just being curious about somebody gives a sense of actually it’s personal for them. It might not be personal for you, but it feels personal for them. So if I’m saying to someone, “What are you doing in your workout today? How did you enjoy your class today? What did you think about the PT session you’ve just had?” That feels personal because I’m talking about them and their current experience. And you can do that without even having to know people’s names.

Alex: Yeah.

Paul: So I think when people think personalized, they often think, “Oh, have I got to know everybody’s name?” Well, it’ll be ideal if you did. It’s a challenge to do that. But actually, I can make an experience personal just by being curious about the other person. So I think of that. I think there’s some interesting summary. I think it came out of Harvard a few weeks ago when they were reviewing data and there were two groups of people who were getting information and something where it was really hyper-personalized to an individual, people were saying, actually that they felt uncomfortable with that. They preferred a bit more general. I know in the work where I’ve looked at communications, we’ve looked at it being more conversational communication, even if it’s not hyper-personalized. So it sounds more like I’m talking to you rather than I’m going, “Hi Alex”. And using your name is like, while I’m having the conversation, I said, “So how was your workout? When are we going to see each other again?” That feels personalized where it doesn’t actually have to be the individual’s name. And there’s a real, I think we can really do a lot with that because actually, that’s a lot less challenging than actually making sure the right content, the exact right content. I think that is what carries us. Right time, right place, right content. Getting that tuned in really does require decent technology.

Alex: Yeah. Okay. And you brought up something and we’ve talked about this in one of our calls leading into this webinar was just about how a lot of gyms are either reopening. They’ve recently reopened. What are some good strategies in order to welcome someone back into their club? I’ll share my own experience on this one after this, but maybe you could provide some tips on some good practices you see operators doing or what you would think to do.

Good Strategies to Welcome Someone Back into the Club

Paul: The one that, something I’ve been recommending for a little while now is what I refer to as the Nando’s approach. So, in the UK, we have a restaurant chain called Nando’s. I think it was originally South Africa. Basically, it’s a chicken restaurant and they have a slightly unique way of serving you. So when you come into the restaurant, they greet you. They walk you to a table. They give you a table number. They give you menus. You then decide what you want but then you have to get up from the table, walk up to the cash registers, order your food, pay for your food, and then sit down. They will then deliver your food to the table. Now because of that, because they walk you to the table, people often, if they don’t pay attention, think, well, actually someone’s going to serve me or take my order at the table and they sit and they wait and they wait. And that was a problem for Nando’s.

So what they do is they have a standard introduction and I think it works really, really well because you walk in and they go, “Hi, welcome to Nando’s. Have you been to a Nando’s before?” If you say no, they go, “Okay, then just be aware. We’ll walk you to the table. We’ll give you the menus. We’ll take your table number. You choose your food.” And they talk you through the process, so you know what to do. So you’re not left sitting there like an idiot. If you walk in and they go, “Welcome to Nando’s, have you been to a Nando’s before?” And you go, “Yes.” They go, “Welcome back. Just to remind you.” And they talk you through the same process.

And one of the things I’ve been saying to clients that I work with, and some of the operators that have got in touch with me is why don’t you go welcome back to people when they come through the door and then say to them, have you been back in since we’ve opened. If you haven’t, here are our rules, regulations, and the things we need you to follow. If you have, then you’ll know we need you to do this. And you can also say to them at that point as well, and just be aware that based on previous experience, these rules might change. So don’t be surprised if we have to keep updating you every time you come in. Then it allows you to talk to every customer. We know from our research, the interactions with customers’ drive visits. It also starts to build that sense of actually someone cares about the experience I’m having in here. And so that’s something I’ve been recommending recently is, you know, greet everybody that comes in. Have you been in since we’ve reopened? Yes. Have you been in since we’ve reopened? No. It’s the same response after that but it gives them a sense of actually, I’m glad to see you back.

Now, if like me, I went back on the first day that they reopened, then there’s a slight difference there. Welcome back. They know you haven’t been in. Let me just update you on what you’ve got to do. It’s great to see you. I think that should be minimum. Personally, I think it should be the highest member of staff you can put in front of somebody. So if you can put the general manager in front of people. If you can put the deputy manager. Whoever, the highest member of staff is, you should put them in front because it gives it more kudos the higher up the person is.

Alex: Yeah. I agree with every single thing you said and from my personal experience here in the Netherlands, we opened, our gyms reopened on May 17th. Yeah. I go to a gym that I think everybody, I’m not going to name them by name publicly, but everyone in Europe knows who they are. It’s a well-recognized brand. I’m not trying to build myself up here, but like you, I was one of the first members back on the first day, right. The morning session, ready to get back into the gym and also doing what I do, I kind of take more notice of these things, how they interact? What the experience is like? I was there, I showed up, they asked for my name to make sure I was on the registration list for that day because we have to book our spot and that was it. There was no welcome back. There was no, “Hey, we’re glad to see you.” And I’m not a precious person. I don’t need to be celebrated. It wasn’t, you know, “Hey, great job.” Pat on the back. “Alex, you’re back into our gym.” But some recognition of what we’ve all been through. Some happiness that they were back open would have been at least appreciated. And for me, I was like, this is it. You guys have been working so hard to reopen and you don’t even seem like we’re happy to be back. That’s interesting.

Paul: Yeah. Personally, I think it’s shameful. They want your custom. They’ll probably boast about how well they’ve done in reopening, but they’re probably not able to say how their customers feel about the way they were welcomed back.

Alex: From my side, I almost feel a little bit like damn it because I’m not going anywhere, right. It is my gym. I like the gym. It’s one close to my house. It’s not really going to be something that makes me cancel my membership, but it was just more of this thing of, okay, are we really happy to be back? Are you just happy to turn my direct debit back on? I’m not sure.

Paul: Yeah. And I think what’s even more disappointing for me is they had your name. They have your name. They have you booked.

Alex: Yeah.

Paul: There were so many questions you could bounce off of that in terms of was this the time you wanted to try and great to see you back. Do you realize how long you’ve got before we’ve got to ask you to get out? Even make a joke of it. You’re like, “Don’t stand around here talking to me.” [Crosstalk 23:47]. All of those things make you feel valued. And that goes back to that comment I made about retention. It’s about how well we look after our customers. Now it might not be something that makes you cancel, but it might not be something that makes you recommend someone else.

Alex: That’s it. Yeah.

Paul: And it’s those little nuances which we have to focus on. Yeah, okay.

Alex: We could go on. We could go on for a long time I think about that one. Yeah. It’s it really is about are you paying them just for access to a facility or are you part of a club?

Paul: Yeah. And for me, I worked with some operators where it is they say our business is an access model. It is an access model. What can we do to improve retention? Well, the strategies we do there are different from the ones you do. Well, they go, “Well, actually we want to be called a club and we want people to feel like they’re members of a club.” And we go, “Okay, then you need to do this.” There’s like a threshold of his money in exchange for access and his money in exchange for I’m feeling part of something. And yours sounds like an exchange for access.

Alex: Yeah. When they are billing themselves as a club. So yeah, there you go. Not to deviate too far, well I think it actually could be important for the topic of retention. We talked about this as well, booking spaces for the gym. Is this a model that you think could actually stick around even when COVID restrictions aren’t in place?

Could the model of booking spaces at the gym remain after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted?

Paul: I do. And the reason I know we discussed it briefly in the lead into this session today, but I’ve had several operators contact me here in the UK and one in Europe. So when we reopened, we were actually thinking like some of the operators I work with have to apply restrictions because of the size of their facilities. So they’re saying we can only have 30 people per hour or 50 people per hour. And during previous lockdowns where they had to have these restrictions, what they found was people booked their appointments and turned up and worked out and then left and seemed really pleased that they’d got everything they wanted to get done in the time. So some of the operators have come back to me and saying, actually, “Can you run us some analysis on if we kept this going, would people, you know, is it a model we can retain?”

And my first question to them is, are you financially secure if you run that model? Because some businesses are designed to have 10,000 members, but only 500 visits per day and they don’t want people visiting because the scaling doesn’t work. And they’ve come back and they go naturally, “Yeah, we can.” And so they’re saying, for the time being, they’re going to keep their appointment basis in. Now, when I look through, we have what we call our Top 10 Retention Factors and the first three are visit, interaction, and programming. Visit is the most important because if they don’t visit, they won’t stay. Even if they go asleep, they don’t visit, they won’t stay. At some point, they’ll quit. But actually, we found with some of the analysis we’ve done is the people who train on the same day, same time, or even book an appointment, exercises longer than people who train on a more ad-hoc basis.

Alex: Yeah.

Paul: Now I know myself, the gym where I’m currently training, I don’t have to book, but I do tend to turn up on the same day, same time with my training partner and we work out. And if they said you’ve got an hour, we’d get it done in an hour and out. But yeah, there are operators that are looking at that and some of them are fairly large operators because the feedback they’re getting from customers is actually if I book an appointment, I feel like I’ve got a turn-up. If I book an appointment, actually once it’s in my schedule for the day, the week, I can share that with other people, and then they don’t try and book things over the top. They work around it. Also if I book an appointment and it’s a limited number in there, actually, it feels like I’ve got more for my money because there are less people in there when I’m training. I can train more efficiently because I’m not having to wait for equipment. And actually, I feel like I’m getting a better experience.

Then the operators have said, actually when doing it that format, we can staff it according to bookings and so we can always have someone there to greet them. We can have another member of staff who’s on the gym floor cleaning, or just helping out doing onboarding. But actually allows us to manage our business more effectively. When I was discussing this with other people, it’s like, if I want to go to the cinema, it’s a set time and thing or at the moment, I’ve got to book that as well. I think there’s a lot of people who are happy to make booked appointments. There’ll be equally as many people who go, “No, I want to go when I want to go.” And then I think you’ve got two separate models.

Alex: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The operators who know that they can adapt that like, can you afford to do it basically if they have good feedback from their members. I think it’d be an interesting one to see if that actually does stick around for the long term. Again, personally, for me, you know, we have to book our spots in the gym right now. I actually quite like it. I think I’m going to the gym more often. Yeah, I have that appointment. You know, there are booking appointments from group classes and there are also booking penalties for group classes. Now it’s been applied to my gym spot. So if I book a busy spot and then I cancel late, I get three strikes. So I think there is a lot more accountability there in getting you to the gym, which ultimately I go no [unclear 29:34].

Paul: I think the one thing that’s going to shape whether that continues is add more general working conditions because I think people can be more, what we’ve seen in our data is people are more flexible in the days and times that they train because they are working from home or only having to commute certain days of the week. And so other days they go actually, “I’ll get my training at 8:00 am because I need to be back at home for nine [unclear 30:02] my workday. So I think it’s the overall working environment will potentially determine whether those models are sustainable.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. As far as we’ve talked a little bit about responses for people coming back, but what would you say in your opinion was the fitness industry’s response to COVID? I mean, was it good? What opportunities were missed? I’d be interested to hear your feedback here.

Paul’s Opinion on the Fitness Industry’s COVID-19 Response

Paul: I think there’s no one thing and I think the industry loves it when we can go, “The one thing that we all came out of this is and it’s like.” There is no one, someone asked me recently to do analysis about reopening, which I’ve done across multiple countries. Even those have got different restrictions in different countries. So you can’t say, oh, they did well and they didn’t because some can have six people in group exercise, some can have 18. So you’ve got that. Things I think the fitness industry did well. First of all, I think people recognize that people go to the gym for more than just fitness, their mental health as well and that going to the gym had a much bigger value than just the I lift weights. I do a class. I do some cardio. It’s more than that. And I think that’s something that the industry needs to capitalize on. It made a big play, but so did almost every other industry, that’s more leisure time, it’s good for your mental health. It was almost like every end of the sentence was oh they need to open bars and restaurants not just because we want to go out and socialize, but it’s also good for your mental health. We need to open gyms because it’s good for…We need to open cinemas.

And I do think it is good for people’s mental health, but we need to capture that data and evidence it. Because in the future, if we have other pandemics, we need to be able to go to governments and go, here’s the evidence of what we’ve recorded from people by doing surveys and they don’t have to be like deep academic ones. We could do it twice a year. How much does it contribute to your positive mental health? There are loads of things we could do. I think there are operators that pre-pandemic had good relationships with their customers have come through it much easier. They were able to either freeze or stop memberships in a way that their customers were like, or their members were just like, “Okay, that’s the right thing to do.”

I know several operators who didn’t stop payments all through because they had such a good relationship with their customers. They said we can keep charging you, but this is what we can do in return. I think those who are more transactional saw a bigger hit from the whole pandemic in terms of people canceling because of anxiety about financial security going on. But I do see that the ones have bounced back or seem to be bouncing back to pre-COVID levels, their actual pre-COVID levels, ones that had good relationships with their customers. I do see a lot of stuff being reported about here in the UK and other countries May being our best sales month ever as a headline but then much lower down than saying we’re not quite back to where we were pre-COVID. So the headline is we sold X number, a hundred thousand memberships but we’re still 200,000 short.

The online shift, what I’ve seen from just being on different webinars but also talking to some of the operators I work with is quality of content is one area where retaining customers is really important. So if you’ve got high-quality content, very well filmed, very well constructed that will hold onto customers. But you’re probably looking at them needing to do at least six sessions per month to retain them whereas visiting the club, it would probably only be four. So you actually need more frequent engagement or action. The other end of the spectrum where you’ve got perhaps poor quality, I said poor quality. I don’t mean poor quality, lesser quality. So it’s more like a Zoom call person doing a class to people that they know, it’s all about that relationship between the instructor and the group. I feel for that group long-term because they have to find ways of attracting new people if they can stay online. It was all well and good going, “Oh, I can’t teach my class now on a Saturday because we closed. So I’m going online. Join me online because I already knew you.” But actually getting new people to join that when the quality doesn’t match, some of the big operator type quality can be a challenge. And one of the things, some operators I was talking to last week said they’ve noticed where they’ve created their own content since they’ve opened up their online views have just tumbled because people are coming back in. When they can come back in and do a class, their online views have tumbled.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. Interesting. I think, yeah it’ll, will ebb and flow of course. It will be interesting to see how it kind of evens out long-term. It’s a drought right now. People are really itching to get back in. But I think that would be interesting data to look at and kind of analyze over the course of the next 6, 12, 18 months.

