Chantal: Paul welcome back to week two of our Intensive Series.
Paul: Thank you very much Chantal. It’s an absolute delight to be here.
Chantal: You’ve been involved in the fitness industry since you were 16. I believe that you were working as a high school student, working nights at the local leisure centre. You must have seen a lot of changes over the last 36 years?
Paul: Yes like many of our peers form the fitness industry who studied the fitness world, we’ve seen things come and go and it feels like we’ve come full circle.
Post-war there was a big boom of calisthenics and group training with single coaches. Then in the 50’s and 60’s they started to introduce weight training, barbells, kettlebells alike. And then we had the body building boom in the 70’s. Now, at the study the 70’s you realize, that is probably the first era where we saw some real coaching going on one-on-one. And that was really buddy training buddy. You went to the gym, you went to your mate and they show you how to train, and if you really wanted to know what to do, you’d walk to the gym and you find the biggest guy or girl you can see and ask them what they are doing and why and that was effectively your means of learning.
In the 80’s we started to see fitness qualifications come along. And so the advent of assessments and programming and with that, the big box gyms. So you have more equipment, more classes and there was a real buzz about the gym industry in the 80’s. I think quite frankly back then, the biggest retention tool if you wanted the guys to stay at the gym, you just attracted the girls. It was as simple as that.
Now, the 90’s become a lot more technical. There was a lot more effort on making exercise safe. The word “contraindication” was a real buzzword at the time. And again, we saw fitness assessing and programming as the main means of onboarding our members. But the interesting trend when you look back over all of those years, a lot of clubs went out of their way to understand the starting point of their members. Very few ever went back and evaluated the client’s results. I think that has been a very interesting trend to the fitness industry.
When you see more in the recent years, the big boxes have come under stress, they’re being challenged by the micro gym boom. These are the small convenient locations and everyone’s talking about it. But the real question is, “Who’s retaining their clients?” If the big boxes couldn’t keep people engaged, and now, you’ve got these smaller environments with the more convenience factor going on. Is that helping? And the interesting answer is, not necessarily so.
Chantal: Paul, that is such an interesting snap shot and it certainly seems that we’ve come full circle. So, in your experience, how many innovations have you seen directly aimed at bolstering member retention?
Paul: Well, certainly there’s been a lot of developments in equipment at clubs. If you look back again, the changes and the modifications of design and biomechanics. But it still seems like the basics are always the ones that are most popular. Now, the stuff that survived, being your treadmills can basically go fast, slow, and up and down. Your ellipticals and cross trainers, you can make harder or easier. Your basic bike seems to be the most popular. And again, going back to classes, your fundamental group classes as long as they’re energetic and has plenty of variety. But we’ve seen a lot of formats come and go and that is really to cater for the human need for change and for diversity. And then, you’d also look at the fact that fitness had a lot of entertainment come in. When cardio equipment came along, it was a great innovation and it gave people a chance to get fit outside of group exercise times more on one-on-one basis. But unfortunately, not that exciting for a lot of people.
We’ve seen entertainment formats coming in such as onscreen TVs and the like. I think that has really been a big booster, but again, it comes back to people wanting to get on the equipment and use it in the first place.
We’re seen communication methods, things like email and sms app communication, trying to inform people, educate, inspire and hold them accountable. They’ve all had some benefit but again, it comes back to the client needing to have an interest in actually doing the fitness. And now of course, in modern days, you’ve got the technology trend. We’re seeing some wonderful advancements in the apps and wearables coming on board. It gives us great feedback and goal setting and even holding people accountable. But once again, we ask the question, “Who’s using it?” It tends to be the people already addicted to fitness that find these the most interesting. Our biggest challenge is getting the larger percentage of the population that aren’t addicted to fitness, who don’t see health and fitness as the way of life. They’re the ones who probably don’t care to chase up after these trends or aren’t interested in learning how they work, because they haven’t really got the whole concept of “They need to move more often.”
