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Transcription – Amy Thompson Show 186

Chantal.:         I want to say a very warm welcome to our special guest today. Amy, welcome along. Thank you for joining me today.

Amy:               Thank you.

Chantal.:         We of course are going to be talking about something that is close to, I think, both of our hearts, which is group fitness. Maybe you can kick things off by sharing some of the latest research with us on the relationship between group fitness and member retention.

Amy:               Well, retention is still our industry’s biggest challenge. We know that on average our clubs are still losing 50% of their members each year. That said, we also know that group exercisers are much more likely to stay at your club than gym-only members. The statistic around that is that there are 26% less likely to cancel. We know that, in addition to group exercise, that could include other social assisted exercises; like personal training, team training, and so we know that really as an industry our goal is around increasing exercise adherence.

Some of the things that I think are exciting that now the industry is turning to is what are the factors that affect adherence? How can we as exercise professionals, instructors, personal trainers, how can we start to help our members around motivation? Really helping them exercise because they want to and not because they have to. Then helping them along the path to self-efficacy, and this is where we speak to helping them instill confidence and competence so they feel more in control of their success.

Then we know that social support plays a really, really big piece in their feeling a sense of belonging and really having that connection and relatedness. That helps with affecting adherence as well. Some of the recent research around what we call groupness, if you will, it’s a new term we’re kind of coining` in the industry, it’s finding that the group that is classes encourage high levels of exercise exertion during class and they provide a greater sense of overall satisfaction. So I would like to recommend Bryce Hastings, he’s a leading physiotherapist, as a future guest on your show to bring more of this research around groupness and self-efficacy. I’m excited that now we’re helping fitness professionals with these types of factors that affect this exercise adherence.

We see when members belong to a class and they start coming more often and making friends, that they definitely build this club within a club, and that helps with the stickiness, and again with people recognizing them and helping them with that overall motivation. But when you think about this groupness, it can expand to so many different spaces in the club. Outside of group exercise, you can create this mini culture, this sub culture within your personal training, within members who have similar goals, within members who have similar times that they work out.

Really the social support, it’s fostered by member-to-member but it’s supported and enhanced by the employee to member or the instructor to member. So we’re simply there to facilitate and to support this connectedness that will naturally happen with members if we can help them find the right group or the right time or the right goal or really direct them into that place where they start to have that feeling of belonging.

Chantal.:         That’s actually a really interesting point. It takes me perfectly into my next question because right then you were talking about that human to human connection, but of course we have seen the emergence of virtual fitness coming into our clubs. Of course, Les Mills is a player in that area. We actually had Carrie Keplum show who talked about it about eight months ago. I’m keen to understand if there’s any actual data that you are aware of that virtual fitness, around virtual fitness and the relationship that that has on the member experience and on member retention rates.

Amy:               We have. We have data that we collect from our partners globally, and you’re right it’s growing in the US. We’ve had virtual fitness in our own clubs in New Zealand for many years, so we have some data coming out of those clubs. What we’ve seen is that the best clubs will always offer live classes with great instructors, but they’ll also continue to offer virtual because if offers greater choice. Also, we know that our consumers expect to get what they want, when they want it, and now they want it delivered in an experiential way.

Research is showing us that live attendance increases an average of 12% when clubs add virtual. The part that I get excited around this statistic is because this is suggesting that serving is a gateway to bring more people into live classes. Folks who might be new to exercise, they’re intimidated by the environment, they can attend a virtual class where they can maybe be anonymous, do one track and leave. Then, they can graduate themselves into a live class when they feel more comfortable.

We also are seeing that virtual group fitness is reaching the younger market, such as Millennials and Gen Z’s. Those folks are making up 30% of the virtual users in the studios. That’s exciting that we now, clubs have another vehicle whereby to reach the millennial market. We talked about choice, but the flexibility of schedule is really key, because 70% of the users say that they’re drawn to virtual because of the flexibility that it offers them to work out when they want to work out.

Chantal.:         I think that’s a really interesting point that you just made, in regards to virtual acting as a bit of a trial platform for people to get a feel for the class before they go into main class. I was actually just having conversation with a club manager yesterday where we were saying no longer do a lot of clubs have the financial resources to put on new member training programs.

Amy:               Yes.