Paul: Yeah. I think one of the challenges that I think the operators may have in their own thinking is that I think pre-lockdown, a lot of operators used to think that if they had a customer or had a member, they owned that member. Now the member actually owns their [inaudible 35:58] other services as well. So their share of wallets is more dispersed. So that might be having a physical club to go to. They might do one or two online-type programs, or those pay as you go or subscription, and they’re doing other stuff outside.

Alex: Yeah. Tracking their runs and their bike rides on Strava. Exactly. Yeah.

Paul: Yeah.

Alex: Okay. All right. And in terms of, let’s say, you know, good retention practices for any operators who are still shut down, there are still plenty of countries who are still completely shut down, or maybe also people who are like, we’re doing some real contingency planning right now in case we have to shut down again or for the next pandemic, we hope that does not come. What would you say are some good retention practices while shut down?

Good Retention Practices Whilst Shut Down

Paul: I would say one of the ones I would do is say, stay in touch with your customers. Keep them up to date. One of the things you can keep them up to date on is what you’re doing to make changes or make them aware of what’s coming back. I’d also if you can I’d start grabbing testimonials from people who were successful before locked down. What did the gym mean to you before we had to close? Those types of stories because you have a thousand members, you’ve probably got a hundred great stories. If you can get them to recall, you know you can record it and get them out there. So then, people will go, “Yeah, I remember that. Yeah. That was true for me as well.” So you will build up the anticipation to reopen. So you want to preempt that. You don’t want to wait till you’re able to go, “Hey, we’re open. Are you coming back?” Because when a club can reopen so many other things can reopen at the same time as well. You know bars open, restaurants open and it’s like, where do I go? Where do I go?

Alex: Yeah. You compete for that excitement. Yeah.

Paul: Yes. So if you’re still closed one, I’d be reaching out and finding out how people are getting on. Maybe just get in touch with them and say, we’re just interested to know what you’re doing to keep going. And then obviously if you’ve got any online products or services you’re doing go, if you’d want to access them, you’ve got access to undo it that way. But I’d look for success stories about what people have continued to do on the way up to lockdown and what they’ve found ways of doing since lockdown. And then just doing courtesy calls and asking them, what are they looking forward to when they get back in the gym? This is weird, but you’re asking them to have an experience now about the future. What would it be like when you get back in? What are you going to be doing? What are you looking forward to? Because actually to come up with an answer to that, you actually have to generate those feelings internally and while you’re generating those feelings internally, what you then get to do, people harness that and go, “Oh yeah. I remember that about going to the gym. I am looking forward to that. So you actually pique their interest before they can even have access to it.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. I think that the communication one is a really interesting point. It sounds so simple, but it can be done in so many different ways. So good communication strategy. I was on a call with the managing director of a pretty large Nordic franchise yesterday and he said in his country about 35%, was the normal cancellation rate of memberships across all gyms. For their franchise, it was 9%. And we said, “Okay, well, what do you think it was that helped you accomplish that?” And he said, “Yeah, really transparent and honest and open communication about this is the situation. This is what we’re doing. This is what you can do in the meantime and we’re here for you.” And he said, just being humble and letting them know what you’re working on. And he said, they really felt like that was their kind of edge during this whole lockdown. You don’t just disappear and a week before you reopened say, “Hey, we’re reopening. Make sure you book your spot.” It was really about being present for them.

Paul: Yeah.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. Interesting. All right. And as far as advice for operators who are staring at this big task, we say, okay, the person I was talking to in their country, 35% was the average. I think in the UK; it was closer to 50. Was it not? So, you know, imagine, okay, you’re a managing director of a gym. You’re an owner of a studio. You have this task of re-growing your membership back to what it was pre-pandemic. What kind of tips would you have for them?

Tips for Re-growing Membership

Paul: First of all, I’d split it by sleepers and active. And then I’d go, I’d work back. The simplest way of doing it is to work backward through the active ones. So you find out who was the last people in before you shut down because they’re the ones who are most likely to come back and start with them. And then once you’ve gone through all the people who’ve been active in the months leading up to shut down, then you might want to tackle some of the sleepers because if they were sleepers before, they’re probably sleepers now. So you’re not going to do any damage upon reopening because they may have already canceled or quit. But that’s how I would do it. That’s the simplest way I would do it. You could take it a bit further and look up visit frequency. And if your group to your members into visit frequency, so you can see all the people who are coming three times a week, all the people who are coming twice a week, all the people who come once a week, I’d actually start with all the people who are coming once a week.

Alex: Okay.

Paul: Because they’re the least frequent. The ones who are coming three times a week.

Alex: You don’t have to worry about them.

Paul: That’s me and you, we were back in on the first day.

Alex: Yeah.

Paul: All you’ve got to do is greet us when we come in and go, “We’re pleased to see you.” For those who are coming less frequently, I’d reach out to them because you want to get them in and visiting. There’s slight variation there depending on what you can do within your data.

Alex: Yeah. I got you. And actually, maybe a good segue then to just talk about data and the role that data can help in impacting growth. So talking about what metrics can be used to analyze loyalty, reverse engagement loyalty, and/or engagement, we could talk about this a little bit more.

Role of Data in Impacting Growth

Paul: Yeah. So first of all, we define retention as how long people stay in months. So it’s a measure of months. We measure within our business, attrition is people and we only ever measure is people. So you can compare it to your sales figures. Hundred joined, hundred left. They all stayed 10 months. You’ve got really clear information there. We would, then, in terms of loyalty, loyalty is always a difficult one I fail to measure accurately. So you can’t. But Net Promoter Score got some way to do that, but I don’t think it does all of it. One of the things that we try and do, where we can is to survey people as close to the point in time where they actually did their activity. So a lot of the operators I worked with might do Net Promoter every month, or every bimonthly or quarter, or something like that.

But we would do more random samples of members almost like if you train today, I want to survey you today. Because I actually get, not a Net Promoter Score, but I can get a better understanding of your experience today, whether it be high or low in terms of positivity. Whereas if I wait a month, you’ve had lots of experiences and actually there’s, it’s called regression towards the mean. The lows become more middle, the highs become more middle. And actually, everything feels a little bit like, “Yeah, it was all right. But I don’t remember the highs and the lows.”

We put a lot of emphasis on visit frequency. We use a general threshold and it does vary by business of one visit per week. As long as they’re visiting one work per week, they’re more likely to stay. As soon as they drop below one visit per week, the likelihood of them canceling or leaving increases. So we’re always trying to drive at least that minimum visit frequency and getting them from one and one to two is ideal. We don’t really try and drive, visit frequency in those people who come in three or more times a week. One, they’re pretty self-sufficient from a retention perspective. And actually, the biggest proportion of your cancellations comes in from your low visit customers. So why would you focus on your services on the ones who are less likely to cancel? Loyalty for me has a more intrinsic motivator. So when we’re building out programs around rewards, there’s a rewards program and there’s a loyalty program. A reward is an exchange. You visit 10 times; I give you a water bottle. You visit 20 times. I’ll give you a towel. Or I give you joining feedback. For me, those are rewards programs.

Loyalty programs are about building intrinsic desire for a product or a service. So I’m avid, I’m in the cult of Mac. I’m on an iMac at the moment. I have my iPhone next to me. I’m Mac. What has Apple ever done for me? They made me feel cool that I’ve got Macs. That’s all they’ve ever done for me. I’m in my late fifties, but I feel like I’m not because, “Hey, I totally ran with a MacBook Pro and I’ve got iPhone.” But they make me feel really positive about their product. The way they talk to me is they talk to me about, you know, I think one of their taglines is we make complex technology simple to use. And it’s like, yeah. So I look like I know what I’m doing. That is about loyalty and I continue to buy Mac products 10, 11 years after I first started buying them. Are Android products as good? Yes. Are some of them better? Yes. Am I loyal to Mac or to Apple? Yes. So there’s loyalty is more intrinsic I feel. I just call it a heuristic approach where there’s something bigger than just being a member. There’s something more than just exchanging money for access.

Alex: Yeah.

Paul: So we tend to look at those. We look at visit frequency. We look at Net Promoter. We look at a whole range of surveys. So we look at the ease of access, overall lifetime experience survey. So that’s the whole experience. We break that down into sections as well. But we measure retention by time, attrition by people. We calculate the lifetime value as the median length of stay and break that down by quartiles. Monthly active users, we split by visit frequency, and then we do our surveys. So we’ve probably got about on a standard piece of work that we do with a client six or seven metrics. But depending upon other things that we can measure that might expand. So sometimes we get asked, you know, can you tell us if would people who pay for their own locker, stay longer than people who’ve don’t.

And if you can control for all of the other factors, you can test that. Now we did that for an operator and we’ve shown that those people who did pay for their own lockers did stay longer than people who just use more common, the average lockers. So the argument there was, they said, “Well, we need to put more lockers in that people can pay for.” But the driving factor behind that was the people who tended to pay for their own lockers were actually older and more senior in their management position, which meant they were less likely to be moving jobs. So there were more likely to be staying in that club as their club. So it wasn’t just lockers, paying for lockers, kept people longer. There were other factors. So you have to pull in some of that data sometimes.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. And on the note of data, I imagine the work you do with a lot of these operators globally, and then just the access to the information that you have allows you to spot some upcoming trends that you think are probably going to be important for the fitness industry in the next, maybe one to two years. Can you share some insights or maybe some predictions let’s say?

Future Trends in the Fitness Industry

Paul: Yeah, I would say initially with online, for example, like streamed type products and services, what we’re currently seeing is, I did mention a little while ago but you actually need more sessions. So you need someone and instead of just coming to the gym once a week, they need to be doing two online classes. That’s almost 50% more action to keep them. We also know is the period of time, 45 minutes seems to be the sweet spot online. And I think some of that is because you haven’t got all the faff on either side of it right outside the classroom. Whereas I think, I know we did some research a long time ago about how long class length should be, and whether there was a big tendency within the industry to go for these shorter classes, 30 minutes, like HIT high-intensity type classes people were saying, actually it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do to travel all the way to the gym, just to train for 30 minutes, even though it’s a really intense class. If I’m making the effort to go to the gym, it needs to be for longer, but not longer than an hour. So those are a couple of things.

We certainly know, we’re certainly seeing and being able to use big data and predictions to see the types of people who are canceling more frequently. You know we can spot them fairly early now and different companies that I’ve either evaluated or been involved with, they’re down to, they can give you a list of people who are going to be canceled next month and they get it right four out five times. And when they don’t get it right, they didn’t cancel. But you need a significant amount of data. You need certainly some good understanding of how to create algorithms based on customer behavior. I think the thing that we don’t do enough of in our industries, we do a lot of persona-type creation for marketing, but we don’t do it once they’ve joined and created personas of member behavior once they’ve joined.

So we go, “Oh, She’s a woman. She’s in middle management. She’s wealthy. She likes these types of classes.” And we do a lot of work to attract and build personas around that for our marketing. But we then don’t create a different persona about what their behavior looks like once they’ve joined. And I’ve seen that with a lot more operators. There’s like the marketing persona, but actually, there’s a different persona of how people are actually using their club. The reason they joined isn’t the reason they stay. So you sometimes have to flip some of those things.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s interesting to think about. Okay. And some questions that we typically get from the audience members that listen in, I think, especially for someone like yourself, you know talking about just you, when you’re not thinking about retention and you know, talking to operators like this, like book recommendations that you would have. It doesn’t have to be fitness industry related. It can be. Yeah. I’m wondering because I see a couple in the background there.

Paul’s Book Recommendations

Paul: Yeah. I have a few books. One of the things I would say I made this comment to someone recently, they came, my office is at the end of my garden. So I work here. It’s like a closed bubble. But I had someone visit me and they were going, “Oh, can I take a picture of your bookshelf?” And I went, “Yeah, of course, you can.” And they took a picture and they go, “I’m going to read what you read.” I went, “You might read what I read, but you won’t think how I think.” But certainly, I’ve been reading books on customer experience at the moment and creating customer experience. So where is it? It’s old. It’s an oldie but a goodie. It’s Russia. It’s the Experience Economy, Pine, and Gilmore. It’s a brilliant book. There’s another one. This one, Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds. Those are all about behavior change techniques that you can apply in 59 seconds.

Alex: Okay. Yes.

Paul: So they’re not like sitting down for an hour, tell me about your life.

Alex: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Paul: It’s like really snapping. Now, none of these things are written with the fitness industry in mind. They’re written and they’re based on research in other areas. And all you have to do is go how do I compare that to the fitness industry? So there’s one in here that I read recently and I did a post about it here when we’re counting things, if we want people to be successful, let’s say it’s in their exercise. They’re doing personal training, they’re doing 10 reps. You count up to five and then down from six because actually for people to feel successful going one, two, three feels really good. Then when we get to the midpoint, if we tip that to five to go, four to go, three to go, actually the end seems like it’s getting closer.

Alex: Yeah. I’m going to try this.