Chantal: Paul, I think this is really interesting because of everything that you’ve just gone through and you know, despite all of those great innovations and changes, I feel like there is still seems to be a revolving door of new members coming in and current members leaving. So, in your experience, in your opinion, what is actually missing? What can our listeners do about that revolving door?
Paul: Well, let me break that down into the different components of a club. I taught group exercises for 25 years and I could tell you that the bane of my existence is what I call the “Backrow Syndrome.” These are the people who sneak in and out of the classes. They’re a little bit nervous. They don’t necessarily know what to expect to do in the class. And they don’t always get a chance to talk to the group instructor.
Now, we’ve got some fantastic organizations out there that designed pre-choreographed classes, to keep the energy there and have some controls, and some consistency. But just getting the right people in the right class and making sure that the instructor knows that they are there. That is a really big challenge that I think fitness clubs need to take more seriously.
And then the second problem with classes is having an entry-level format. As a club owner, I would often look at the numbers of attendees in the class and I will judge the success of that class based on the numbers. But I realized looking back, that wasn’t always correct. Nobody stays at the beginner level for long. But everybody has to start there. So if you put on a beginner class (and I choose that word as a description and not necessarily the class name) But if you put on a beginner class, expect the people to only stay in there for several weeks before they develop a concept of being fit enough, strong enough, and most importantly, confident and competent enough to move to the next level.
So, really it’s a temporary place of workout for these people. But there’s always going to be a need, as I say, for first gear. Everybody drives a current first gear occasionally but never as much as they drive in third or top gear. So, we go back to entry-level classes. I would put a challenge out there to club operato
Do you have on your timetable, an opportunity for non fitness members to come in, learn the experience and master that format at an entry level and then evolve upwards?
And if you don’t have enough of those on your timetable, that might be why the more popular classes that you think should be full are struggling to maintain their numbers. The second thing I’d like to challenge clubs to think about is on the gym floor itself.
The ultimate measure of success on the gym floor is “Are the members capable of training independently?”
That is, they know what they are doing. They know why they’re doing it. They know how they do it. And they believe they must. At the moment I see a massive gap in the fitness industry, where if you buy personal training, absolutely, you’re going to get help, and you’re going to get support from that one-on-one experience. But outside of that, there seems to be a major gap in clubs. Now, this scenario that I’ve worked in for the last 20 years, we had tremendous success. But our approach is by no means mainstream. We’re definitely a maverick in this field. And I don’t think it should be so.
I think the fitness industry has to take its own accountability and say, “We own the right to bring our members into our club and make them fall in love with us.” We own that right because they bought a membership with us. But with that right comes an obligation. We owe it to them in return, to coach them, to help them, and to give them the support that they need. So that independence comes from goal-setting. It comes from personalized programming. It comes from perfecting that programming. It comes from offering sustainable eating habits. Not trying to be a dietician or get people a full-on meal plan but helping them make easy, simple changes they can adopt into their regular lives. Because we know that what you eat has a major bearing on how you look and feel.
We also owe it to our clients to check their results. You know the assessments of programs back in the 80’s, 90’s and even now, how often do the clubs go out of their way to reevaluate those clients? The honest answer is, not often. I’m sure our listeners out there right now signed up a ton of members in January this year, and have done a ton of fitness appraisals of some sort. How many of those members have since, had those same measurements and benchmarks checked and demonstrated for clients with their before and after results are. If the clubs can’t talk about double digits, that’s very embarrassing. I’m pretty confident that’s a very common problem.
Then we look at other areas of the club like aquatics. I actually feel that the aquatics world has a real head start on the gym industry. If you look at the learn to swim model, you look at the progression model, you look at the ratios of instructor to pupils. The learn to swim domain is a very successful one. What they run into is the problem of black line fever – lack of variety. What we’ve got to look at on our aquatic programs is making sure that there is a reason for kids and teenagers to become adults and still enjoy the swimming. Don’t burn them out at the teen age. We said so often, we get them to that 12, 13, 14 year and that black line fever kicks in. Of course, other distractions come along as well, we know that. But if we could find a way to make those who like swimming in their younger years continue to like swimming or aquatic activities in their older years, then our pools will also be more profitable and successful.
