How to Build a Gym Community

Building a strong community at your gym is even more important these days. In this article, we’ll share some ways you can boost your gyms sense of community.

How to Build a Gym Community
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Building a gym community is the perfect way to protect your business for the future. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is the importance of a community. Many gyms that survived did so thanks to the loyalty of their customer base. Obviously, it is not as simple as that, and there are many other factors. But treat your members like a community and you will usually find greater loyalty and longevity from them. In this article we will look at how to build a gym community.

Why Building a Community is Important

After one of the most challenging years (2020-21) in the fitness world’s history, gyms around the world are struggling. In the US, 15% of all gyms, health clubs, and studios closed in 2020, with that number expected to rise over the rest of the financial year.

There is no guarantee that the members whose gyms closed will return, they may instead switch to working out from home, or they may stop exercising altogether. Exercising regularly is a hard habit to establish, and an easy one to break. That has always been the case, a global pandemic has not helped in that regard.

Creating a community in your gym can help to future-proof your business. It can give people a reason to keep showing up, even if life gets difficult. It can help strengthen bonds between your members and between members and the gym itself. Reducing the number of members who leave, and increasing the long-term worth of each new member.

How to Build a Gym Community

The first thing that you need to do is ensure that you are doing this for the right reasons. If it is a purely financial motive, then it may come off as insincere. Creating a good gym community should be done because it is beneficial to everyone.

The gym gets customers who are happier and will stay for longer. The members will get better results and make friends, and there will be a better relationship between the staff and the members. This is a scenario that suits everyone, and it can help to smooth over issues that your gym will have in the future.

Create Awareness

You cannot create a healthy gym community without first creating a good work culture. Unhappy staff members will hinder progress and consciously or unconsciously undermine your efforts. Team building exercises, social events, and good management will help to build a bond between staff members. Most staff members are fairly realistic in what they want from a company, and it doesn’t take too much to improve the situation.

Once your staff members are happy with their work life and the gym in general, you can start to get them to be your allies in building a strong gym community. Recognise their efforts, reward them when possible. Encourage them to socialise with members (within the gym rather than outside).

Offering discounted membership to their friends and family is one option but use this carefully. In a perfect world, having gym members with an emotional connection to your staff has lots of benefits, but if the system is abused or the friends/family members don’t buy into the community aspect then it can backfire.

Be open and communicative with members

As with staff, most gym members are pretty reasonable with their demands, and aren’t going to expect perfection. But most members want an honest answer to their complaints or issues. If their favourite machine is broken down, and you can’t afford to fix it until the end of the month, then it is better to be open and honest about this.

This goes against the approach that many companies take, where they believe they have to maintain a “perfect” image to their members. But creating a community is NOT something that most companies achieve.

“I’m really sorry that the chest press machine is out of action, and I’m afraid that it will be for the next three weeks. If you like, I can show you some excellent alternatives to the chest press that you can do in the meantime?”

Spend 15-20 minutes showing them how to perform a barbell bench press, and then offer them a free session with one of your instructors next time they come in. Remember their name and a month later, the next time you catch him or her working on the barbell bench press, ask them how they are finding it, or if they’ve made the switch to the dumbbell bench press.

It’s little things like this that make a HUGE difference to members, and it can really help to build your community.

Find your influencers

No, we’re not talking about Instagram or twitter, we’re talking about the “characters” that gyms attract. Members who are loyal and loud. You have no idea how beneficial these people can be. Ask any introvert why they have continued to come back to your gym for weeks on end, and a good proportion of them will say it’s due to the friendly atmosphere.

Sure, that atmosphere can come from the staff, but often it comes from other members. There are members who go out of their way to say “hi” to everyone. You will almost certainly know who they are already. But identify 4-5 of them and find a way to encourage this.

Perhaps you could offer them a discount on their membership? Be careful how you phrase this, but saying something like:

“Hi [insert name] I just wanted to say that we really appreciate how welcoming you are to new members here, and we believe it makes a huge difference to improving the atmosphere in our gym. We’d like to offer you a 20% discount on your membership as our way of saying thanks”.

See, you’ve not told them to keep it up for money. You’re just thanking them. They will probably stay as members for longer and continue to encourage new members and be welcoming. They may even step up their efforts. These people are almost certainly worth a fortune to your gym but are rarely thanked for it.

Improve the competency of your members

Why do most people leave the gym? Is it because the staff are rude? Or the changing rooms are dirty? Is it the cost of membership? No, though those issues can influence a small minority. The main reason why people leave the gym is a lack of success.

Fitness and nutrition are complicated processes which require a lot of knowledge to properly implement. Yet most gym members are given little to no instruction as to how best to achieve results.

CrossFit is frequently lauded for its ability to create a community. It didn’t manage this through rock-bottom prices, or super-clean and tidy facilities. It managed this because new members were given full support and guidance when they joined. Which got them better results than regular gyms.

CrossFit isn’t even a particularly revolutionary concept. It even has many detractors due to its high injury rate and controversial leadership. But where it absolutely crushes the opposition is in how it treats its members.

Members are guided through every workout, they are encouraged to socialise with each other, they are given nutrition advice, and other members are there to help them. It is exactly what a gym wants in a community.

Sure, CrossFit memberships are expensive, and they operate with smaller numbers, making community building easier. But you can still learn from this.

Here is a step-by-step process for improving the competency of your new members:

  1. Offer 3 x free inductions for every member (Week 1, Week 4, and Week 8)
  2. Create a basic program that can be taught to almost everyone (adapt it to people with injuries etc)
  3. Have a 15-minute check-in with new members every 4-6 weeks
  4. Provide a 30-minute presentation on sensible nutrition for weight-loss that is free for all members. Do this once per month.
  5. Encourage your staff to offer help and advice while on the gym floor

You may be thinking that all of this sounds expensive but think about how much time and money you spend trying to get new members. A member that stays with your gym for 10 years is worth 10x as much to you as a new member who lasts a year.

Implement Technology

While social media is often perceived as having pushed people further apart, the reality is that it has done a lot more for bringing people together. Social apps and other digital channels have an amazing ability to foster communities. Finding the right fitness technology for your gym can make a huge difference. You can use it to:

  • Encourage communication between members
  • Create competition
  • Reward people for being consistent
  • Lead to the organisation of events and charity-related activities

As you may have read in our article how to introduce new fitness technology to your gym, if you want success from this route then you will need to embrace it early on.

Final Thoughts

Building a community is a smart move, particularly for smaller gyms. It can help to increase the longevity of each member and save you money in marketing for new members. It can also help you during unforeseen events (such as national lockdowns or natural disasters). But the reason you should do it is that it can improve the experiences of your members and your staff.

Improving your staff’s experience, focusing on educating new members, and finding the influencers in your gym are all ways to build a gym community, as is implementing new technology that can increase cohesion and competitiveness.

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