Paul: Just after I’d read that, you know, I did a post saying, you know, trainers need to think about it, online programs and if you’re streaming something online, you need to do a count up and a countdown timer. It’s showing you how much you’ve done, but how much you’ve got left to do. Interestingly, I then watch the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco and David Coulthard was talking to one of the other drivers. And they were saying, “How did you use to do lapse? Meant in your head. Both of them said it was, we’d count up to the pit stop and down afterward. So it wasn’t something that we’d just do. And I think books like these, they’re really, really insightful, but you have to go, how does that apply? Well, I’d go with those two.

Alex: Okay.

Paul: The Economy Experience and 59 Seconds.

Alex: I have to check those out. Yeah. I think I do the counting up and down without even realizing that that could be a strategy. So, if I’m out on the bike or something, you get really excited once you get up to a certain amount and then you start to get tired. And I’m like, okay, I know at this time at this intersection or this house, I only have 10K to go, like, make it home. Be okay. Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. I was saying to someone, my friend who I trained with, I was saying, I’ve done that on treadmills in the past. It’s like, I’m going to run for 20 minutes. I’ve done one. I’ve done two. I’ve done it. I said the other thing was that really amazes me how good at fractions I am when I’m on a treadmill, it’s like, I’ve done 10%. I’ve done 20%. I’ve done 30%. Yeah. So…

Alex: I’m terrible at math. I wouldn’t doubt that.

Paul: For me, a lot of people try and read too many different things. So they’re trying to read for information. And one of the things I would say is read for insight, not just read for the sake of going, ‘Oh, I’ve read the top 10 best sellers.” Like, which one of these books is going to help me with my business and so for the types of things I do, those are the types of books, even though there are books up here on exercise, adherence and behavior change and all of those things as well.

Alex: Nice. I think that’s always a good one to keep in mind because you always see people with these reading lists. Hey, I’m going to read 52 books this year. Like, okay. Well, how much of that information are you actually going to retain and apply? Or would it be better to read 12 or six? And really, really dig into what it’s about. Okay. All right. We’re going to start to wind down here a little bit. Always like a good ending point, Paul, it’d be great to let the listeners where they can go to find out more about you. I know you are pretty active on social. So yeah, where they can sort of find out more about what you do and get your tips.

Paul: Okay. So on social media, we post every lunchtime Monday to Friday, predominantly on LinkedIn and Facebook, but we also do Instagram and Twitter, and others. With what we call lunchtime lessons and they are just, I can tell you this, they’re always shorter than a Twitter post because all of them, we write them for Twitter-sized posts and then put them on all the other platforms. So there are about 200 characters long, so they’re not very long, but they’re usually things, sometimes they are a piece of research that we’ve done that we’re sharing. Sometimes there are opinions and sometimes there are our inventions and things for people to try. So we do a lot of those. We’ve got videos up all over again, on social media and on YouTube. But if people want to deep dive more specifically into the areas that I focus on, then our website, which is really easy, it’s There are blog posts on there. There are videos on there. And if anyone wants to reach out to me, they can reach out to me through the website. If they’ve got questions and things so that I’m always happy to do that.

Alex: Excellent. Well, I think I follow you guys on Instagram. So I see some of the lunchtime lessons, like super actionable, really good, quick tips, things that someone could apply that day. It doesn’t need to be something that needs a full project analysis. It’s like, and you know to almost wrap it up, it comes back to how personalization, it can just be the simplest form that can make a difference, right.

Paul: Yeah. Definitely.

Alex: Yeah. Awesome. All right, Paul, it was a pleasure having you on. I appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise with us.

Paul: You’re welcome.

Alex: This has been another great session of Lunch and Learn with us, Dr. Paul Bedford. Thank you for joining us.

Paul: Thank you.

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Ageism and politics in the fitness industry

This episode of the FitNation Lunch & Learn webinar stars David Minton, the founder of The Leisure Database Company and a true legend within the industry. David talks to us about how he sees the road back to normal, as well as the role of politics within fitness, and if the industry really is ageist.

We go deeper into David’s view on how fitness was a data-poor industry and how that led to total unpreparedness for last year’s crisis. Moreover, we discuss the importance of shifting the view of exercise to a form of self-care for life – notably because over 75% of people who died from COVID were over 70 – but only 1% of those people have a health club membership. Time for a change!

Finally, David talks to us about how he sees the road back to normal, as well as the role of politics within fitness, and if the industry really is ageist.

Watch the webinar recording by clicking on the play button and read the transcript below:

Alex von Hagen: All right. Welcome everybody and thank you for taking the time to join us for another Fit Nation Lunch and Learn. Today we have another incredible guest out of the UK joining us. I think for many people in the industry, he doesn’t really need an introduction. His name is David Minton. He is the director at The Leisure Database Company. In this session, we’re going to dig into a few topics ranging from how to use data to give your facility a competitive advantage, ageism in the fitness industry, and why that’s a missed opportunity for many operators. The role of politics plays in the fitness industry and how we can influence it. And finally, David’s outlook and predictions for the industry, something that he is definitely qualified to speak about. It’s our pleasure to have you on the show. Without further ado, David, thank you for taking the time to join us.

David Minton: Alex. Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.


Alex: Nice, excellent. Always a great starting point maybe for our listeners who aren’t familiar with you. Can you give us a little bit about your background and tell us about what you do?

David: Sure. So I’m the founder of The Leisure Database Company and we’ve been editing and auditing the industry for the past 20 years. So that means that we have a great insight into the facilities that we have across the industry. So for those of you listening outside the UK, you might be interested to know that pre-COVID, we had 7,239 fitness sites. Collectively, they had 10.4 million members and our market value was 5.1 billion. And the penetration rate, we think it was good at 15.6, but when you look at the overall potential, it’s very low. So the industry needs to do something about that. So we know so much about these facilities. We know for example, that 84% of the population live within just two miles of it. But the problem is that we only have, as I say this 15.6% actually going. So there’s a big mismatch between the potential and the actual take-up.

Alex: Okay, excellent. And for yourself, I mean, how did you really land in the world of fitness as a career?

David: That was completely by accident. So I was working in radio and television doing community programming and realized that there was no information about this growing fitness industry. So we decided to compile a database and start auditing it.

Alex: Okay. So necessity being the mother of all invention there. You saw that something you needed and then you decided to take some action and get it going.

David: Exactly, exactly.

David’s Driving Force for Gathering Data Points and Insights

Alex: And from my perspective, I think it’s always interesting, you’re a big data guy, what things really make you tick in terms of gathering a lot of these data points and insights? Like what’s the driving force here for you?

David: Well, I suppose that there’s the fascination as having done sociology, the fascination of how people come together and where we do things collectively. But there’s also a huge frustration as well. So as I say, we know so much about the actual supply to the industry, but we don’t really understand much about the demand. So when you think that in the UK, we have over 50 CRM providers and they have over a hundred platforms and some are still on [inaudible 06:23]. So of those and there’s about a third of those 7,000 sites that don’t even have CRM. So, how they manage the business and how they understand and get value from that business, and how they get a return on their investment to that CRM, there’s always a bit of a mystery to me.

The other thing that I’m wondering is in our normal lives with phones and smart TVs, we get automatic updates. So the Tesla just updates the software overnight. The iPhone just updates it overnight. Why don’t CRM providers offer free updates overnight? I mean it just seems so strange. There are so many operators who I know that are still operating the same system that they did 10 years ago because they don’t want to pay for the upgrades and they’re afraid now to move from that. And it seems such a shame that’s holding the industry back.

Alex: Change can be scary, can it? Yeah.

David: Yeah. Very.

Alex: Yeah. I think that’s the problem. I think that’s probably where a lot of operators found themselves in a really tricky spot once the pandemic started because they’d been so reluctant to change in the years leading into that. And then yeah, it really hit the fan there and they weren’t really able to adapt. Yeah.

David: Yeah. And here’s another statistic that I find fascinating. So we know that 62% of the sites have got studios, but only 49% of those do class bookings. So again, there’s a complete mismatch.

Alex: Yeah.

David: So, I can’t name names, otherwise I’ll get into trouble. But if I turn up at my nearest fitness site and I go for a class, then I get the rubber band around my wrist, and then I get that rubber band in as I go in. And I think to myself, are we in the 21st century or what? Rubber bands?

Alex: Yeah.

David: And then, of course, there’s no way that they know that I’ve really done that class. I could have got diverted and gone and done something else. So in our daily online retail lives and our online travel lives, we’re so used to personalization and there’s no personalization in the industry. And again seems such a shame. There’s certainly no hyper-personalization about the fact that I do the same class on a Friday at five o’clock. And what if it’s selling out by Wednesday, you know there’s no system where they can say, “Oh, David, there are only two places left. You always come on a Friday. Do you want one?”

Alex: Yeah. We’re definitely not there. I would agree with that. On that note personalization, because I agree like in the retail environment and a lot of other sectors, they are really hitting their stride here and there’s a lot of technology that can support that as well. I mean, would you say are there any ways you think operators can at least take the first steps in personalization, whether that’s using this technology or maybe even not even using technology, but leveraging some data points they have to boost that personalization factor for their members?

Ways Operators Can Take the First Steps in Personalization

David: Well I love visiting sites in Scotland, for example. So if I go to any site in Scotland then it’s a bit like Cheers, everyone knows your name. They are embedded in the community, those small communities, and people just know their names. Well, that’s a great start, isn’t it? To know the customer’s name. They generally speaking know what the customer does but they don’t have any communication with that customer outside and they don’t necessarily know what the customer does outside. Some are very good if the customer is doing an advance or training for something particular, then they can help. But generally speaking, it’s more a case of what happens within those four walls. Now, I know there are some operators that are developing systems and the systems are already in place that is encouraging more on the whole, shall we call it, in around access to more data. But the number of people that are taking that up is very small so far.

Alex: Okay. And I know you said a lot of the work that you guys do as a business is confidential for obvious reasons. Could you, however, though shed some light on some of the top-line data metrics that you would look to provide some of your clients and then why that’s important in positioning them for growth. So maybe some people listening to this can either utilize that yourself or let you guys do it for them.

Top-Line Data Metrics and Its Importance for Growth

David: Sure. So one of the things that I really love is going around to different countries and talking about the granular detail that we go into when we’re doing site analysis work. And I love it because it’s very rare that I come across an example where someone’s doing something similar. So we have a supply-demand model and we’ve developed it obviously over many years. So we know in great detail about the supply because we hold around 200 fields of data on each site but the more important thing is the demand. So lots of our clients provide us with the postcodes of their live members, and then we’re able to geocode those, and then give them a type of one of 66 types. And we’re able to allocate that across the 1.9 million postcodes in the UK. That gives us a propensity factor for each of those 66 types and how it changes across the 1.9 million postcodes. And that is all built into our algorithm that then produces what we call the latent demand.

So the latent demand is taking into account all the 7,239 sites. It’s taken into account the knowledge that we have of the 10.4 million members, and we have around 4 million of those in our model. And it takes into account the concentrations of the different types of people that are living within the core catchment area. And the propensity factor will change for those types depending on the numbers of those types. So that’s the sort of detail that we go into for both the public and private sector in the UK.

Key Data Points That Gives a Competitive Edge

Alex: Wow. Okay. And let’s say a gym that’s maybe not based in the UK or just someone who’s trying to understand how they can use data to better give themselves a competitive edge. It’s one of the themes of what we want to talk about today, would you highlight maybe one or two key data points that they can be looking to in order to separate themselves from their local competition?

David: Well, I think I know both in America and in Japan where I visit a lot of people literally walk the streets to look because it’s very difficult to get this breakdown at a sensible price in other countries. Geodemographic has worked brilliantly for us for the last 12 years, but I don’t think that they’ve really kept up to date with the changes in society and they certainly haven’t kept up to date with the huge changes with social media. So we’re now looking to layer something called spatial AI on top of geodemographic so that we have more of an understanding of the social media activity in an area as well.

Alex: Okay. Social media being one that people can be using to try and get themselves that different competitive edge.

David: Yeah.

Overrated or Maybe Overemphasized Data In The Fitness Industry

Alex: On the flip side, would you say there’s any overrated or maybe overemphasized data in the fitness industry that people are relying on too much that you would say personally I would probably look away from that?

David: Yeah. So people via state of the industry report each year and they see what the penetration rate is. So if the penetration rate is 10%, then they say, “Ah! So we’ll take the total population area of whatever, 15 minutes, 20 minutes and we’ll take 10% of that.” Sadly, they have no idea what they’re doing.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. Because especially these days as more digital models start to shift that just seems like there’s a huge missed opportunity. They’re probably should be looking at why that 90% of those people in their area aren’t becoming members of a gym, right.

David: Absolutely. Absolutely. That brings us to the very next question.

Member Age, Demographic Shifts, And Ageism In The Industry

Alex: Yes, it does. The other big topic we wanted to talk about was member age, demographic shifts in the industry. And then also the ageism in the industry today. So a lot to unpack there, but yeah, let’s go for it.

David: Yeah. So without a doubt, the conversation needs to move to how we can age better and how do we liberate the fitness industry from its ageism? So in the physical activity space, fitness is, without doubt, the most ageist. So when I qualified, thanks to the Central Y in London, as a group cycling instructor, I went along to my first class and the receptionist asked me if I’d cycle before. And when I got into the studio, someone very helpfully suggested I should sit at the back and stay out the way. It came as a complete surprise to everybody that I’m obviously an instructor. And what we have just gone through with COVID, we know that the vast majority of people that have died with COVID were over 70 and yet the industry itself has less than 1% of the population that is over 70.