And then finally, we’ve got to look outside the box. We’ve got to look at making sure that’s there’s a community connection. I believe, health and fitness clubs have a real problem with respect in the community. We failed as an industry to get people talk about us with the same respect and the same endearment that they might do with health practitioners and allied professionals. I believe we deserve that respect. I just feel we failed to communicate what we do well and failed to publicly broadcast the success in the lifestyle changes that we can achieve. We make a massive difference to a massive proportion of population but we’re the best kept secret.
All they think we are, is tight tank tops, flexed biceps and cute bums. These are some of the benefits of an active lifestyle but we all know, the best thing about working out regularly is not how great you look, it’s how great you feel. The clubs that I work with, we go out of our way to benchmark the mindset improvements and the emotional improvements in our clients. We benchmark at the beginning. We benchmark within 4-6 weeks. We do it periodically. We update their programs regularly.
We help them eat healthier. We prove to them that their lifestyle is worth the effort and we do so in about one percent of their week. I challenge all the clubs out there to broadcast what we can do to the community and then deliver on that promise.
Chantal: Okay, so thinking about those four areas that you’ve just covered, tell us, what is the answer. What do we need to be doing?
Paul: You know, one of my great sales mentors is Zig Ziglar, once told me, “If you want to sell anything to anybody, you simply have to do three things.
Find out what is it that they want, why they want it, and then give it to them.
We know that our experienced fitness people want a close, convenient, well equipped club where they feel they belong. And I feel the fitness industry by in large does a pretty good job of that. But ask the people who aren’t coming in what they want, and why they want it and are we giving it to them. Listen very carefully for their answers. I believe that we have a much more nurturing environment, they will care less about how may treadmills you have or how heavy your weights are, or how often your classes run.
What they want to know for them individually, is will you take me from where I am now to where I want to be? And I know that’s possible if I hire a personal trainer. Let’s agree that the personal training industry is geared up for this. But then, let’s look at the penetration rates of that particular offering. The number suggests the market in general repels that offer. It is either time restrictive and or price restrictive. I am not judging whether those two things are value representative or not, it’s just the fact of the marketplace. Why are there aren’t so many limousines on the road to the airports, because people would rather would take a bus or a taxi or drive themselves. So, we have to offer a product that makes the mass market, the millions, the hundreds of millions people out there on the couch. Let’s go back to finding out what they want, why they want it, and then prove that we can give it to them. I believe our formula does that, and I challenge the rest of the fitness industry to look very closely.
What is your goal setting parameters? What is your benchmarking parameters? Are your programming parameters achievable? Are you running routines on the gym floor that can fit into their busy lives; they can physically cope and understand, and that’s going to create the adaptation that they are looking for. So they could feel and be who they want to be.
And then let’s set realistic goals and stop suggesting for a moment that the only success will be measured by a perfect body shape. So, again, go back to what do they want? Why do they want it? And here’s a strategy; a visible, physical, tangible strategy, working you step-by-step to get through that.
The first thing I’d like to do in our next episode is focus on the programming stages. And I’ll divide those programming stages up into what you do for your mainstream members, for the clubs who consider membership revenue as their primary source of revenue, and then for the clubs that have a high focus on secondary programs, such as personal training, boot camps and the like.
Then, how we can also involve some of the key principal strategies of retaining those clients. Because I do believe that the clients enroll in a program with a coach or in a PT environment, they aren’t getting some of the engagement benefits but I still think there are some missing links that those trainers and coaches could tap into to increase the longevity and the enjoyment factor of all their clients. And this might also, boost some of the other benefits such as referrals and sales because once your successful with these clients, then getting your next sale is going to be so much easier.
Chantal: Well Paul, I want to say thank you so much for joining us today, talking to us about trends and traditions. It has been absolutely fascinating and we look forward to you joining us the next time.
Paul: Thank you very much Chantal!
NEXT EPISODE: RETENTION IN OOPTIONAL PROGRAMS
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