How gym owners can adapt to COVID and grow their businesses
With mass vaccination underway, the world can begin to look to the future. This is as true for gyms and fitness studios as it is for any other service industry. Everyone is looking forward to putting the COVID pandemic in the rear-view mirror. So in this article, we’ll be looking ahead and answering the question “How will gyms change after COVID?”.
Gyms will first have to adapt to covid-enforced changes such as social distancing. They’ll switch their long-term strategy to member retention rather than acquisition. They’ll find new ways to keep their members happy and motivated. They’ll also accept that at home workouts are going to increase in popularity and adjust their services and business models accordingly.
In this article, we will talk about how gym owners can adapt to COVID and grow their businesses. The journey won’t be easy, but the gyms and studios that embrace change, will emerge better than before.
The truth is, many gyms won’t change after COVID, that’s just not human nature. But the gyms that do change, that adapt, will most likely see greater success in the coming years.
Predicting the future is difficult, who could have predicted that a Global pandemic would come in 2020? But having a look at some ways the industry might change is a useful exercise and could well give you an advantage over your competitors.
The biggest change that lockdown has had on the fitness industry is that it finally laid to rest the lie that training from home is an inferior way to train. Sure, if you are a powerlifter or bodybuilder, then you really need a gym.
But if your goal is to burn a bit of fat, or build some muscle, it is perfectly possible to do so while following a free workout on YouTube. Does this spell the end of gyms?
Unlikely. But it definitely changes how gyms will have to appeal to future members, and why more focus should be spent on retaining current members.
It is difficult to describe just how completely unprepared the fitness industry was for a global pandemic. That’s not us being harsh on the fitness industry, no industry seems to have prepared for it. Particularly in the Western world.
When China began a complete lockdown of Wuhan and the surrounding areas, many other nations looked on in shock, yet few industries prepared for national lockdowns in their own countries.
A year later, we think it would be fair to say that many in the industry have struggled to react to the new situation. While others have reacted well and completely transformed their service.
What we have learned is that unprecedented events need to be planned for. This will not be the last global pandemic, nor will it be the only event that could completely affect your business.
It’s horrible to think about all of the businesses that have had to close due to lockdowns, but it is also educational. You may have noticed that smaller gyms with thriving communities have tended to survive, while bigger, more corporate gyms have struggled to retain members.
The lesson here? Building a community within your gym is the single greatest way to protect your business from future disruption.
Offering a hybrid model where you encourage training from home as well as training in the gym is another excellent way to stay relevant.
One of the biggest “winners” (probably an unfair use of the word, but you get what we mean) from the pandemic was Amazon. Amazon supplied the tremendous demand for recreating our favourite hobbies at home, for instance at home cinema equipment. Not surprisingly, Amazon also saw a huge increase in sales for home fitness equipment and bicycles.
With so many personal trainers and class instructors suddenly without an income, there was a massive spike in free home workouts delivered online. The pandemic gave birth to countless YouTube fitness channels and propelled fitness trainers to stardom like Pamela Reif in Germany or Joe Wicks in the UK.
Free home workouts delivered via YouTube or Facebook did two things:
Gyms should pay attention to both of these points. Firstly, home workouts are not going away, and any gym that does not embrace this new trend will struggle in the future. Secondly, this new group of people (older people, introverts, or the overweight or obese) have traditionally hated the gym but may now be more amenable to joining.
Looking for ways to make your gym more approachable to people who have probably never exercised in one before could make a huge difference to your success in the future.
Training from home was a revelation for many people, and thanks to long periods of having to stay home, there will be a lot of people with expensive home gyms or workout equipment.
More people will be exercising at home, and contrary to what you might think, this can be a good thing for gyms.
Think about it, a person who gets in shape while training at home is still likely, if not more likely, to want to join a gym. The better access to equipment, workout classes, and social interactions are still good reasons to sign up for a membership. But instead of showing up five days per week and jumping on a treadmill, your average gym goer may only show up three days per week, and workout at home twice.