Now we also know that the world’s oldest society is Japan, where I work on a regular basis, and they already know that better health care can help keep independence longer. And the country is experiencing this super-aging society, but around a third of the population over 60, isn’t that incredible. And I know that even 90-year-olds can improve their balance through simple exercises. So it’s never too late to start. So I’m really surprised that the industry totally ignores this aging population, which is the largest section of our population. So the fitness industry in the UK is really serving the 18 to 30-year-olds and as I say, less than 1% are over 70. So what we have just gone through with COVID, the government said that they followed the science. So one of the things that the government asked the industry was of the 7,239 gyms and the 10000.4 million members, can you tell us how their health is better than the average member of the rest of society?

So in other words, do they get an outcome of going and how often do they go and what do they do when they go. Well, there’s just so little data about that. So there are very few occasions when generations have the opportunity to completely reset public opinion and the effects on behavior change. But I really believe that post COVID that we have that opportunity. And if we can get to exercise for the masses, that could be a legacy for the global pandemic, then that would be an amazing legacy. Wouldn’t it?

How Can Operators Cater to 60 Plus Age Group

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. And I think there is a, we’ve talked about this and I think a lot of other people in the industry are talking about it right now is the shift towards health as a reason for going to a fitness club rather than an aesthetic. So, it’s not just about biceps and flexing in the mirror anymore. It’s really about health and wellbeing and long-term, just the overall feeling good and being physically active. In your opinion, how can the operators not only in the UK but just how can operators globally cater to and let’s say capture this new opportunity that would be the expected influx of the 60 plus age group into their facilities? What can they do to make sure they capture that?

David: Well, I mean one of the things is that we have to accept that we have an obesity crisis as well as a global warming crisis. And if we just think about the obesity crisis for a second, then fat lives matter and where’s the campaign about fat lives matter. Old lives matter. Where’s the campaign for that? So since 2018, a schoolgirl called Greta, single-handedly went and sat in front of the Swedish parliament with a sign. Four years later, she has been nominated for a Peace Prize three times. She has in over 100 countries, every Friday, hundreds of thousands of children demonstrating, and this Greta effect has put global warming on every government’s agenda. We in the UK are hosting COP26 in November and we are going to see, I think, lots of initiatives for reducing greenhouse gases.

Well, hang on a second, over the same period of time, we have had an obesity crisis that’s got worse. What on earth have governments been doing about that? So interestingly, Japan and China have both said, “We have to improve the health of the nation.” And so they have initiatives. We’ve also seen something similar in Singapore. But as far as I’m aware, there aren’t any European countries. They’re just saying the same thing and we haven’t got any what we would call leveling up taking place in the UK. So our prime minister has been working out on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, which most people would know. He’s been playing tennis in the American Ambassador’s residence, and he’s been jogging around Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And what he discovered was that doing that with his security guards didn’t actually help. So he took a personal trainer.

So he’s now working out with a personal trainer on a regular basis. Well, what if he said, “Okay, I’m privileged, but what if I give a personal trainer to everyone in the country that would like one.” Well, first of all, the industry couldn’t cope, but that’s another thing. You know it’s the direction of travel that we’ve got to go in. So in the January edition of Men’s Health, there are 21 of the biggest health and fitness trends of 2021 and I’m one of the Men’s Health advisory boards and so one of the things in there, in fact, it’s number nine, just in case anyone’s going to look it up is we’ve got to become more political as an industry. Basically, the government just doesn’t pay any attention to us. They pay lip service to us in fact, because we can’t prove anything and we can’t prove enough. And the problem is that they have so many priorities. So we have to look at how climate activism changed the government’s agenda, and we have to do something similar.

Alex: Yeah, that’s a really good shout. Especially too, if you think about the impact that could have not only on the health of the people but then also, I mean, everyone stands to win. The fitness industry will recover stronger. They’re going to be targeting members, potential members who have more disposable income than they probably have had. They have more time than the average working professional, and they also have probably more attention to retaining their health as well.

David: Exactly.

Alex: So yeah, I totally agree that it is something that needs a grassroots movement. It needs something like that big event or that kind of catalyst like a Greta to potentially get it going. And so as we shift more towards politics, we’ve already touched on it a little bit. But starting in our own bubble, how do you think the fitness industry, well, I think I know what your answer’s going to be, but how do you think the fitness industry responded to the crisis?

How The Industry Respond to The Obesity Crisis

David: In short, not well enough.

Alex: Yeah.

David: So the politicians have scientists, either side of them, almost seven days a week telling us and showing us all these charts. And for the first time, since the 1940s our government actually said, you should be exercising. You should be exercising for one hour a day. Okay. We had a few celebrities on TV. The fitness industry went digital and yet we had thousands of people going to digital channels and saying, “Follow me. Here’s an exercise. Follow me. But we never had an expert standing up next to the politicians saying, “Now about the one hour’s exercise, could we suggest the following?” There was nothing that was at that level and the industry for the first time actually took civil servants around to show them fitness sites because so many civil servants and politicians had never been in a fitness facility. Well, you know, if we’ve only got 15.6% on the penetration rate and then there are obviously loads of people that are just put off.

So if we come back to the ageism thing which is a pet project of mine, just simply because I’ve been through it with my mother. So I had to go sit through a care package that my mother had to sign up for when she came out of the hospital so that she could remain independent. The care package was all based around health and safety and the people that are coming into the home. It was based on food. It was based on washing and it was based on the dressing. Now, as I said to them, “Well, where’s the exercise? What part of the package includes exercise? My mother’s balance is getting worse. What part of the package helps her with that? That’s what’s important to her.” And they said, “Oh, we don’t do that.” And again, that’s such a great example of ageism where as far as society is concerned, basically the care package is just looking after the person in their home.

So I came to the conclusion that there is a compression of the morbidity model, which shows how an unhealthy lifestyle affects morbidity twice as much as mortality. And my mother proved that because in her eighties she got a yoga teacher and in her nineties, she got a personal trainer. Only because she knew that her balance wasn’t as good as it was and she was worried about falling over. She didn’t want to hurt herself. So we had these people coming in and it wasn’t the yoga that most people know. It wasn’t the personal training that most people know but simple exercises. Getting her in and out of the chair. That gave her confidence and it maintained that she had an independent life for much longer.

Alex: Yeah. I think that’s exactly it when you talk about how we approach these sorts of things. So, yeah when you think personal trainer and a 90-year-old woman, it almost clashes in your mind because you think that they’re going to be at the gym doing push-ups and stuff like that. But it’s actually just about movements, right? It’s about just making sure that they’re not sitting for their entire day and not doing anything and so reframing how we can do that I think that sounds like a good way that we can, as an industry, start to grow and adapt to this these oncoming challenges.

David: The oldest British woman to compete in an Ironman Triathlon was 74. I mean she’s iron grand. She’s amazing. And then after the 2012 Olympics, she set up this organization called Silverfit and now they just do around a dozen activities all over London, but they do senior gym. They do walking football. They do senior circuits. They understand the difficulties that people have. At that age, we also have an organization in the UK called Ramblers and they do what it says. They go walking and now they have the Ramblers Walking for Health, and it aims that everyone will have access to a short, free, and friendly walk. And the number of people that are going on those walks just grows and grows and grows. So all these other organizations are doing things. And I just feel that the fitness industry still, although I pointed it out over many years, still completely misses the point.

Alex: Yeah. Okay. And so how would you say someone who’s listening to this and they agree it’s also an issue, how can an individual on the ground floor of the fitness industry, someone who doesn’t have their hands in public policy or anything like that, how can they do their part to start influencing this? And hopefully together start to just get this snowball effect going.

How Can an Individual On the Ground Floor of the Fitness Industry Do Their Part?

David: Well, in Holland I went to a fabulous site that Teo Hendrix is managing, and there that you have a fitness site downstairs and you have mixed aging group population living upstairs. And he included the people upstairs. So he’s got them cooking lunch. He’s got them doing social activities. And then eventually they said, “Oh, can we go walking in the swimming pool?” And so then he had groups of people doing easy activities. Then they went and told their mates and the whole thing just snowballed and we see that in the UK as well. There are lots of examples where the public sector especially is encouraging an older population. We also have some of the private sectors that are offering very low monthly subscriptions to people that are in their sixties and seventies. Again, let’s look at people Mick Jagger. I mean these aging rockstars refuse to grow old. So the industry, a few years ago Sport England had a campaign, 50 plus. Well, I mean if you try to do a 50 plus campaign now, they will just laugh at you. I mean it would be ridiculous. But so 60 is new the 50 or is it even 70 is the new 50. So we have to think completely differently about aging.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. And just using that, I mean there is inclusion in that as well, right. So just including that group in that bracket. Okay.

David: Yeah.

How Can a Politician Help in Encouraging Fitness in The Older Population?

Alex: And we’ve talked about it a little bit. I mean, I think the personal trainer for everyone who wants it would be a great initiative, but it would be very difficult if not impossible to get off the ground. But how do you think politicians can actually help rather than they could see the prime minister who plays tennis every now and then. What can a politician actually do here if you had your magic wand to get them moving?

David: Well for the last 50 years, holistically politicians in this country have totally ignored the concept of improving the health of the nation. So improving the health of the nation basically only happens after a war. So it’s happened after the First World War here, and it’s happened after the Second World War. And of course, we still have the legacy of the National Health Service, which started after the Second World War. So we’ve only had two prime ministers since the Second World War, Major and Blair that actually encouraged people in a very positive way to actually do more sport and become fitter. But the problem is that there’s no follow-through. So let me give you an example. So in 2012 our GB team and won 67 medals. It was a record and then four years later in Rio they got even more. So the cost of each medal is worked out in the greatest of detail and the price is just over 4 million per medal. Now it’s great, but it doesn’t actually encourage the mass vast population to take up any of those sports.

In Sydney, they actually found that the Olympics had a detrimental health effect on the population because people lay on their sofas going, “Wow, that’s fantastic.” Drinking another beer. And basically saying, “There’s no way I could ever do that.” And so it didn’t take up any new sport after their Olympics. So we spent just over 4 million per medal in London and then again in Rio, and there was no practical budget placing where we could encourage the rest of the nation to do something. Some sports clubs weren’t even ready to take up the number of people that actually wanted. So [inaudible 39:16], years ago, won his wonderful medals, he came back to his Harringay Athletic Club and there was a cue all the way around the block. And he was going, “Wow. How do we cater for this?” And what if we had a similar situation in the fitness sites?

Alex: Yeah.

David: So we do have to rethink the way the industry is thought of in society, but we also have to rethink the way that the industry, our industry caters to people both in and outside the gym.

Alex: And I think from the public health side, from what I’m hearing from you, it sounds like there’s like a momentum problem. Everything, there’s like these siloed efforts, but they never really build upon each other. So another one there could be that. Yeah, just making sure that one supports the growth of the other, which then, in turn, supports the growth of the other and so on and so on and so on. Right?

David: Yeah, yeah, yeah. One of the frustrations, of course, is the very fact that we have situations, local authorities, and well-meaning governing bodies and they set up test sites, test examples. Would this work? So they set it up and then they expect it to work without any further funding. It’s a bit like we’ve only briefly mentioned climate change, but climate change needs huge investment in new technology. And since Paris, there has been over 4 billion of new money coming in and you can read about that in Bill Gates’ book. And again, there’s no new money coming in to cope with the obesity issues that we have in this country. We spend a lot of money, but it doesn’t achieve anything. So we need to completely rethink.

Alex: Okay. It is also, it’s a pandemic, the obesity crisis. It’s been labeled a pandemic in places like America a decade ago.

David: Yeah.

Alex: And however, it didn’t really have the same effect that our most recent one did because it’s just slower happening. It’s not really as immediate, just something like that. So I think calling more attention to that, the fact that it is really a health crisis that is just as dangerous and led to the bad effects of our current one. Yeah, that can also be one to really just start [unclear 42:19] some change.

David: Yeah. So, I mean, there are two figures really that we should think about. So there are 50 billion tons of CO2 gases going into the atmosphere each year and we should be aiming for zero. The scientists reckon over the last 12 months without anyone flying anywhere or traveling anywhere that we have saved around 5 billion. So that’s 45 million that we’re still producing somewhere, somehow that we have to do something about. Now in terms of exercise, our National Health Service suggests that we should be doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week. But we also know, that well they tell us, that they estimate there’s around 40% of the population that’s doing zero. So again, we have these numbers. Now both numbers are estimates because we just don’t know enough but both climate change and obesity are in the news almost daily and rightly so. And so I come back to my earlier point, climate change gets a [inaudible44:19] more publicity and it’s attracted, politicians. Apple has now said, for example, the largest company in the world has said by 2030, it will be net-zero. And it’s made a promise to do that. You can watch the video on YouTube. But it’s also said, “Oh, if you’re one of our suppliers, you have to make the same promise.” Exactly. Now, what if Apple then also said, okay, through Fitness Plus, we’re going to encourage all our employees and we’re going to encourage all the employees of our suppliers and the millions of people around the world that have this to do more activity in and out of the home and gym. So they’re going to encourage us to close our rings. What if all the major ecosystems started doing that? What if new organizations started to do that? And people like the World Health Organization and the United Nations, as I’ve already mentioned, the UN are already doing something on climate change, what if they were forced to do something on obesity?

Alex: Yeah, yeah. We shall see if we can ever get something like that off the ground. Yeah.

David: Yeah.

Will The Fitness Industry Go Back to Its Golden Age Territory?

Alex: Okay. And starting to turn towards one of the last topics that I think it would be really valuable to get your insight on, it’s about customer trends and industry outlook. I know this quote follows you around quite a bit. It’s a good quote for good reason. You know where I’m going with this. Yeah, you’ve described our industry pre-COVID as being in a golden age and so the golden age meant that we had the highest penetration rates yet. The highest member counts yet. There was rapid tech improvement. And then of course, yeah, it’s hard to think of a darker period than the last 13 months. In your opinion, or based on the data that you guys are collecting, how soon do you think that the fitness industry would be back in this golden age territory? Or subsequently, do you think we left it?

