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Transcription – Show 125 Fitness Business Podcast Carrie Kepple

Chantal:               Today’s guest is Carrie Kepple, club manager of Les Mills New Market in Oakland, New Zealand. A club that has done what most only dream about. Their membership is at capacity. I’m certain that many of you will already know Carrie. She is an entrepreneurial leader with a decade of international and senior level fitness business management. She’s a strategic leader of club business, an advocate for women in leadership, and as we’re going to hear today, she’s an expert in opening new clubs.

To add to all of that, Carrie has also recently been appointed to the IHRSA board of directors and she’s a founding member of WIFA, the Women In Fitness Association. Today, we are diving straight into the interview with Carrie where she gives us an insight into what it’s like inside the doors of Les Mills New Market. We talk about their member ship base, the role of virtual fitness, and the 30 minute formats that they run in the club. Take a listen.

Carrie:                   This is an exciting club, and there’s an entire team at Les Mills, New Zealand that strategized the club design for this club. And why I say it’s exciting is we flipped the traditional club model on its head. So, 70% of our exercise space is dedicated to group fitness studios and only 30% of exercise space is the gym floor. And a lot of people said, “How are you ever going to make that model work financially?” Because we know in club business, there are peaks of our day and there are times when our studios sit vacant, or at least they used to.

So then we were charged with incorporating tools and resources to ensure that we kept those studios busy for as much a part of the day as we possibly could. And we made group fitness and these studios the cornerstone of our entire club operations. And when I say entire club operations, I mean across all departments. It’s woven in, integrated, and it becomes the main feature of what we communicate and what we do. So the way in which we are doing this is all through strategies of capacity management, and basically there are technologies now that afford us the opportunity to keep studios busy.

We have a studio that has got a nine screen video wall that is very sexy, and it’s playing virtual group fitness classes in the times when our live classes are not on. And right now … So we have that going, virtual classes all throughout the day. And also in our cycle studio, we have virtual cycle classes going when our live are not on. And what I can tell you is that currently, 75% of our total club attendances are going to our classes, and 27.5% of those are going to virtual.

Chantal:               Right.

Carrie:                   I know. You could walk past one of our studios at 3:30 in the afternoon and you’ll see 40 people in there doing body pump to a video.

Chantal:               Wow.

Carrie:                   It’s insane. But we did that … The way in which we made that work, which is I get this question a lot is … It’s quite funny, but the best advice I could give anybody who’s going to bring virtual into their club is timetable virtual classes on the same schedule that you do live, and in the same manner that you do live, because you want to create the mentality that one is not better than the other. Because if you schedule them separately and you treat them like two separate things, you’re going to create Democrats against Republicans amongst your members.

You’re going to create people who are on one side or the other with it. And what you want to do is tap into the idea that virtual affords you to have the opportunity to have convenience to any class in your day. So that we offer you more classes more often, which means if you could only come to the gym at 2:00 today, you still have a workout here ready for you that is on the schedule. So people really started to appreciate the convenience factor of that. So that spread the load throughout … That really helped us spread the load of attendance away from our peaks and more into our off-peak times so that we could cater to more people more often. And we could start to sell memberships to people who do odd things like shift work who otherwise would not have joined the gym because there was nothing. There was not an assisted workout for them already. And this allowed us that opportunity.

The other thing that we did is we incorporated 30 minute classes into our timetable, whether that’s 30 minute high-intensity pre-existing programmes, or it’s taking some of our programming and putting the 30 minute version of it on. But I remember five years ago in the industry, we wouldn’t have been able to do this because members would have complained. They would have felt gypped by not getting that hour workout. So this is a really interesting time we’re in because I think it’s really being communicated well, and it’s starting to be communicated really well in our industry that if you work hard enough, 30 minutes is all you need.

And I think we can thank HIIT training for that, because high intensity interval training has become such a trend for consumers and members that now they understand that maybe an hour isn’t necessarily necessary depending on how are you work. So, what we’ve been able to do with that is actually over 50% of our timetable is currently 30 minute classes, which is crazy. But from a strategy point of view, it’s kind of like turning tables at a restaurant. You want to give quality service and experience, but you don’t necessarily … Depending on the restaurant, of course. You don’t necessarily want people to sit there all night because you want to turn that table to get a new set of customers in that you can service ’cause you’re utilising that one space.

Same kind of concept … It’s interesting when you think about it within gyms. If we can start training people faster and getting them results, but servicing them in a really quality way in a shorter amount of time, we can actually better manage our capacity of the physical space that we have which allows us to service more people throughout the day. Because we are limited by our physical space and the time that we are open each day. So how we strategically maximise on those two potential limitations to spread the load of attendance throughout all hours of the day and then turn those tables faster so we’re getting happy people in the door and out the door faster, they’re all of a sudden you are working in a very efficient way.

You’re not having dead space in your club, you are not losing the opportunity to sell to members who want to work out at odd times. You’re not getting the sense that your gym is overcrowded because it’s actually … You feel that consistent energy and attendance throughout the whole day rather than just before and after work as such. And, yeah. And all of a sudden, you’re running a really smart business that fills really quickly.

Chantal:               Carrie, I’ve got a couple of quick questions for you. First of all, so you said that 50% of your classes now are 30 minute formats. Is that a mixture of live and virtual?

Carrie:                   Yes, it is.

Chantal:               It is. And we’ve … And this is the group fitness instructor in me wants to know the answer to this one.

Carrie:                   Yeah.

Chantal:               So with the room, where you’ve got body pump being broadcast on a screen and the other room where that you talked about where I think you said there was nine screens on the wall and that’s playing a different programme, then you’ve got your cycle. How does supervision go in those classes? Is there a team member that goes in and out of those classes? Because I know it’s a question that has been asked to me previously is, if you’ve got people doing body pump without an instructor, then who’s checking on form and stuff like that? So how do you handle that?

