Why talent trumps tech in the next phase of club growth
by Les Mills Asia Pacific
If the pandemic was defined by our use of technology to keep members moving, then the next phase of club growth will, undoubtedly, be driven by our talent.
While the digital fitness firms who shone so brightly during the pandemic are struggling to adjust to life with a (quite literally) less captive audience, clubs are leveraging the power of their people to come back stronger than ever.
Instructor-led fitness experiences are driving the club recovery, with class occupancy having reached 120 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels in markets where capacity restrictions have lifted, according to the Global Fitness Report. Meanwhile, 85 per cent of gymgoers say they’re interested in trying live classes in their facility, suggesting growing demand for social workouts.
“Despite the digital advances made during the pandemic, it’s our people who drove members to join clubs in the first place, and it’s our people who are proving key to bringing them back,” notes Phillip Mills.
Of course, digital fitness won’t just disappear – 80 per cent of club members plan to continue using digital workouts post-pandemic. High-class digital offerings have become table stakes – a basic expectation among modern members. But it’s our live in-club offerings that will set us apart.
It’s fairly well-established in fitness that our people are a competitive advantage that rival clubs can’t copy. Therefore, it’s our people – particularly Instructors – who hold the key to unlocking an unprecedented phase of post-pandemic club growth.
So, how can clubs double-down on their biggest asset to break new ground? Here are seven key areas where rockstar Instructors can transform your club’s fortunes.
1. Attracting new members
As we’ve seen through the rise of boutique studios over the past decade, great Instructors are amazing at attracting new members into your club. Their ability to build a buzz and inspire your members to do your marketing for you (by referring lots of their friends) is unparalleled. High-quality Instructors are 2.5 times (144 per cent) more likely to win member referrals for your club (than a poor Instructor), according to the 2021 Global Fitness Report.
Having great people is particularly important for persuading prospects to pick your club over others. 30 per cent of club prospects say “a good atmosphere” is a key factor in choosing a gym to join, while 59% say the people who work there are also an important consideration.
“In the clubs I’ve managed over the years, group exercise has been the number one driver of membership sales and a fantastic way to forge connections among your current members,” adds Herb Lipsman.
“Not only that, but it’s a great way to drive member referrals, particularly via social media. Let’s face it, people don’t go on Facebook or Instagram to talk about their favourite treadmill or resistance machine, they go on there to rave about the killer class they’ve just done with an awesome Instructor and to share their sweaty victory selfie.”
2. Ramping up retention
Much like hairdressers, standout Instructors boast legions of fans who will follow them wherever they ply their trade. The Global Fitness Report found 58 per cent of members would likely cancel their membership if their gym took away their favourite class. And with Instructors being the single biggest driver of class attendance, it’s clear that holding onto top talent is the key to holding onto members.
“As a category, group fitness is huge for us,” notes Zeffi Angelikas, VP of Operations at Greater Philadelphia YMCA, which serves a quarter of a million people per year across its 15 branches.
“It’s the number one determinant for keeping members longer and having them advocate on our behalf. So, apart from the fact that it’s incredibly popular and our classes are always packed, it’s important for our members because it's where people make friends and form their own mini-community within the Y – and that’s what we’re all about. It’s where the brand of who we are, meets the services we provide.”
3. Member motivation
Motivation is the cornerstone of any retention strategy and, again, it’s an area where top talent excels. Their ability to provide added motivation and deeper connection to workouts means great Instructors are the secret to shifting members from exercising because they have to, to exercising because they want to.
Quality Instructors are identified as the single-most important factor for gymgoers when choosing a live class, favoured by 28 per cent of members, ahead of the quality of music (24 per cent) and type of class (21 per cent). Participants are also highly discerning, with 86 per cent choosing to do branded classes, and 62 per cent stating the presence of quality elements (the quality of music, Instructors, equipment, choreography) are key to deciding which classes they attend.
“Where Les Mills fits into our clubs is by keeping us current and ensuring we have a roster of high-quality programming and Instructors on the timetable,” adds Henry Vazquez, Greater Philadelphia YMCA’s Creative Services Director.
“People know we serve so many children and seniors at the Y, but there’s also large sections of our community who want a challenging workout that’s going to deliver results and keep them motivated.”
4. Building social connection
After long periods of isolation and lockdown-enforced home workouts, members are now hungry for social workout experiences. The Global Fitness Report found two-thirds of gym members (67 per cent) prefer working out in groups, while group exercise classes are now the single most popular gym activity, outstripping both strength and cardio training.
Instructors are ideally placed to meet members’ needs around community and human interaction – the areas they’ve been missing during the pandemic. Across clubs that have made strong recoveries, dialing up the social experience has been key to re-engaging members.
“We know the physical and social aspects of our live classes are what a lot of members love – and these are things that can’t be replicated at home very easily – so we’re doubling down our efforts to emphasise the human connection that people enjoy at our centre,” says Lucy Smart, General Manager at Beau Sejour Leisure Centre – which made a roaring recovery after emerging from lockdown.
“We’re social animals and after a long period of isolation, the need to bring people together for shared social experiences has never been stronger. That’s what centres and community hubs like ours are for.”
5. Reach beyond your core audience
The pandemic has prompted consumers to prioritise their health, with 50 per cent now focusing more on their wellbeing, according to the Global Fitness Report. Some 82 per cent of consumers regularly exercise (or soon plan to), while 75 per cent of this group do gym-type activities, making fitness the world’s biggest sport. This presents latent growth opportunities for fitness providers as COVID-19 restrictions recede and clubs return to full capacity. The key is identifying the groups your club is best placed to target – and how your team can help you connect with them. For example, the pandemic has spawned a new generation of rookie fitness fans who have taken tentative first steps into fitness and are now deciding what comes next, with 27 per cent of regular exercisers describing themselves as ‘absolute beginners’.
Opportunities abound for operators who can appeal to these groups and understand what they want from a fitness experience, as well as the unique barriers to exercise they face. Although 81 per cent of beginners are interested in group activities, 66 per cent say they currently prefer to exercise alone, suggesting a confidence chasm that needs to be bridged before beginners feel fully comfortable. Instructors and wider staff have a major role to play in ensuring they feel welcome, while helping beginners find intrinsic motivation to exercise holds the key to keeping them in the long-term.
6. Keep rivals at bay
As well as helping you stand out from club competitors, great Instructors can also give your club a vital edge over digital fitness providers. The boom in high-powered digital fitness offerings from the likes of Apple and Google certainly isn’t going to make life any easier for operators, but with every new challenge to the club model comes fresh opportunity.
Clubs may not have the financial might or brand power of major tech firms, but they have assets that Big Tech can’t yet match: highly-engaged communities centered around authentic, human connection and live experiences. Instructors are central to this.
With consumers now favoring a 60:40 blend between in-club and digital workouts, how we leverage and nurture our teams to bridge the gap between our in-club and digital offerings will have a major bearing on our future success.
The Les Mills 2021 Global Fitness Report can help you learn the new rules of fitness and how your club can win.