David: Two years.

Alex: Okay.

David: So without a shadow of a doubt, it will come back and I actually think it will come back stronger because I think there will be a greater emphasis on self-care. So I think this new era of lifestyle where values are placed on personal care, family, wider community spirit, I think that that will start to penetrate all the way through society. And again, I hate to keep mentioning my mother but she willingly had a tracker so that she could monitor the activity. Now, obviously, she was doing so little compared to others, but you can reset those things so that you could just monitor it so that you just do a little bit more than you did yesterday. That’s the starting point for so many people, almost 40% of the population. So I think a greater emphasis on self-care. The industry needs to work out how it starts with those people and whether it starts actually outside the four walls. So I think that there’s also going to be a growing focus on non-exercise activity. These thermogenic where small daily changes make a difference. Again, once people understand that, I think that will be really good.

And then there are the playful new initiatives that are motivating self-care with unconventional activities like planting trees. Well, that does two things, doesn’t it? So you’re doing the carbon offsetting and local gamification apps like Street Tag are encouraging multi-generational neighborhood camaraderie. So volunteering to care for the environment could be seen as an altruistic way to burn calories. How wonderful is that? And I’m now encouraging any fitness site that has actually got outdoor space and there are lots of public sector sites that have to set aside space for a garden and grow your own. So I think that we’re going to have more of the concern about this greater emphasis on self-care. And I think that smart devices will play a role in monitoring this movement and extra activity.

Alex: Yeah. I think that’s an interesting one, if I think back to some of the yard work projects I was doing with my father growing up and yeah, the sweat that you would break there, I think that’s a great way to just do both things. You can make the world a better place. You can get more green into the neighborhood and you can be fit doing it. I think that would be a really good community initiative for a lot of operators to consider and start taking up.

David: Yeah.

Verticals in The Industry the Need to Be More Proactive in Response To The Pandemic.

Alex: Yeah. Interesting. Interesting one. And do you think there are any specific verticals that within the industry whether that be boutique or budget that you think need to be more proactive in changing their response to this pandemic?

David: Without a doubt, the budgets should be changing. So budgets have to expand in the industry without a doubt and now it needs to expand the people that it appeals to.

Alex: Okay. And I think too, a big conversation coming into the industry is for future trends and outlook. We were talking about Apple already, so how they can maybe do more social good with Apple Fitness Plus. But how would you say a gym operator can leverage their own data or leverage some of their own initiatives to compete with them, compete with those options coming in that are also fighting for their members at the same time?

Can A Gym Operator Leverage Their Data and Initiatives To Compete With Future Trends?

David: You know I don’t really know is the real answer. So data is all around us. We know that, and we also know that there’s a mounting body of anecdotal evidence from around the country that shows that the pandemic has changed the way we move and exercise. And we also know that there’s the convergence of physical and mental wellbeing has come to the fore and also more local the better. So again, my example of those sites in Scotland, where everyone knows their name. So I would say that we know that there are also been recent studies showing lowering anxiety levels, boosting immunity, exercise should now be viewed as preventative medicine and psychological strength.

Alex: Yeah. I think that could be a good point for us to start ending and those are the kinds of long-term changes that we can look at. And then be more personalized. I like the Cheers comment there. So local pubs in Scotland, it’s like walking into the Cheers Bar. Everyone knows everyone. It’s a happy environment. Huh?

David: Yeah. Yeah.


Alex: Awesome. Okay. Well, David the great question to always ask, as we finish up here, people who are interested in learning more about you, where can they go to find you and learn more about what you guys do as a business?

David: It’s

Alex: Easy enough.

David: Yeah.

Alex: Awesome. David, it has been an absolute pleasure on here. You’re absolutely an industry legend. You have a lot of great insights and a lot of people are always interested to hear those insights, a lot of big publications in that. So very genuinely appreciate you taking the time to join us today. And I hope you had a good conversation as well.

David: Alex, it’s been great fun. Thanks for having me.

Alex: Awesome. All right. Thanks, David. Take care. This has been another episode of Fit Nation Lunch and Learn. We’ll hope you all enjoyed this session and look forward to tune in for the next one.

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Effective Communication Tips And Strategies For Gyms

In a world where things are so uncertain, the need for a clear and precise communication strategy has never been more important. Restrictions are changing regularly, and gyms are not yet operating at full capacity.

In short, consistent changes to your communication strategy can help grow your community and build stronger customer loyalty. In these ever-changing times, you need to provide your members with clear information and direction.

Moreover, effective communication builds trust with both your team and your customers. This, therefore, means you can increase their engagement and satisfaction at the same time.

Connect with your clients

Positive and simple communication is essential, as a friendly attitude toward your audience will encourage them to interact with you. Research shows that 65% of customers say they are emotionally connected to a brand if it makes them feel like it cares about them.

This means that the tone of voice creates a connection with your audience and encourages dialogue. What you say matters, but the most important part is how you say it.

The KISS Principle

Effective communication should follow the KISS principle: “keep it short and simple”. The keys to the KISS principle are very simple and short: get to the point, avoid irrelevant aspects and deliver a message that is easy to understand.

Review your communication and content critically, and look where your message could be simplified. Keep in mind that while your communication might become more straightforward, it is imperative to keep showing respect and empathy for your audience. In short, speak the language of your customers.

A little tip? Make sure you keep a consistent tone of voice across all the channels you use. This will not only make your brand look more professional and trustworthy, but your audience will also identify with your messages more easily.

Go Beyond Basic Communication

The key to positioning your gym as a real authority is to ensure your communication is going beyond the basic messaging of class schedules.

First, you can share regular updates, for example about reopening or restrictions, but you can also offer insights about key industry news. Whenever things change in the day-to-day running of your gym, whether it is a new reservation system or the implementation of new sanitation guidelines, share this with your clients. Take your time to explain changes and updates, and be on hand to answer their questions. Those little extra steps mean a lot for client engagement.

And why stop there? If we have learned anything from the pandemic, is that a digital offering for remote fitness is essential. Fitness is no longer tied to a physical space – you can reach and serve your clients wherever they are and whenever they need through technology. Connect with them online by live streaming workouts or offering them pre-recorded sessions through your channels.

Do you want to know more about how to attract your clients back into the gym? Learn what people are looking for in a post-COVID gym.

Create an Online Community

This is a tried and tested strategy to increase motivation and engagement. You can share fitness tips, nutritional advice, recipes, wellness tips, and on-demand workouts with your clients through your in-app community or members-only pages on social media.

Discover how to cultivate your remote fitness community with the help of tech.

Creating a YouTube or Instagram account is a great way to live stream or upload pre-recorded workouts. Encouraging people to share, upload and comment on your videos can increase engagement and get people talking about your gym!

Finally, organize challenges and ask your community to film themselves and share it online! The idea is to have a solid social media presence and encourage members to interact with you outside of the gym.

Adopt an Agile Communication Strategy

With the reopening of fitness facilities, you’ll need to train your team to meet your members’ expectations. With changing government guidelines and new ways of working, an Agile communication strategy is the best option.

Agile communication is an approach that can respond, adapt and change responsively while keeping the same goal.  You must communicate clearly and effectively with all of your on-site teams, and moreover, you need to be able to disseminate new ways of working to your on-site teams quickly.

Learn how the YMCA Central Massachusetts centralized communication with its clients and team with the help of Virtuagym.

Centralize communication

The best way to do this is to adopt a single platform to send all of your information. Then, your teams will know where to find the information they are looking for, no matter what the issue might be. They should be able to access information easily. Also, make sure the content sent out is engaging.

You can share content in many forms, whether it’s an announcement from management or videos on how to wash your hands.

You also need to know if your communications are driving action. If you send a key communication to your team – for example, training them on a new health policy – you need to make sure it’s being implemented. Cultivate a culture of openness and honesty by asking and accepting feedback from your team.

Pick the Right Communication Channels

A good communication strategy for a fitness business is based on the customer experience. Therefore, it is essential to understand your customers. For example, try to find out how they heard about your services, how long they have been members of your gym, etc.

To do this, you can conduct periodic customer satisfaction surveys and analyze the data. Focus on building good relationships with your customers, increasing the number of touchpoints, and keeping them engaged.

Learn from Fitness business strategist Jennifer Halsall-de Wit about how to create a winning fitness marketing strategy.

Understanding your customers will help you know where to reach them and how to structure your marketing message. Consider differentiating your channels based on your target audience. For example, to target audiences from different generations, you will need to diversify your channels.

Also, choosing the right channel depends on the content. You wouldn’t send an invoice through text, right? Selecting the proper channels is as important as the content you share.

The medium is the message

Determining the most appropriate channels will save you valuable time and increase the effectiveness of your message. Here are the channels to consider: in the facility, billboards, websites, blogs, social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, emails, as well as webinars.

When choosing your channel, ask yourself:

  • Does it reach my target audience?
  • Does it fit my budget?
  • Does it allow me to communicate my message effectively?
  • Can I measure its performance?
  • Does it work well with the other channels I’ve chosen?

It’s also helpful to review the performance of the channels currently in use. You may additionally want to include a new, innovative channel in your strategy. Keep in mind that if the channels aren’t working for you, you can be creative.

You can always create a new space for your message that fits your goals. Sometimes, the boldest strategies are the most successful.

How (and why) to work out your Customer Acquisition Cost

Jamie Owens, Director of Fitness Partnerships at Hussle is our guest in this episode of FitNation Lunch & Learn. Hussle is the first marketplace for fitness in the world and was formed in 2009 based on two key principles; increasing participation in physical activity and generating revenue for operators.

Jamie talks us through exactly how (and why) to work out your Customer Acquisition Cost (over 50% of gyms they surveyed didn’t know theirs!). We will also discuss how to choose the right marketing channels for your business and how fitness membership models are changing.

Watch the webinar recording by clicking on the play button and read the transcript below.

Alex von Hagen: All right. Welcome, everybody, and thanks for taking the time to join us for another Fit Nation Lunch and Learn. Today, joining us out of the UK is Jamie Owens. He’s the director of Fitness Partnerships at Hussle. And in this session, we’re going to focus on how and why to work out your customer acquisition costs, the loss of sleeper members, and how that’s going to change the membership model long-term. And how you can think practically and creatively to succeed during your reopening season? I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of actionable insights in today’s session. So hope listeners have their note-taking devices ready. Without further ado, Jamie, thank you for taking the time to join us today.

Jamie Owens: My absolute pleasure. I’m very happy to do it. It’s something I love to talk about. So I’m really, really pleased to be involved.


Alex: Perfect. All right. Well, always a good spot to kick off. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background and what you do.

Jamie: Yeah. Sure. So without giving away my age, I mean, I’ve been in the industry for a long time. So I mean actually 20 years I’ve been in the industry, so I’ve always been an operator. So I come from kind of that side of the fence. So I’ve worked for brands like Esporta, Virgin Active, Nuffield Health. So I’ve always kind of worked in clubs. I’ve kind of had operational roles from general management, right up to kind of regional and national roles. So I kind of joined Hussle about a year and a half ago. I met Hussle as a client. So kind of understood their proposition from a client perspective and took on the role with them of Director of Fitness Partnerships as you’ve already mentioned. So my remit is basically to work with gyms and bring them onto our platform and I also take ownership of our corporate offering, which is essentially offering fitness as a benefit to workforces up and down the UK. So my role ultimately is around generating opportunities for gyms. So it’s a really nice role. I bring revenue and direct membership to our gym partners that we work with.

Alex: Nice. Yeah, definitely things that are more than needed right now as well. So I think it’s an important role for sure. And Hussle, maybe you could tell us a little bit more about the company and the mission of what you guys are all about.

Jamie: Yeah, sure. I mean, look, our mission is really, really simple. So we kind of stand for two things and that’s we want to engage with more customers and give customers more opportunity to access fitness. So we want to try and get more people active. That’s our kind of customer element. And from our gym supply, operates relevant, we just want to support them by helping them grow revenue and grow membership. And as you’ve alluded to right now post COVID, they need help more than ever to kind of regrow membership volume. So hopefully we can help them with that.

Differences Between Fitness Marketplaces and Aggregators

Alex: Cool. All right. As I said, yeah, definitely an important thing for the industry right now. And before we started recording, we were talking a little bit about the differences between fitness marketplaces and aggregators. I think there’s maybe some people may have a wrong impression about what you guys do. So maybe if you want to describe some of those differences and then how you guys approach things.

Jamie: Yeah, no, absolutely. So it’s a really, really good question. So I think the term aggregator is quite a broad term. And basically, it just describes the service that it gives customers choice. So kind of one place to go where you’ve got lots of choices and we see this like in lots of other sectors. If you get your phone out, I’m sure you’ve got loads of apps on there where there are dozens of different aggregates services, which offer people choice. So I think unfortunately in fitness the term aggregator is maybe seen as a negative. For what reason? I think there’s been maybe pockets of detractors out there and they kind of done their best to kind of create this negative sentiment towards it. But I mean aggregators for one of the best terms in fitness have been around for quite a while now. I think the debate is, you know, I think people are pretty bored of it and aggregators, if you want to call us that we’re a complimentary service and we’re here to stay, we’re adding value.

And I think that you know, if you think about aggregators in any sector, they’re basically just variations of helping customers access what’s on those platforms. So we really see ourselves as just a marketing partnership, but that’s probably an easier way to kind of explain it. And I think that if you think about a marketplace and that’s certainly how we term ourselves in its simplest form, it’s a place where suppliers go and congregate, and then that enables customers to go to that one place and have a choice. And that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do is just engage with customers, provide them with more choice. And I think being able to do that we create market scale, and that enables us to have lots of really cool conversations with big brands and help our gym partners to get more customers as a result.

