Omicron: Nine ways clubs can fight back
With the rapid spread of Omicron threatening to curtail clubs’ COVID recovery, operators are pulling out all the stops to support their members and maintain momentum.
Times have never been tougher for club operators, but each new challenge they encounter presents fresh opportunities to innovate and reinvent the club model.
If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud that’s blighted our industry over the past two years, it’s undoubtedly the emergence of digital fitness solutions to complement our physical clubs. Digital offers huge potential for clubs to reach beyond their traditional local catchment. Now, anyone with an internet connection is a potential target for digital memberships.
And though live fitness experiences remain the pinnacle, the digital fitness boom and the growth of home working mean today’s fitness consumers demand a connected fitness experience that offers convenience and enables them to maintain a more active lifestyle. Seamlessly linking live and digital will be key to club success – particularly as COVID uncertainty continues to disrupt members’ workout habits.
For those willing to be bold, the digital fitness boom can fast-track club growth and help operators thrive in the new age of fitness.
And there’s no time like now to take action. From digital workouts, to new products and political activism, here are nine ways your club can combat the threat of Omicron and keep pushing forward.
1. Level-up with live-stream
Through each COVID setback, clubs have quickly adapted to provide members with a suite of digital options to stay active and engaged. One notable example has been live-stream, which has proven to be a highly effective way to beam the buzz and community of group fitness classes into members’ living rooms.
And far from being a simple stop-gap to tide the industry over during lockdowns, live-stream is becoming a vital addition to clubs’ long-term digital offerings.
In recognition of these new opportunities for clubs and the ongoing global uncertainty around COVID, Les Mills has made several important updates to help clubs ramp up their presence in the booming online fitness segment.
We’ve provided specially-created program Releases as a short-term solution for clubs and Instructors to keep their members moving. Now, operators have a much wider choice of Les Mills classes for their Instructors to deliver, if they want to tap into the fast-growing live-stream market during lockdown and beyond.
Check out our nine key plays to help your club nail its live-stream offering and speak to your local Business Partnership Manager in Australia or Southeast Asia, to learn more about the latest live-stream offers. And for your Instructors, share these top tips from the world’s leading presenters on how to deliver a quality live-stream class.
2. Doubling down on digital content
Another legacy of the pandemic has been the explosion of digital fitness options and their increasing adoption by consumers. This again represents a golden opportunity for operators to attract fresh faces into their facility, as well as driving stronger engagement with existing members – particularly when COVID restrictions make it harder for them to get to the gym.
For Kevin McHugh, COO of The Atlantic Club in New Jersey (USA), staying open to new ways of thinking and treating technology as a friend rather than foe, is key to driving club growth.
“Ourselves and other leading clubs must continue to do a better job maximising the live in-club experience – which is our USP – as well as providing an outstanding range of digital options for when members can’t make it to the club, and educating on how to get the most out of them,” he says.
“One of the most important strategies that health, fitness, and wellness clubs need to employ is to expand their reach beyond the traditional bricks and mortar to provide members with a total wellness solution. The leading health and fitness clubs of the future will provide a full omni-channel solution to members.”
3. Leverage these digital tools to drive live growth
The pandemic has created a new generation of fitness fans, with 27 per cent of the total market (those who regularly exercise or plan to start soon) considering themselves to be total beginners. These are people who have taken their tentative first steps into the world of fitness and are now deciding what comes next.
The ability to reach beyond your existing membership and attract new people into facilities will be key to operators’ long-term growth once restrictions have lifted. In the meantime, high-class digital offerings can help clubs win new fans online, build brand affinity, and then eventually convert them to becoming full members of the club.
Opportunity abounds for operators who can appeal to these groups and understand the unique barriers to exercise they face. The question is, how will your club’s strategy set you up to capitalise on these new opportunities and meet the expectations of this new generation of potential gym members?
4. Set up your own digital platform
Another operator that’s taken rapid strides to enhance its member offering and unlock new revenue streams is Everyone Active. At the start of the first COVID lockdown, the 190-site UK operator combined LES MILLS+ with four other fitness apps to create a temporary digital solution for members. This pivot to digital paid off substantially, with over 10,000 members subscribing to the new £9.99 (19AUD) a month service, yielding vital additional revenue during lockdown and supporting longer-term member retention.
Buoyed by the success of its temporary solution, Everyone Active has committed to a long-term digital transformation to future-proof its member offering. This saw the operator launch its own permanent digital fitness platform – Everyone On Demand – using LES MILLS Content along with videos from WithU, EXi and others, to bring members over 2,500 workouts.
Everyone On Demand is being deployed to engage and retain current members – while also enticing new ones – by offering access to the platform for all new and existing Everyone Active facility members as part of their standard package. For those not yet ready to return to the gym, the operator is also offering Everyone On Demand digital memberships for £9.99 per month.
Standalone digital offerings – like the £9.99 Everyone On Demand package – can be a great way for clubs to win new fans online, build brand affinity, and then eventually convert them to becoming full members of the club. By taking the club experience into people’s homes, operators have the chance to reach huge swathes of the population who wouldn’t typically visit a club and help them start their fitness journey. There is clear appetite for such fitness progression among non-gym members using Les Mills Content, with 53 per cent stating they’re interested in trying live Les Mills classes in a club (research from May 2020). Speak to your local Business Partnership Manager in Australia or Southeast Asia, if you'd like to explore syndicating content for your club's platform.