Chantal.:         We were talking about cycling, in particular, and I was saying ‘You know, we used to do these things how we would get the members in, we’d show them how to set up the bike, we’d do kind of like this is how you get started with a cycle class’, but so many clubs these days just don’t have that budget that allows for that. I would imagine that virtual, as you explain it, gives the club owner the opportunity to introduce new members to those classes, get a bit of a feel for it. Then, as you say, graduate to the live classes once they’re ready to do so.

Amy:               It does, and I’m glad you brought up budget because what I didn’t mention is that it doesn’t add extra payroll. When an owner, often our studios are under utilized, so in a lot of the partners that I work with, we see the cycle studio, for example, is going unused 90% of the day. When you add in virtual, you’re able to offer a variety of class options around the hours that the club is open, with a zero added payroll. It also serves as that backup in case an instructor doesn’t show. There’s just a lot of benefits to club owners beyond the member facing benefit, and the convenience, and maybe it is this warm starter for them, but there’s just so many benefits to the club owner as well.

Chantal.:         Amy, let’s dive into the topic of actually some practicals on improving retentions, retention rates by group fitness. Is there any advice you can share with us, or perhaps any examples of clubs or programs that you have seen implement a really outstanding retention campaign.

Amy:               I am passionate about this topic. Throughout my career, I’ve been responsible primarily for building onboarding programs. Here, I would say, our top performers and top performers that I’ve worked with over the years, they’re offering an onboarding program that offers a gradual increase in attendance, in frequency, and most importantly, in intensity. Thereby, we’re doing this not just into personal training, but also into group exercise programs. If a club owner is more prescriptive in nature with their group exercise program, and they simplify the schedule so that it’s really speaking to these six main genres that most gym users would like to experience, if we can simplify the naming convention so that any person on your staff can easily direct a person to a class for the desired results or goal, then I think we will see a lot more members move to this sense of self efficacy, because now they are getting their result. And they’re getting it in a way that is gradual and not making them sore. Now they’re starting to make those people, like we talked about, a connectedness; the people that have similar goals. They have a prescription of nature where they know ‘I can go to this class on this day, and if I follow this plan, it’s gonna help me get the desired results.’ Again, doing this not just through personal training, but by encompassing your group fitness offerings in that member onboarding program.

Chantal.:         Can you go into a little bit more detail around that? You mentioned, in there, six different areas and simplifications to name. Can you explain that in a little bit more detail?

Amy:               Sure. Again, a lot of times our schedules are dictated by the instructors we have access to and the times they can teach. A lot of the schedules become very robust, meaning they have a lot of unique names, let’s just use any names; Bootcamp, Core to the Floor, whatever the name is, right? The challenge in that is that it might seem very cutting edge and innovative, but it’s very confusing to a new member to know what class they should go to for a specific result. The genres are your strength and weights, your cycle, your mind body, and really simplifying your schedule so you have one to two offerings in each of those genres and then that you have a very clear naming schedule behind that that says ‘This class will give you X result’. That’s what we help a lot of club partners to do, to scale back the different variety of names to make it simple for a new member to interpret, as well as the rest of their staff. That will help them to see the result that they should get if they attend.

Chantal.:         Amy, I cannot tell you how much I love that statement that you just made. I have gone into so many clubs over the years, where the name of the program is so obscure that you have no idea what it’s about, and I’m an instructor and a personal trainer! I love that you’re just rolling that completely back to basics and saying let’s call it what it is. If it’s a strength training, it’s strength. If it’s a cycle, it’s cycle. If it’s mind body, it’s mind body. There’s nothing worse than a new member walking up to your club and your front desk team not being able to articulate what the class is about because the name of the class is so complicated, or the description is complicated. I absolutely love that you have shared that with us. I want to encourage everyone to take this opportunity to have a look at their timetable, their schedule, and just ask yourself that question. Have I taken it too far that I’ve actually over complicated my program offerings to my members to a point that it becomes confusing or overwhelming? Are there steps you can put in place to roll it back to these areas that Amy has just shared with us, to simplify it for our staff and for our members. Thank you so much for taking us through the detail of that, Amy.

When I connected with you about this interview, one of the articles that had just come out in the media was the Equinox and Sole Cycle opening up a full service talent agency for their fitness instructors, which I found was very, very interesting to read about. Can you talk to us about the role that fitness instructors play in relation to retention?