So market scale is really important because if you think about the fitness space in the UK, one gym brand might only have 200 clubs and they won’t cover every single postcode up and down the country. So when you talk to a big brand that we work with, like Revolut or Vodafone or someone like that, it’s unlikely that one chain can have the coverage or the variation of facilities to appeal to that broad consumer base. So we’re able to do that. So by creating market scale, by putting everyone together in the marketplace, we can then bring more and more customers to the platform. And as a result, just bring more people into gyms, you know, as per what we stand for the star is exactly that. It’s being able to get more people into venues one way or another so. And I think what’s really, really interesting is if you look at fitness as in isolation, there are lots of different types of operators out there.

You know, I’m sure if you put a premium operator like a David Lloyd or an Equinox and when you also look at a budget operator, very, very different, but you would still call them a gym. You know, so we’d still say they’re gyms, but I’m sure one of those operators would feel very differently about them being put in the same bucket. So it’s the same for us. It’s the same for fitness marketplaces or aggregators or whatever you want to call us. Every service is different. And I think that what I would say from an operator’s perspective is find out which one works for you and it might be more than one. But make the partnership work for you rather than kind of making a decision based on feeling.

Alex: Yeah, I hear you. Okay.

Jamie: [Crosstalk 09:02] probably.

Why should gyms choose this model?

Alex: No, no. That’s fine. Yeah. I was going to ask like you, there’s some good content in there for operators to consider and as of this recording, the UK gyms have been open for just under a month. So, a lot of countries aren’t there yet as well around Europe, especially. So why should a gym or gym operator, gym chain operator considers this model right now if they hadn’t previously?

Jamie: Yeah. So I think there’s loads of push and pull on this, right. So there are lots of reasons why people are more interested now. I think that circumstances now where operators are kind of being a bit more pragmatic in their approach around why they should engage with marketing channels, marketing partners like us. You know certainly in the UK, we’ve seen quite a lot of cost reduction pulled out of marketing budgets. We’ve also seen lots of headcount reduction around kind of central support functions. So I think the operators need to look at other ways to attract customers in. So that’s probably a reason why now’s a good time. I think as well that we’ve evolved, marketplace models have evolved and we’ll probably talk about that a bit later on and maybe some of the things that we’re doing now to really try and support the gyms.

I think, I mean, probably if you go back over the last five or 10 years, there has been a bit of a disconnect, a bit of a mismatch between what maybe operators wanted and what services like ours were providing. But I think, you know, the gap has closed. Like that’s the benefit of time is that we’ve kind of come to understand each other and what benefits we provide better. And I think, now we’re probably more aligned than we’ve ever kind of been before. And as gyms reopen in the UK and they have been already since the start of this month, there’s been a bounce-back which is fantastic. You know it’s really, really good to see the gyms kind of trading really, really well. And we saw this kind of at the end of lockdown, one zero, you know, kind of when gyms reopened in August and there was a really, really strong bounce back at that point because of pent-up demand was built while people couldn’t get into the gym.

And then what we saw was really good volumes of usage coming back through, and I think those customers were probably the ones that were queuing outside the door before. They would kind of missed it and they were absolutely not worried about the risk of going to the gym over the reward of actually being there and seeing the benefits. So I think that’s great. But what I also think is that on the flip side, the volumes of membership have been impacted. So in the UK, anything up to 50% of the membership has been cancelled, which is huge. We know that is absolutely massive. And that will include what we’ve called, like sleeper members. So that kind of like, you know, not really using it, but continuing to pay their subscription and those members have been churned. Like they’re the ones that have gone. And I think that gyms always churn members anyway, and apologies if I’m kind of teaching you how to suck eggs, but yeah, each month a gym will churn a volume of members. That’s just natural attrition.

Alex: [Crosstalk 12:20] matter. Yeah.

Jamie: Exactly. But what’s really been the problem is that during the lockdown periods, obviously, gyms have been unable to fill the pot. So they haven’t been able to acquire members to kind of balance the books around churn. So the position that we’re in right now is that they’ve reopened, they’re all in the same place in terms of they need members and they’ve got to try and accelerate bringing members back in and everyone’s in the same position. So what we’ve done around kind of supporting that, and I guess sort of touching on that evolution piece is we’ve launched a new product of our own call a Membership Conversion Service. So what that means is that we’ve always known that our customers kind of, there was a halo effect to them being introduced to the gym. So we knew that our customers ended up joining the gym directly, which is great. And what we wanted to do was just make that process a lot slicker and kind of less clunky. So in the pilots that we’re kind of rolling out at the moment, we essentially, we proactively try and convert customers that land on Hussle into direct joiners to the gym, which we’re the only marketplace providing this service. It’s something that we’re really excited about. I know people say game changer a lot. We feel it could be a real game-changer because we know that gyms need to grow membership and their budgets are kind of less.

So hopefully through our service, we can start helping them regrow their membership. So yeah, so we were able to kind of create the scale, create the customer engagement, bring them onto the Hussle platform and then proactively try and push those that were going to join into membership as soon as we possibly can. So that’s kind of our goal if you like, is just to really be authentic and support the gyms out there with more members, you know, that’s kind of it. And I think there will still be people that kind of require flexibility and that’s what a lot of our customers come to the platform for. So I think there still will be the need maybe more so now than ever of using multiple venues. Maybe one day at work, one day at home where that kind of split of time is a little bit more even now in the kind of the new working ways. And there’ll be more customers that may be wanting to get fit in other ways. So Peloton subscribers, you know maybe people that have fallen in love with running or working out from home, those types of customers will still want to use gyms kind of in a lighter touch way. And I mean, that’s where models like ours can really, really help to give those customers a route into the gyms, which they won’t get otherwise.

Alex: Yep. Okay. I would definitely say I fall into that category. I’m a Corona biker, I think. I’ve taken up road cycling since the pandemic and I don’t see myself giving it up once the gyms are back open here in Holland, but that being said, like, I definitely will be balancing my workouts between being out on the bike a lot more and then being in the gym just depending maybe on the weather of the day.

Jamie: Yeah.

Alex: But I see that a hundred percent and I think it’s definitely clear how you guys are helping get members back into the gyms. And it sounds like you guys are also helping them understand a lot more from the data perspective and like the business side of things. One thing that we were talking about, I don’t want to steal your thunder on this stat, but it’s really going to transition into like the meat and bones of what we’re going to talk about today and that’s customer acquisition and lifetime value. You had mentioned that you guys surveyed something like 600 gyms and 50% of them, more than 50% of them did not know their cost of acquisition and the lifetime value of their members. So for those maybe who are listening, this is actually one of the questions we had from some audience members. What are customer acquisition costs? What is lifetime value and why does that matter for operators especially today?

What are Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) and Lifetime Value (LTV) and why does that matter?

Jamie: Yeah. Okay. So let’s pick them off one at a time, right. So like customer acquisition costs so that’s basically exactly how it sounds like what it costs the business to bring that customer through the front door. So there are lots that get lumped into that cost. So you’ve got things like marketing spend. So whether that’s leaflets or mailers or whether they do kind of like above-the-line activity, like banners and radio, all that kind of stuff. So any money they invest in physical marketing. You’ve also got the cost of the resource. So, they may have employees that are sales teams or membership consultants. So their wages, the commission that we pay them when they hit their target, et cetera. So that also is part of the cost. Any kind of money they spend on presenting the club photography, social, all that kind of stuff. So all of that kind of forms part of it. And then on top of that, you’ll have like the promotional cost. So when you see a gym, do a no joining fee offer or pay nothing until next month or get your first month free, all that kind of stuff, that also forms part of the acquisition cost because that’s revenue that you’ve given away, that’s not budgeted to do. In some cases, they may budget if they know that promotion’s coming, but most of the time that is another cost, which the business wasn’t expecting. So that’s how you kind of figure out what your CAC is, what your customer acquisition costs.

LTV is basically lifetime value. That’s what that means. So that’s a bit of multiplication. So understanding what your average yield is and understanding what the tenure of that membership is. So keeping it really, really simple. If it’s 30 pounds a month and the average stay is 10 months, 300 pounds would be the lifetime value of that customer. So it’s, try and understand how much you need to invest in order to see that LTV kind of figure come back to you. And you have to be really, really close to it. I mean that’s the challenge. And I think the other challenge is kind of from a data perspective gyms aren’t typically really good at kind of maintaining that information and having all of the team engaged in the importance of why they need to keep that information as well. So yeah, that’s kind of a quick sort of top line of what those two figures mean.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. And if we can start to get more actionable this is an audience question from Tom. He is coming in from Maximum Fitness Center in the US. So he’s asking basically how does a gym operator who doesn’t know their CAC or their LTV, how do they find that out starting today, if possible?

How to find your Customer Acquisition Costs and Lifetime Value today?

Jamie: Yeah. Cool. So, I think the first thing would be to kind of look at the historic data, would be a really, really good start point. So if you’ve got a bit of a kind of a line in the sand and you can drawback on that information that gives you somewhere to start. I think, go through all of your costs. So set a time period up. So maybe do that over a quarter or over a year. You know it depends on how good your data is to go kind of back on and then just work out which costs were related and which resources or activities were done to acquire customers. Then you can identify the customers that are required during that time period. So again, historic data is really, really important. And then basically you’re just, it’s a division. So you’re dividing cost investment versus customers that came through, and that’s going to give you your cost of acquisition. So it sounds quite simple. The challenging bit in there is the data. So if you’re not in the fortunate position where you’ve got that good historic data, then you need to get really insanely close to it from this point onwards. And then it might be that you just use a month as a start point to kind of start tracking and monitoring what that kind of looks like. And then moving forward, I think doing it quarterly would be the best way to do it. I mean because there are lots of different seasonality elements to membership, as you probably know. And I suppose at the minute there is a bit of a danger of the numbers being skewed because you’ve got that kind of bounce back, you know that pent-up demand. So that’s why if you’ve got historic data that’s probably the best thing to do.

And I think for lifetime value, you’re going to need to look at the data for now. Now, these numbers are going to be slightly skewed because as we talked about before, the sleeper element of membership is going to potentially muddy the water a little bit on what LTV looks like now. What LTV looks like from this point will be probably a little bit different from what it looked like over the last two years, but at least it gives you a start point. So you need to look at the average tenure of your membership, work out the average yield that they’re paying, and that’s going to give you a number to work from right now. And then I would absolutely from this point forward, start tracking those numbers again, just to see if there’s any fluctuation in the LTV of the membership as well.

Software to Acquire the Data

Alex: Got it. Yeah. And what would you say the best ways to keep on top of it outside of just a manual spreadsheet, like, is there any software that comes to mind for you guys that say this is the way to go with the job?

Jamie: I think there probably is. I mean, I think there probably are some software houses that you can engage with. I mean we use lots of, we’re promoting tools that we use internally. We use the so-called Tableau which is good for us because you can plug lots of data sources into it and it’s very configurable. So it kind of works for our model. I think really basic is you need to make sure that the team and they’re the ones that ultimately input the information. So they need to be really, really close to it. So you need to kind of get that culture going within your facility of the importance of tracking and monitoring all this information. If you care about it, they’ll care about it and you’ll get a better result. So an element of it is going to be manual. I’m not against Excel spreadsheets in any way, shape, or form. So, I appreciate that software comes with a cost. So what’s really important is the quality of the data you’re able to obtain and put into that. And that’s a full team job, you know. That’s so important that everybody has ownership and buys into the importance of kind of tracking the data and keeping it there. But it doesn’t need to be overly complicated because I already kind of said to you working out LTV and the cost of acquisition is not tricky. You just need the information and to make it kind of relevant.

Industry Benchmark for a Good Cost of Acquisition and Good Lifetime Value

Alex: Yeah. Okay. I got you. I got you. And would you say in the industry, there is of course a lot of different verticals between the budget sector, the boutique sector, PTs, but would you say there’s an industry benchmark as far as like what good cost of acquisition and good lifetime value on a percentage base, what that looks like?

Jamie: Yeah. That’s a really tough question to answer actually. I think that [inaudible 23:17] at this time and what I would say is like, if you imagine that like, well, what we’ve created now is like most gyms are kind of having to grow. So everyone’s in the same position where they’re in a growth kind of mindset right now. So what I do know is that kind of benchmark for growth companies in any sector is a three to one ratio. So basically the LTV is three times bigger than the cost of acquisition. So that’s a good metric to work from. That’s probably a good starting point. So, you know, putting that into context for our conversation, if your membership is 30 quid a month, 10 years, 10 months, 300 pounds means you can afford to spend up to a hundred pounds on activities to win that new customer.

Now a hundred pounds may sound like a lot of money right now and there would probably be people watching this thinking, there’s no way we spend anywhere near that. But once they factor in all of the costs that I talked about before, they might be surprised by the level of investment that goes into them currently on acquisition costs. And then if you go back to that three to one ratio, if you’re bigger than that, if you’re five to one, something like that, then you should spend more money because you are doing well. So you should put your foot down and go faster and invest more money and acquire more members. That’s a really good thing to be. You’re kind of getting into the unicorn zone there. You could get on with it. You know, if it’s less than that, if you’re not a three to one, if you’re two to one or even worse, one-to-one, you’ve got some challenges. So you should probably think about cutting your investment down and then try and kind of better understand maybe there are some challenges elsewhere around proposition or pricing or whatever that may look like. But basically, three to one is kind of is where you should be, if you’re better than that, spend more, if you’re worse than that, stop spending money and find out what the problem is because you’re kind of wasting it.