5. Don’t leave member uptake to chance
Much like the marketing of your digital timetable, there are many classic club management principles that still apply to your online fitness solutions – particularly when it comes to onboarding members.
If you’re launching digital fitness solutions, the way that you onboard members to best showcase these offerings is critical to their long-term success.
Much like when they first join your club, ensuring members start their digital journey with a bang will be key to engagement and retention. This means clear communication around what’s on offer and helpful guidance on ways members can make the most of it. How about a challenge that encourages members to try as many different options as possible over the first couple of weeks to help them find their favourite workout options?
6. Boost revenue through new products and coaching
While cutting overheads is essential during hard times, finding ancillary revenue streams can be just as helpful for keeping you afloat, as well as adding long-term value to your business. The expertise and soft skills of your team make them ideally suited to offering new products and services to members – and new online fans as well.
During the pandemic, Chinese boutique operator Shape launched a 12-day online fat-loss training camp, where Instructors hosted video training and coaching sessions with participants. Priced at 369 RMB (81AUD), more than 1,000 people signed up, with many going on to purchase additional packages.
The instant revenue helped the business stay buoyant and brought another outlet for its Instructors. Shape set about expanding the personal coaching concept across its physical network with the goal of offering it in 90 per cent of its sites by the end of the year.
It’s a similar story at Styles Studios Fitness – a club in Peoria, Illinois, launched by IHRSA Board Member Carrie Kepple, Les Mills legend Amy Styles, and industry veteran Jim Worthington. Styles has adopted the digital philosophy “If you can’t be at the gym, we’ll bring the gym to you”.
In addition to live-streaming classes, the Styles team have provided virtual personal training sessions, as well as online sessions about nutrition, general health, and wellbeing to support members and foster a sense of community.
“Use the time your gym is closed (or restricted) to educate members and improve their workout experiences,” Carrie advises. “And while they have a captive audience, can your Instructors do things like film technique videos and challenges? This is all content that can also be used for your club’s marketing efforts.”
7. Foster your club’s sense of community
With much of the world facing periods of isolation, people are seeking connections on a personal level with brands and like-minded consumers. They want to feel part of their community and this is driving demand for online communities and shared experiences. Clubs have been quick to put their star players in the limelight on social media, driving discussions and interactions with their members, as well as setting daily challenges.
One operator that’s harnessed the mix of live-stream and on-demand to undergo a full digital transformation is Greater Philadelphia YMCA in the US, which is doubling down on its digital platform to reach wider into the community.
“We’re a whole life-cycle fitness provider and our community spans all ages, so digital fitness has been invaluable for bringing people together and providing a sense of connection,” says Lauren Bacigalupi, Greater Philadelphia Y Chief Marketing Officer.
“The senior population, in particular, have suffered from isolation during COVID, and our live-stream sessions allowed them to interact and talk with their friends from the Y. That’s something we’ve carried through to strengthen our offering – it doesn’t matter if, for whatever reason members can’t make it to our facility, now we can go to them.”
8. Celebrate your Instructors
Throughout the pandemic, technology has dominated the fitness industry discourse, and clubs have adapted admirably to roll out digital solutions to support their members. But technology isn’t the answer to our challenges, our people are; technology is still just a tool to help us deliver motivation to members beyond the club. It’s our people – the faces our members know and love – who remain at the heart of these solutions.
In the same way that our rockstar Instructors and personal trainers deliver the most motivational experiences in-club, it’s been the live-stream classes and virtual coaching sessions that have proved most powerful online and lit up our social media feeds.
As well as the operational impact your team can make to help your club through COVID disruptions, consider the significant emotional contribution they can make to help members feel safe again.
“Instructors hold the hearts of members more than anyone else in the club and this is needed now more than ever,” advises IHRSA Acting Chair and Styles Studios Fitness MD Carrie Kepple.
“These Instructors are often the types who will jump right back in and do whatever it takes to get members feeling good again. They’re likely to have lots of existing relationships with members and it’s also important to ensure they make a real effort to connect and engage with members they don’t know.”
9. Keep the heat on your local representatives
One of the brightest spots of the pandemic has been the growing sense of importance that governments – and society in general – have attached to health and fitness. Far from being treated as a niche segment of the leisure industry, clubs have been increasingly recognised as the backbone of communities, playing a vital role in supporting physical and mental health.
Strong lobbying efforts from the likes of IHRSA and EuropeActive – working closely with clubs and Instructors – have resulted in several policy wins for the sector, including lockdown exemptions for clubs in several countries. The latest research from ukactive – covering the period from 12 April to 21 November 2021 – show an overall rate of 0.83 cases per 100,000 visits.
Buoyed by this study – and many others showing gyms to be extremely low risk for COVID-19 transmissions – clubs and industry bodies are campaigning hard to keep facilities open in the face of new COVID restrictions. Now is the time to support these campaigns and lobby your local elected representative for the right to stay open. Check out this article on why gyms are essential to society’s comeback from COVID for a whole raft of reasons to put forward.
Future-proof your club against pandemic-related interruptions by offering your members "omni-channel fitness" – a blend of in-gym and home workouts – which research such as the 2021 Global Fitness Report confirms members want. Contact your local Business Partnership Manager in Australia or Southeast Asia to find out more.