Amy:               Yes. As I said, live programming, with great instructors is actually the best place to start your focus, in terms of strengthening your group schedule and your offerings. A lot of the work should be focused around finding, training, recruiting, and then teaching these instructors to deliver high quality, sustainable exercise classes that really address the basic psychological needs of autonomy and relatedness, as we’ve been talking about. The best instructors are able to coach to a class of all fitness levels, but we’re also doing more and more coaching now to helping instructors to develop self-efficacy and to help the members with this sense of belonging, and doing it in a way that’s not dictating but it’s an invitation to participate at a higher level, or a celebration that they’ve simply shown up that day. Again, we’ve kind of gone full circle with the fitness instructor and how they coach to a class, but what we’re learning now in this behavior modification and this self-adherence, and helping people adhere to exercise is really teaching your instructors, helping your instructors, training your instructors, to be able to provide this motivationally supportive communication style.

Chantal.:         In regards to that fitness instructor pace, Amy, do you have any advice for us on how we can best nurture our instructors, not only to ensure that they have career growth, but also to ensure that we’re keeping our business growth in mind at the same time?

Amy:               Yeah. I think we want to first make sure we have a strong team and a strong leader, and that really everyone’s goals are tied back to the company’s goals, or the clubs goals, and that should be that we want to get more people moving and we want to build a stronger membership of people that are reaching their goals. I think building a strong team around a unified goal is first and foremost. Then really helping your instructors feel valued. Oftentimes, in the business model that most of us have in play, our instructors are very part time; they come and go. The more you can help them feel valued and part of the clubs mission and part of the clubs vision, is really, really important for them. It’s not about the time they spend there, but it’s about the lives they touch. Most instructors are not in this for the money, I know it’s no secret. However, we as owners should be checking our compensation scale to make sure that it is adequate for the value that your instructors bring to you, but also to back that up with making sure they feel valued in your club. Then they’re supported in their growth and development.

You talked about opportunities for continuing education. There are more and more great resources and conferences and groups, whereby group instructors can improve and hone in on these skills, and club owners could do a better job of helping these instructors find these resources, and perhaps support them in attending these type of different conferences and training opportunities. Then, just get them a chance to shine, because if you’ve hired the right person, then truly your instructor has the ability to connect to the audience. They have the ability to celebrate this effort that the member is making, and helping that member to feel this sense of belonging to the organization and to the group that they’re in. Your instructors provide that if you’ve hired the right person. Really allow them to shine, if you will.

Chantal.:         I’m really grateful that you brought up the professional development pace in relation to group fitness instructors, Amy, because I think what we can do as club owners is we sometimes think oh, they’re a part-time fitness instructor. They might be studying or they might be working another job, and they’re just doing group fitness part-time, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t invest in their professional development. As you say, support and encourage them to continue to develop, to continue to learn and attend conferences. I think you and I can both probably agree, we just returned recently from ID World Convention, which was phenomenal. I think any group fitness instructor that has the opportunity to be part of an event like that should jump at the opportunity, and any group fitness manager or club owner that can support their instructor in attending a conference or being part of some type of professional development, then it will only benefit your business in the long run. Thank you so much for bringing up that professional development piece.

Amy, there’s one last question I’m hoping that you can finish off with today. Maybe you can share with us your very top three take away tips that you would give club owners or club managers for utilizing group fitness to improve their retention rates.

Amy:               Sure. Number one, revisit your group exercise schedule. It is the number one controllable factor when it comes to attracting new members. Think about is it meeting the needs of your current members, but also is it attracting new members. Number two, recruit higher and retain rock stars. We just touched on this, but truly they are your talent that will be the glue and help to connect those in the club, so that is absolutely an important place to focus when it comes to group exercise. The number three, this is where the virtual ties in, and the millennials, we have to stay relevant. Our members expectations are increasing quickly, and technology is evolving, so that means that we need to stay relevant and we need to remember that experience is everything. Those are my top three.

Chantal.:         Amy, you are completely amazing. Thank you for being so generous with your information today, and with your time. I love that we were able to tap into your experience in the industry, so thank you so much. We are going to be including all of your links, so people can connect up with you online in social, they can reach out to you and chat a bit further. I want to thank you so, so much for joining us on the show today.

Amy:               Thank you, Chantal. It’s been a pleasure. I appreciate it.

 

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