Alex: Okay. Yeah. Hoping a lot of our listeners, if they’re figuring this out right now, or if they’re listening in and just good positive reassurance that they’re in that plus three range, hopefully, we can help them get there with some of this content. On that note, how would you say gyms could positively impact these two metrics that we’ve been hammering in on?

How can gyms positively impact cost or acquisition and lifetime value?

Jamie: Yeah, I think post-COVID all operators probably have to be quite honest now and look at their business.

Alex: Yeah.

Jamie: There’s lots of stuff in the press. Isn’t there? In terms of fitness is kind of much more on the radar now, people are more into well-being than they’ve ever been before. But then there are also articles saying that there’s an increased number of people inactive since locked down as well. So there is kind of conflicting news pieces out there around kind of what the market looks like. I think that to answer the question, costs that are left out are things like resources, right. So things like managing social media, like making creative look good, maybe even staff costs. You know we talked about that marketing kind of a bit earlier. I think that’s a challenge. That’s going to be a challenge for operators. I think from a lifetime value perspective that they need to factor discounts in because it’s competitive now. I’m really surprised in the UK now the gyms have reopened, like quite how aggressive some of the operators are being on their offers and trying to acquire customers now. I didn’t see that coming. I’ve got to be honest. I thought people would be taking the cash and just kind of, you know knowing that the demand was there and really just trying to maximize it at this point. But it’s not, it’s really, really competitive. And I think that probably boils down to the fact that everyone needs to regrow their membership. So, I think that lowering their kind of acquisition costs will help.

How can gyms drive member growth with a reduced marketing budget?

Alex: Yeah, on that note, we’ve acknowledged that gyms they’re going to have decreased marketing budgets right now. I think most businesses do. All right. So how do you feel that gyms can continue to drive member growth even with a decreased marketing budget that we realized that they have?

Jamie: Yeah. So I mean as we touched on before, certainly in the UK market, this is an area that’s been impacted. I think that investment around acquisition spend has reduced. No, that’s absolutely clear. We know that speaking to a lot of the operators within our network. And then also, as I said, the resource element has been reduced as well. So you kind of, you can’t have this scenario where you’ve got kind of less output and you’re expecting at least the same result, if not better. So, I think my view is that there’s still the bounce, right. So you’ve still got this post lockdown bounce, which is great and they should definitely maximize that. But right now, as I said before, like fast go faster, now’s the opportunity to put your foot down. So for me, they should just not hold back. They should throw everything at it right now because demand is never going to be higher than it is right now.

We actually were looking at this last week in an internal meeting and we just looked on kind of Google Analytics just to see kind of how big the search was on fitness right now and it was actually at the same level as pre-COVID, like golden quarter level. So, the volume of people searching gyms in the UK was on par with January 2019. So it’s kind of never been bigger right now. So what I would say is now is the time to really kind of put your foot down and maximize all the channels available to you to try and get as many members right in. And I think September will be an interesting period for us in the UK because we’ve had a few months of the gyms being reopened September is like the second biggest acquisition month in the year. So by that point, that kind of bounce back would have maybe slowed down a little bit. And what we’ll find is that September will be the first, like kind of real big month for gyms in terms of the budget that they’re expecting to do and we’ll understand where we are at that point.

I think kind of moving forward, there are a couple of things to consider. I think operators need to have a really open mind about how they reach new customers, try new things ultimately. In the UK, we’ve kind of been stuck at 15% of the population joining the gym and it’s been that way for, you know, nearly the whole of the 20 years that I’ve worked in gyms.

Alex: Yeah.

Jamie: So it was kind of something’s not quite working for everybody. So what they need to think about is how they can convert customers into members and try and be a bit more open as to how customers are kind of getting into their venues. And I think secondly, focus on what you’re good at. So stick to the knitting is a saying that we have in the UK and then partner with people that have got expertise in an area that you kind of need it. So that way your business resource can just focus on delivery execution. It’s like working with third parties to bring customers in enables a venue to just focus on excellent customer service. Just making sure that when the customer comes in, they’re on a pedestal and they’re just absolutely looked after.

A good example of that might be, we’ve seen a lot of the UK that brands build their own digital provision, like, so they spent a lot of time, effort, and money in trying to build their own branded digital solution. When they could have just partnered with someone that was already in that space and maybe save the money on something that it was maybe had a bit of a better return for them, for one of a better term. So, yeah, I think there’s that kind of the customer has choice. So I think sometimes brands can be at fault for trying to own that customer in and outside of the venue where maybe the smart thing to do is just share that customer with lots of other partners.

Alex: Yeah. Got you. Okay. And hey, switching gears a little bit here. One of the other topics we wanted to discuss was the role of the sleeper member moving forward. And so yeah, talk to us about your perspective on sleeper members and how that role of that member has changed or is it going to continue changing as a result of the pandemic?

Jamie’s Perspective on the Role of Sleeper Members

Jamie: Yeah. So this is quite a contentious subject, right. So I think my personal view is that I don’t think like a customer that I tolerate that model in fitness anymore, to be quite honest. The only way and I suppose what sleeper is about is it’s kind of like low usage, low engagement. So they’re not really, and that kind of almost goes against everything that I stood for as working in fitness and I’ll probably touch on that in a little while. But I think that if you think about the Netflix kind of model where it’s kind of like a negligible amount, so if I don’t use it much, it’s okay, I’m rolling on. In fitness, really the only beneficiaries in that space are going to be the budget operators.

So I think the only kind of operators that will have a sleeper membership or a low usage, low engagement will be the ones that are really, really cheap. So a branded chain, a mid-market, or a premium operator is not going to be able to kind of attract that type of customer. No one’s going to pay good subscription value to not use it. So, I think the customers will just be a bit savvier now to it. As to whether there should be sleeping members or not, I think unfortunately over the years, I think that these kinds of members have been a big part of underpinning the model, in terms of the financial model. I think some gyms have kind of relied on that, having members that didn’t use it. If all the members turned up at once, you know gyms would be in pretty…

Alex: [Crosstalk 33:37] issue. Yeah.

Jamie: Be queuing around the door, right. So yeah, I think what’s going to be really important is gyms kind of diversifying their offerings and being able to offer different types of products which appeal. So what they need to be able to do is engage people more in like the physical activity, have a bit more of a varied approach and be able to attract these kinds of low usage, but maybe high engagement customers. So let’s move away from the sleepers, but let’s find a way of engaging customers that don’t necessarily want to come into the gym the whole time. I mean we’ve got to customize the memberships and we’ve got to focus on that. We’ve got to kind of put the customer at the front of what we’re doing. It could be that the gym, as I mentioned before, not owning that customer, but providing a part of that customer’s overall kind of wellbeing hub, if that makes sense.

Alex: Yeah. And I think for some operators might have to file this one under a hard to swallow pill that they’re going to have to start re-shifting their business model to these people who just weren’t using their service altogether. You’ve touched a little bit on whether there should be sleepers moving forward and I think that’s always going to exist to an extent, but maybe it’s just a matter of how much we rely on it or not.

Jamie: Yeah.

Should gyms still account for sleeper members?

Alex: I mean, do you think, we’ve talked a little bit about lifetime value, so should gyms still account for X percentage of their members to be that sleeper category? And if so, do you think that there’s a certain amount?

Jamie: Yeah. You know what? I think that’s really risky. So I think to build a model based on like a percentage, obviously presented would be really, really risky. I think as I mentioned before, I think the only way a customer will tolerate that sort of paying for something they’re not really using is if there’s that model around, kind of high engagement, low usage bit. And that’s going to come down to whether or not it’s sustainable for that gym to offer options for a customer to have a lighter touch variation of membership of some description. So I think that they’d be better to kind of put their efforts into coming up with a solution and kind of prioritizing that and trying to find different ways to appeal to people that want low usage. Rather than, maybe thinking about how much sleep revenue they’re going to generate.

Alex: Yeah.

Jamie: I mean don’t get me wrong. In 10 years’ time, it might be different. But I think right now we’ve got this scenario where they’re gone and we need to find a way to kind of replace them with a more engaged customer. And that’s probably what I’d say. But yeah, I definitely wouldn’t assume that it’s going to be as it was before.

Alex: Yeah. Okay. I think that’s that rise of the digital-only membership that I think a lot of operators are looking at right now is you have a member card, well, you don’t actually have a member card, but if you did, it just wouldn’t even gain you access to the club, but you still have access to their products, to their environment, to their digital interactions. And if that’s at 25% of what it takes or the membership costs to actually get into the physical club, well, that can be exactly how you’re talking about. Maybe have that digital-only membership, it’s going to be not someone who doesn’t visit you all the time, but they’re still engaged and you’re still able to have them as a dues-paying member for hopefully a long time.

Jamie: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve seen the emergence of some sort of initial talks of having more of like health membership, sort of health subscription. So I know that there are some businesses in the UK that are thinking about ways where it might be more around health rather than fitness and maybe inviting customers to come in for a health check once a month and maybe touchpoints, less kind of gym orientated. But more, it’s just that engagement piece, right. Because if you can engage people and they’re kind of happy to have a lighter touch, then that could be something which kind of appeals to some of the operators. It’s just finding other ways to keep customers sticky to their brand. They’re not going to be looking to use it two or three times a week or they’re not happy to pay them for not using it like they used to.

Why is the Hussle model relevant to consumers?

Alex: Yeah. And so we’ve talked a lot about why operators should be looking at a brand like Hussle right now. But from the consumer side, why do you think a model like Hussle is relevant for consumers right now?

Jamie: Yeah, you know what? Personally, I think it’s been relevant for a long time and that’s from my own personal experience, that was a big pull for me coming over to the business. I think that flexibility it’s been available in all different other sectors and all different other ways other than fitness. You know, I think that kind of 15%, as I mentioned to you before that kind of a small number of people that joined the gym, I think that was just down to inflexible options for people. So I think it’s more relevant now because well, lots of reasons, I guess. I mean, I think that giving people more choices, that kind of working environment changing. You know half at home, half at the office, you know, that’s really, really important.

I think the fitness industry has gone through a lot of acceleration around their thinking, around customers wanting and we talked about that the digital emergence then kind of pivoting towards having options that people can work out from home. Going back even like two or three years ago, there wasn’t really any sort of gym brands out there that would have been encouraging their customers to work out from home. So I think that’s a positive of this is that, you know, gyms are starting to see that there’s kind of other ways that they can engage with customers outside of their rigid membership products. And I think that gym operates certainly was [inaudible 39:37] and they’ve got lots of energy and passion around this.

Like we all do, they want people to increase participation. They want more people getting into venues and getting fit. And I think that’s certainly one thing that everyone’s united on in our sector is wanting to get more people fit and access to fitness. So I think what people are realizing now is there’s more than one way of doing that, whether that’s digital or whether that’s working with things like ours, products like ours to be able to give customers more choice and more flexibility. So yeah, I think for the customer, it’s super important. It’s super relevant right now because now more than ever, they’re needing that flexibility and not being tied down to one venue, one contract.

Alex: Yeah. And I think that’s actually, you shed a good light on the inflexibility of it. It’s always about that 15% penetration rate, but all along when maybe we should have been looking at the 85% who weren’t members of the gym and why not, and how we can start to cater to them. And I think services like this and a lot of other things on the market will hopefully start to shift that trend. And it is also, you know, you can start to break this into a few different categories. There’s going to the gym for fitness, but then there’s also just physical activity, right. Just being around, moving, just doing something, being a little bit active. And I think that we can do as an industry or as a sector a lot more to get people physically active first and then that sort of graduates them into maybe getting that gym membership down the line.

Jamie: Yeah. Definitely. Absolutely.

Future Fitness Trends

Alex: And I would say a lot of the data that you guys have at Hussle probably allows you to spot some general fitness trends. We’ve talked about a lot of them already. You know maybe predicting what customers are going to be interested in say in the coming one year, two years. Could you share some insights on what you guys expect to see coming down the pipe?

Jamie: Yeah. Okay. Definitely. I think there’s probably a few trends that we see from kind of data between lockdowns and definitely on reopening now. I think the first one’s around that kind of peak piece. I guess the peak and off-peak usage and I know this from kind of being in clubs myself. But there was always the kind of sets, especially when you looked at the geographical location of clubs, your kind of city center clubs, your residential clubs, and so on. It was always, there’d be certain times where it was dead and other times where it was dead busy. You know that kind of after-work five until seven, you kind of knew when the busy periods were going to be. And it kind of felt like, yeah, I mean, it was such a waste having these facilities just empty during certain periods of the day.

So I think that that peak, off-peak bit is starting to level out and that’s more about people’s kind of work home flexibility as well. So starting to see that usage is more sort of leveling out. There still are going to be those peak periods because we’re creatures of habit and a lot of the time you like to go to the gym when you go. But we’re certainly seeing that start to level out a little bit more. So I think usage during the kind of the off-peak periods if you like is definitely one of the things that we’ve seen. I think there’s a huge shift away from kind of where people are working out. And again, this is in line with office and home working. So we see that a lot with the operators as well.

Operators I speak to, the kind of the real city center venues, they’re quiet. They’re really, really quiet because people aren’t venturing into town. You know they’re not working from the office. As a result, the usage is really, really low. And then on the flip side, you’ve got kind of like the residential areas are kind of the ones that really, really booming. So they’re seeing people that are coming in that weren’t before. Maybe those people who had joined the gym near work are actually joining the gym near home. But what that does mean is that those gym brands that are scaling they’re focusing on those areas now as well. So brands that may be kept to the town center, like the kind of city locations, they’re starting to branch out now into the residential areas.