If your gym has a monthly subscription fee, then this may actually be a good thing. But perhaps you should look at offering at home workout classes as a way to keep your members tied to your gym. Using technology to deliver different services and experiences such as on demand workouts or fitness tracking, at home and at the gym, are great ways to make people feel like your gym is the epicentre of their fitness journey.
Focusing on member retention has always been a smart move, but for too long many gyms spent most of their efforts in hiring new members rather than building loyalty amongst their current ones.
CrossFit and small studios turned this on its head, and the results really showed during the pandemic. Many CrossFit boxes that had focused on building a community were able to stay afloat, with members opting to pay for online coaching and workout videos rather than cancelling their memberships.
Personal trainers who had strong bonds with their clients also benefited from this. The truth is that most people are not loyal to their gyms and have no reason to be.
There are often a lot of gyms to choose from, and now that most gyms do not force people to sign for a year’s membership, they are free to switch gyms whenever they like.
Creating a community and making each member feel valued is more important than ever before. This feeds into member retention staying high, which reduces the pressure on your team to keep hunting for new members.
Better member retention will also help to improve your members’ results, which will lead to better testimonials and reviews, and more positive publicity for your gym. You may also gain more members from word of mouth referrals, which is obviously free.
There are several ways to do this, but not all of them are practical. For example, women may feel more secure and happy while training in a women’s only gym, but that’s obviously not practical for many gyms.
Smaller gyms will find it a lot easier to build a community organically. Having a smaller member base will make it easier to learn names, interact with members, and organise events.
All of these things help to build a community among your members.
A great example of building a strong community is Strava. Strava is a website and app that tracks your runs and rides and allows you to upload and share them with the Strava community. What makes Strava special though is the community in which you are able to interact. The company has put a lot of effort into building a welcoming and motivating community, one that is both online and offline.
You can find motivation by training with your buddy, or you can compete against friends online who may live on the opposite side of the globe.
“People motivate people.”
Michael Horvath, CEO of Strava
Strava is proof that fitness brands built on strong communities and human interaction excel and can massively improve engagement and retention.
Humans enjoy small manageable tasks that are noticed and rewarded. This has become abundantly clear in recent years. What do humans also enjoy? Competition. Either against themselves or against friends and family.
Fitness apps such as Nike Run Club or the NHS’ Couch to 5k, have really helped people who wouldn’t normally exercise to get started or who started but have trouble staying motivated.
They do this by breaking down difficult tasks (learning to run a 5k race) into much smaller, more manageable steps or goals, and then rewarding people for succeeding.
This is called gamification, and it has already worked well in a number of different industries. Duolingo used gamification techniques to grow to be the #1 language learning app in the world, and most self-employed people use various apps like Todoist for breaking down their jobs into smaller bitesize chunks.
Fitness is ideal for this. Allowing your members to measure their progress, and to compare it to their friends or fellow gym members helps to motivate and incentivise people. Just look at how Pokémon Go led to a huge increase in walking among young people.
We at MoFit believe strongly that engaged communities are the backbone of leading fitness brands. Our goal is to help your members stay motivated and build healthy habits. MoFit uses gamification techniques or human focused designs to help your members track their progress and achieve their goals. We take it even further by encouraging community interaction and therefore creating a platform for you to engage and interact with your members.
With the MoFit app, you can create challenges and events that your members can compete in, post news and other information, and build relationships with your members. Your members can accumulate points, earn badges and rank on your community leader board. They’ll be able to create their own profiles, connect with their friends and “follow” and interact with each other.
They can then create teams, which can compete against other teams, share workouts with each other, and begin to form friendships and a strong sense of community. This will help to improve member retention in your gym, and ultimately help your members lead healthier lives.
If you’re curious to know more, contact us or sign up for our newsletter below to be the first to know when you can deploy the MoFit app at your fitness club.
The fitness industry suffered a huge blow, and many gyms have struggled to get back up again. But by paying attention to which way the wind is blowing and making some smart decisions, there is no reason why your gym cannot come back from this stronger than ever.
Thinking outside the box and focusing on improving your relationship with your members will help to ensure that you hold on to members for longer. Which is an excellent way to endure any further disruptions and to thrive in the post-pandemic economy.
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