Carrie:                   Yeah, it’s a really good question and I think especially in New Zealand and Australia in the last year with health and safety is a big buzzword.

Chantal:               It’s a big focus for us, yeah.

Carrie:                   Big focus for us with the new legislation. Health and safety is a big one for us. We have a model here where we have gym instructors that monitor the gym and help members with things like spotting them as well as getting them started off with exercise, but I’ve definitely worked in gyms in the past where we didn’t have gym instructors. But we utilised our personal trainers in that capacity. I think it’s a matter of which … Here in New Zealand, our personal trainers are contractors, not employees. But our gym instructors are employees. So they go in and out of the virtual classes mostly to monitor the general health and safety of the place, make sure that everybody’s still upright and exercising.

In terms of form, there’s … It’s an interesting one. The coaching on those DVDs is quality enough that you look in that room and people are, for the most part, exercising properly. We have not come across an incident yet, knock on wood, where someone has just been doing the exercise so wrong that they’ve injured themselves. And I find that interesting because that was a huge concern with us at the beginning, incorporating all of this virtual fitness is just that. Will people exercise properly? Will they hurt themselves?

But it is fascinating that quality coaching cues and good visual representation of role modelling great technique, it gets people understanding what to do and they are. They’re doing it. But, yeah.

Chantal:               Fantastic. Excellent. I would love to grab, if you’ve got Carrie, any images or any little videos that you might have of those virtual classes taking place that we could share on the show notes page.

Carrie:                   Yeah, cool.

Chantal:               Of the website, because I think people would be really fascinated as I am to see it in progress and to see it happening. So, thank you for giving us that kind of behind the scenes look at how you’ve set up the club and how you’ve, as you say, flipped the traditional model on its head and made group fitness the majority focus of your membership and of your club. That was really fascinating to here.

Carrie:                   Cool, you’re welcome.

Chantal:               Now, I mentioned earlier that you’re of course one of the founding members of WIFA, and this is our women in fitness month. So, I was wondering, what does WIFA, Women In Fitness Association mean to you?

Carrie:                   Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that women in fitness is such a great topic, as women in leadership, women in influence, whatever you want to say, is such a great topic because it hits me in the heart because there are some fabulous women in this industry that supported me along my journey. And I would not be where I am if I hadn’t had them in my life. And so, I think what women in fitness, when I saw it, I thought, “Wow, what a great opportunity to network with each other. What a great opportunity to have a platform to meet other women in fitness at level of their career, learn from them, but also to give back what the fabulous women in my life gave to me.” And if I can help one other woman in this industry grow their career, be successful, I would be so stoked with that because I think it’s really important that we do network and rely and learn from each other and grow in that way. So, yeah. I was really excited to see that come in.

Chantal:               And Carrie, what advice would you give to women that are currently forging their career in the fitness industry?

Carrie:                   Man, just back yourself. I know I say this a lot if I’m writing a blog or anything, but I think sometimes as women, we’ve all heard the old imposter syndrome where we feel like, “Oh, I’m not going to go for that potential opportunity because I’m not an expert at it yet,” or, “I’m not perfect at it yet.” And I think we should stop trying to be perfect and just back ourself, put our hand up even if we don’t know everything. And then just trust that we have what it takes to be resourceful and figure it out.

Because if you don’t take the opportunity, someone’s going to. So, I think networking is the key as well. Just meet people, learn what they have to share. Ask their stories, ask great questions. And then lastly, really focus on having excellent communication skills because I think that that’s key to success. Being able to communicate really well with others, and I think it comes from a place of emotional intelligence and empathy. Try to determine what or how to communicate by first empathising and then utilise your emotional intelligence to craft your response and your delivery because I think that that’s hugely important. And people will want to work with you more when you come from that place and you have great communication skills.

And just be authentic. Own who you are, show all sides of yourself. The good, the silly, the bad, the ugly, the fun. Whatever it is. Just be real.

Chantal:               Carrie, I mentioned earlier that you’re of course now on the board of IHRSA. So tell us about that experience and what your expectations are.

Carrie:                   Yeah. I’m very fortunate and grateful to have been appointed to theIHRSA board. For me, it’s about giving back and serving our great fitness industry and doing what I can to help grow, promote, and protect it. I love what IHRSA stands for, I always have, it’s such a great association. And it helps really guide our industry globally. In my limited experience so far, which has only included two board meetings, I have gotten a very great understanding and introduction into what the board can help IHRSA as an association to influence.

I think that it’s such a great opportunity to tackle big issues and opportunities for our industry, look to the future, and help really preserve our industry and grow it. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to my time in the next four years serving on this board with the amazing people that are on it now. And doing what I can to … Yeah, like I said, help grow, promote, and protect our industry.

Chantal:               That’s wonderful. Now, we finish off each of our shows, Carrie, with our Fitbizpiration and today I’m hoping you can share with us your top three tips for progressing through an organisation into a leadership role.

Carrie:                   Make every opportunity, big or small that you get, just nail it and think about how you’re perceived because … Be professional and really nail every opportunity to get yourself top of mind for the next one that might come up. Be easy to work with. We call it being easy to do business with, but I think being easy to work with is another great tip. Have an open mind and don’t get too emotionally attached to things. Be able to debate things and hear other points of view openly and adapt if you need to. And I would say, it’s never going to be a perfect … The road is never going to match what is in your head, but you got to find the opportunity within every scenario and go with it. Try not to be so rigid. Be open to how the career might adapt or change. And yeah, I suppose, just be fluid.


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