So you’re going to start to see much more competitive environments now out in the residential areas where kind of like the bigger players are opening gyms next to the leisure centers, next to the independent gyms that we’re kind of enjoying a bit of peace and quiet out on their own. So I think lastly, people’s need for multiple venues we’re seeing that increase. So having flexibilities to use one-day work, one day at home, that’s on the up now because people’s time is more evenly split about where they are. So I think those are probably the three things, the peak and off-peak piece, where people are working out and their need to have more venues to access.

Alex: [Inaudible 44:26] Necessity being the mother of all invention here. It’s like, they’re making those kinds of changes. So that’s from the operator side. From your guys’ side, from Hussle, I mean, have you guys made any or at least publicly shareable changes in light of the past year that you want to highlight now?

Highlights of Publicly Sharable Changes

Jamie: No, definitely. And I touched on it earlier. So when I came to the business as someone who’s worked in the sector for years, I was challenged to bring an operator mindset to the business. So what I felt was that there was an opportunity for us to really support the gyms much better and certainly help with some of the halo effects of the relationship and the big one was around the membership piece. So what gyms thrive on is membership. That’s their lifeblood. It’s their kind of biggest revenue line. So if we were able to help gyms to kind of grow membership, I mean, I didn’t obviously expect there to be a global pandemic after joining. So I think that the hope was always that we could help gyms, but now it feels like there’s a need for us to help them more than ever. So our kind of Membership Conversion piece is probably, we definitely see it as a real game-changer for us and the partners that we have. So, it kind of really bridges the gap around kind of serving them up customers, but then also providing a clear stream of joiners.

And that’s super important to me is that we’re kind of seen as a real value-added partner and we’re really kind of helping them in the right way and on the club’s terms. So if we can help them with regrown membership and once they’re up to a sustainable level, keeping that kind of topped up. That’s probably the biggest thing that we’ve done differently is that I don’t want to call it pivot, I just want to call it, we’ve kind of focused in on something we were okay at and what we’re doing is being really, really clear and transparent and trying to be really great at it. So that’s what we’ve done differently. We’re really excited about that. We’re piloting it right now. So right now we’re in the process of piloting this. We picked half a dozen towns that where we have a good supply right now and we’re focusing on those clubs first. And what I would say is if anyone in the UK is listening to this and you’d be interested in finding out a bit more please, please get in touch. It’d be great to kind of explain how the process works with you and see if there’s any opportunity for you guys to get involved too.

Alex: Nice. Yeah. As we start to turn the corner here and wrap up today’s session, I was going to say, I mean, I think it’s definitely mission-critical work, what you guys are doing for a lot of operators in the industry right now, and moving forward, the fitness industry, it is going to be more important than it ever has been before. It’s always been an important one, but now that we realize how important public health is, this is really where it’s kind of our time to really step up to the plate. So I think it’s really great what you guys are doing.

Jamie: [Inaudible 47:22].

Where to learn more about Jamie and Hussle?

Alex: Awesome. Well, Jamie, yeah, always a good ending question here. Where can people go to learn a little bit more about yourself and also Hussle Mission?

Jamie: Oh yeah. So in terms of me personally, hit me up on LinkedIn. So you’ll find me on LinkedIn, Jamie Owens. You’ll see the Hussle branding everywhere. So yeah, by all means, drop me a line, connect and I love talking, right. You’ve probably guessed that over this conversation, but yeah, I’m always happy to talk about the sector. I’m super passionate about it. So hit me up there. And in terms of Hussle, so is our website. There’s a forward slash list my gym, which is where you would go as a supplier looking to get involved. But yeah LinkedIn or, but it’d be great to hear from anyone. Always happy to talk.

Alex: Fantastic. All right. Well, Jamie, yeah, really, really appreciate the insights from today’s show. I think there’s a lot of actionable stuff for people who tuned in for today’s episode. Yeah, this has been another episode of FitNation Lunch and Learn Webinar. Hope you all enjoyed it and we’ll see you next time.

Jamie: Cheers.


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How to get your older clients back into the gym

As gyms are finally beginning to reopen and members are starting to return to their normal training routines, there is one population who is proving a bit more reluctant to return to in-person training: older adults.

This is an issue because older adults are one demographic who stands to gain the most when it comes to regular physical activity in terms of prevention and management of chronic diseases as well as the overall quality of life benefits. Not only that, but research by Nuffield Health shows that they are the most steady and frequent gym-goers, which means they are both a stable and steady revenue source for your club.

Recent years have seen a major increase in the sheer number of seniors who are joining gyms and health clubs, but COVID-19 restrictions have set this trend dead in its tracks. The good news is that since older adults are amongst the first ones to be fully vaccinated, they are also one of the safest populations to be welcomed back into your facility.

If you are struggling to get older adults back into your gym, or your older personal training clients are hesitant to return to in-person training, there are a few things you can do to focus on this important demographic to attract these loyal clients back to the gym.

The big picture is about making older clients feel safe, prioritizing clear communication, educating them on technology, and walking them through the post-COVID-19 gym protocols to make them feel comfortable and confident when returning to the gym.

The Importance of Older Clients

As a quick refresher, seniors and the 50+ demographic are a population of clients that has the potential to add stable and steady revenue to your club or facility. People from within this demographic are usually settled in place, have the expendable income to spend on full-time memberships, have the time to dedicate to caring for their health and prioritizing physical activity, and are intensely brand-loyal.

In fact, members over the age of 50 are more likely to continue a gym membership than any other age group.

Seniors and aging adults are aware of the myriad of health benefits to be gained from regular exercise, so their motivation to go to the gym extends far beyond aesthetics. Aging adults exercise to reduce their risk of falls or injury, to reduce or manage chronic pain, to reduce muscle loss, and to improve sleep quality. The gym becomes a haven for social interaction, a place to manage stress, and a way to improve their overall quality of life.


Communication with this audience in a way that is accessible to them is crucial. This relates to all stages of returning to the gym, from welcoming them back, to clearly communicating the new rules and hygiene standards, all the way to the rapport you build with members and clients.

Welcome Back!

Notifying your members that you are once again open for in-person training is key. They might not be on social media, so you will have to meet them where they’re at. You can invest in printed media- like a welcome back postcard or go the more personal route with a phone call. Either way, make sure your members in the 50+ age group are aware you are open and receiving clients again.

See More: How to boost your occupancy rate post-COVID-19

Once your members are back on-site, a personal re-introduction to the facility will make them feel more comfortable in getting back. Below we’ll go over the details about walking clients through new gym regulations and standards.

Build Personal Rapport

It is essential to remember that each client is different and while some aging adults might want to reap the benefits of being seniors, others do not want to be treated as if they are fragile, old, or frail. So keep in mind that communication is a two-way street and that listening is half of the equation.

Bringing aging adults back to the gym means being a caring and compassionate trainer or gym owner who understands them, creates workouts that service their personal goals, pushes them when necessary, and knows when to pull back. At the end of the day all clients, seniors or otherwise, want to feel seen and heard.


There is no doubt that the last 12 months have seen immense digitization of the fitness industry. And even though we are poised to return to in-person training, most gyms still aim to create a hybrid experience that seamlessly blends technology with the on-site gym experience.

This stands to be an issue for bringing older adults back to the gym, as technology, on the whole, can be a confusing and frustrating experience as this population sometimes struggles with using devices/software but also fails to understand the benefits of said technology and so is not able to enjoy the experience.

A lack of understanding of any technology you have implemented in your facility may leave aging adults feeling intimidated and hesitant to return.

Your facility will need to consider these challenges and develop a clear and consistent policy for educating your older clients on newly implemented technology. In much the same way that personal trainers teach their clients how to use machines, they can also teach them how to use their app for check-ins, bookings time slots, receive notifications from their trainer, and how to access class schedules, etc.

Make sure your employees are fully trained on both sides of the tech so that if a client runs into difficulty, the trainer knows exactly how the app looks and runs from the client’s perspective, and can assist. Educating your older clients on the technology will help them gain confidence in their ability to use the application and avoid unnecessary frustration.

Don’t have the technology yet? Learn how to increase member retention with a digital engagement solution.

Managing Expectations and Make Them Feel Comfortable

Invite them for a special reintroduction tour of the club to make them feel more comfortable.

This should be a hands-on tour that shows them exactly how the gym will work in the post-COVID era. Are the changing rooms still closed? Are you encouraging members to schedule their arrival through a booking system? Are they supposed to be checking in online as opposed to the front desk? Walk them through your new hygiene and social distancing policies and make sure it is also visible for all members to see.

See more: The ultimate checklist for reopening your gym after lockdown

What it comes down to is this: aging adults are a demographic who may be reluctant to return to on-site training post-COVID-19. By investing time in your older clients through communication and education, you can make them feel more confident and comfortable in returning to the gym, will be rewarded with their loyalty.

Keep Cultivating Your Remote Fitness Community With The Help of Tech

Following the global pandemic and subsequent closure of gyms, we’ve seen a soar in popularity for online workouts as businesses and self-employed fitness instructors go remote. According to the World Economic Forum, fitness app downloads grew by nearly 50% during the first half of 2020, and there are no signs of slowing.

However, with spring approaching and outdoor workouts back in the mix, how can tech still be of value? And how can you meet your clients in the middle?

Whether you are a gym owner or fitness instructor, here’s our how-to on using tech to grow your fitness business.

Flexible Training

Getting outdoors is a brilliant way to train, but the benefit of technology is the ability to train anytime, anywhere- making your business accessible to clients 24/7.

Not only can utilizing tech create a new stream of revenue, but it also allows you to add value to your services. Offering both pre-recorded and live workouts lets you connect digitally with members and create an online community, which helps increase motivation and engagement.

Members can also complete these workouts outside in the warmer months, bringing both the outdoors and online forum together in one place. Outdoor fitness has become popular with many businesses.

One gym utilizing the online platform is Anytime Fitness, which offers tailored plans and regular check-ins for members. They also provide their clients with nutritional advice, recipes, well-being tips, and on-demand workouts.

Members not only benefit from in-person training when the gyms are open but they also have a range of available add-on services needed regardless of whether their gym is open or closed.

Add a Gym Management Software to the Mix

Adding gym management software to the mix to bring all your fitness and well-being needs together can be a one-stop easy way to attract and retain clients.

One humble gym increasing its membership engagement and revenue is The Training Club. They’ve given members access to PRO+, Virtuagym’s personalized digital membership app.

The software combines online training with challenges, wellness tips, and meditation to deliver a complete-package experience to members – all powered and managed by Virtuagym.

Read more: Five Clients Share How Virtuagym Software Helped During the Pandemic

If you already have your packages in place, software apps can also be a fantastic upselling tool for more varied and flexible training, in addition to in-facility exercises.

Read how one of our clients, San Diego-based Pacific Beach Training, digitized their neighborhood gym during the pandemic in order to take back control and add value for their members.

Read their story

Increase the Value of Your Subscription

Going the extra mile and bringing something different into your offering can help you to tap into a more niche market and diversify. Nutrition tracking, for example, is a great way to add value to memberships.

Offering nutrition tracking and advice to your clients makes them feel that they’re getting more bang for their buck, which can ultimately help grow your business!

However, customizing nutrition plans for clients can be time-consuming, especially for personal trainers. Virtuagym nutrition coaching software allows for bespoke customization of meal plans for clients within the software itself, derived from an existing in-app database.

The software also lets you have your own branded app in which you can share diet plans directly with your clients or allow them to personalize plans themselves, according to their goals.

The Virtuagym nutrition software for gyms allows you to add food diaries, recipes, and ingredients, which completely tailors the experience.

Creating a Community Hub

We all know the benefits of exercising, but it can be hard to quantify the emotional and social benefits derived from making connections with fellow gym-goers. Such interactions help us stay motivated to exercise and keep us looking forward to going to the gym.

So, how can building a community increase member motivation and help grow your business?

Creating a community hub for your members can be a great way to increase engagement and socialization – a key motivator for people to exercise. Firstly, consider offering community access as premium content to your existing packages; this not only adds value but can diversify your revenue stream.

Ensure you regularly update your content and consider Q&A’s, organizing guest talks, and sharing conversation-starters to get people chatting and connecting.

Setting up a YouTube or Instagram account a great way to livestream or load pre-recorded workouts. By housing your content in one place, you can cross-post to your other social media channels.

Encouraging people to share, download, and comment on your videos can increase engagement and get people talking!

Going One-to-One

Whether you own a gym or are a self-employed personal trainer, offering digital one-to-one sessions, as well as small group sessions, is the way to go.

While this might seem obvious, organizing one-to-one programs is a time-consuming task, which is what hinders most gym owners from doing it.

Employing a more personalized approach to remote training can help you build a premium training package for your clients and encourage new business.

One-to-one training increases connection with both new-to-exercise members (who may require more attention) and clients who are looking to up-the-ante on their existing training. There’s something for everyone to gain when it comes to personalized, one-to-one training!

As we know, personal training sessions involve consultation and deep-dive analysis into goals and current fitness abilities – all eyes are on the client.

By offering a unique and personal experience, clients are more likely to hit their goals and see the added value of one-to-one training. Remote client coaching allows you to still regularly check-in with your clients, share tips, receive and send videos, monitor progress, and adapt programming – regardless of geography.

This lull in the fitness industry is an opportune moment to utilize software by inputting your clients’ programs and providing them with comprehensive nutrition plans they can receive and customize online.

Move it Outdoors

For very good reasons, people are still a little wary of the idea of returning to the gym, so why not take it outside? Offering socially distanced outdoor training helps people to feel safer and springtime is perfect timing for taking things outside!

This approach builds community and gets people back outdoors while keeping your business operating.

According to research conducted by RunRepeat, outdoor training is set to become a 2021 trend, so it’s a great time to build these sessions into your packages.

You can then film and share these sessions online to help build your brand.

All set? Next, learn how to promote your classes and workouts.