Business of Fitness

Top 6 Ways Fitness Studio/Gym Owners Can Stage Memorable Experiences for Their Clients and Members

Client retention is highly dependent on client loyalty, which in turn, is highly correlated with a member’s overall emotional rating as a “net promoter,” or advocate of the studio. When clients become net promoters, it reflects the emotional attachment they have made with the people, programs and services of the studio (e.g., memorable experiences).

Member loyalty can be assessed by measuring the responses of clients and/or members to four queries: (i) their level of love for the studio; (ii) their rating of the overall studio experience (e.g., accumulation of memorable experiences); (iii) their likelihood of recommending others to the studio; and most importantly (iv) their likelihood of remaining a client of the studio. In nearly every instance, clients who score these areas the highest (e.g., five on a five-point scale or 10 on a 10-point scale) are those clients who have received great member service, and have fond memories of their studio experience.

Beyond the client loyalty issue are the simple, but universal truths that clients share in various health/fitness industry studies when they’re asked about those moments of truth (e.g., interactions between the client and the studio) that have the greatest influence on their perception of value, and ultimately on whether they become loyal clients and advocates. In nearly every instance, a number of universal truths inherent to the “membership” experience are detailed, with the primary focuses on staff friendliness, knowledge, and availability.

Other important components include feeling valued by management and staff, feeling cared for, responsiveness of management, socially inviting ambiance, establishing relationships with other clients as well as staff, and finally, having pride in their involvement as a client and/or member of the studio.

Where to start? Follow these guidelines:

Create a theme and then develop the proper stage, props, and script to bring it to life.

Walt Disney understood this concept better than anyone. Over the past several decades, Disney has honed the experience model by establishing a distinct and unique theme for each of its parks, and then making sure each has the right stage (facilities), right props (rides and people), and script (the experiences it wants to generate and how each staff person fills a role).

All factors considered, Las Vegas has modeled itself after Disney, and forged an entire city section, based on various staged experiences. The point is that when a business, in this case a studio, establishes a theme that appeals to people and that can be delivered consistently and flawlessly through the proper scripting, staging, and acting, people will turn out repeatedly to experience it.

Not surprisingly, Disney and Vegas both profit considerably from the repeat business they generate. Identify an experience that will be unique.

It does not have to be elaborate; it just has to be different (in a positive way). Just as important, it has to be deliverable. Your differentiation should be obvious to prospects and clients.

How you differentiate the experience is up to you, but examples of how you can do this include the look of your facility, the types of programs you offer or the approach you take in caring for the client and/or member. The cycling experience at Soul Cycle is so unique that it attracts a passionate client base prepared to spend on the experience. CrossFit affiliates, no matter what you may think of their program, offer a unique experience that attracts fanatical and loyal clients.

Once a theme is selected, determine what facilities and props you will need.

For example, CrossFit facilities are typically very Spartan in appearance and include equipment such as rings, tires, ropes, free weights, etc. These props align with the overall theme of CrossFit which is offering training regimes that are extremely challenging and Spartan in nature. At Exhale, their studios have an Asian theme that aligns with their mind/body approach.

Establish a script to support the theme.

A script refers to the policies, programs, standards and services a studio offers. These elements must support the theme. For example, standards can serve as the framework for how your brand’s theme is delivered across each touch point of the client’s experience. Your programs should be created and delivered so they seamlessly align with the theme of your brand.

Make sure the team can deliver on the theme.

This element requires that staff job descriptions lend themselves to the experience that the studio intends to deliver. If you retain independent contractors, then within their agreements should be a section that references the importance of adhering to the standards of the brand’s theme when interacting with clients and the public.

This ingredient also necessitates that the studio provides the proper education and training for its staff so that everyone can successfully deliver on the studios brand promise and theme. The Disney Institute, for example, hires cast members and then provides the appropriate education and training so that the cast members can deliver on the Disney script.

Does your studio have traditions?

If not, get started. One of the defining elements of any great culture is its traditions. Traditions serve as “glue” that seals people to the culture. Exceptional companies understand that long-held traditions are important contributors to outstanding customer loyalty.

A few of the actions a studio could consider in starting its own traditions include:

  1. Identify one or two events or activities that would have the greatest value to your local community, as well as the members of your studio. Determine what the members find appealing and then develop a program or event around it.
  2. Once you have identified the right event or activity, make it permanent. Traditions tend to be based on several factors, such as consistency over time, predictability (think cultural traditions, such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day), and predictability concerning what can be expected. At O2 Max Fitness they have created an event called MAX Event Ready which assists young adults get physically prepared for that one special event (e.g., prom, wedding).
  3. Make sure the tradition has perceived value and provides positive memories. These are the memories that lead to the desire to repeat the experience. All factors considered, a studio’s traditions need to create the opportunity for clients to generate such favorable memories.

Remember, at the end of the day and in this very competitive environment which is the fitness studio and gym space, it’s essential to establish a unique and differentiated theme for your studio and separate your studio from the pack.

Build everything you do around the theme, from the facilities and equipment to the way your team interacts and engages clients. Leave nothing to chance and you’ll reap the rewards.

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The Author

Stephen Tharrett

Stephen Tharrett

Stephen Tharrett is a former President of IHRSA, member of AFS’s Advisory Board, AFS community expert, and member of the Club Industry Advisory board. Stephen, along with his business partner Mark Williamson, are co-founders of ClubIntel, a brand insight, market research and consulting firm serving the fitness and private club industries. He also has served on the education, certification and health/fitness facility standards committees for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and American Council on Exercise (ACE).

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