By Mario Mavrides

Without question the global pandemic has challenged the way we in the fitness industry conduct business.

The global shutdown of most of our facilities and gyms has necessitated creative approaches to operations as an act of outright survival in most cases. For many gyms, this creativity has indeed helped them make it through to the other side of forced closures, and massive reduction in revenues and reopen their doors to the public.

Unfortunately, far too many facilities were unable to weather the storm, and thus closed their doors permanently.

Yet, for those businesses who remain viable in the face of such adversity, one can glean lessons to help improve and safeguard our businesses for the future.

One such lesson which came to prevalence is the value and importance of professional training. Be it small group, one-on-one, or even remote and virtual sessions, supervised training has again demonstrated its extraordinary value in member retention and revenue generation for many a gym. In fact, there have been multiple reports of as high as 90% of personal training clients returning upon reopening irrespective of age. This number of returning clients is drastically larger than that of general members, which in some cases is down below 30% (potentially lower in the over 50 demographic).

While the numbers above do represent the extremes of those data collected, the differential serves to illustrate the power a strong personal training department can have on mitigating the negative impact the pandemic has had on our industry. That said, make no mistake the benefits of a robust personal training offering go far beyond “disaster proofing” your business. A strong P/T department can help build a vibrant core of members who are focused on fitness, willing to support your business as something other than a simple commodity.

Facilities who managed to modify their practice via implementing alternative service methods to members, showed a clear advantage in client retention. One such remarkably effective approach was the liberal and intelligent use of online resources. Adapting their business to the use of online training tools by operators allowed them to virtually connect with existing members, and clients. This early and consistent connection proved a boon in providing a sense of community, connectivity, and inclusion.  By continuing to offer a relatively uninterrupted exercise experience, training clients who participated in weekly virtual training sessions with coaches were able to maintain forward progress, and more importantly satisfaction in their gym offerings. This satisfaction in turn clearly influenced participating members in their desire and willingness to return to the gym.

With many media outlets currently vociferously proclaiming the death of the gym membership as we know it, it is fair to assume members are leaving gyms in droves. If the various media claims are to be believed, former avid gym-goers have transitioned to home based primarily cardio based workouts provided by their hastily purchased dumbbells, treadmills, and other fitness equipment.

While certainly the scarcity of fitness equipment in the local retail outlets may support this contention, history clearly illustrates there should be a glut on the market of gently used treadmills, bikes and ellipticals in the coming months. Why? For the same reasons as always: Most cardio centric workouts rarely provide enough meaningful or positive changes in body composition, muscular strength, or performance (the three most coveted reasons cited by most gym attendees). Therefore, for the dedicated gymgoer who aren’t necessarily interested in running or cycling for the sake of doing so, the need for a focused, results-based gym experience provided by a professionally guided training plan is invaluable and not likely to be realised at home.

Businesses who have understood the value of personal training as a “member retention” system have historically demonstrated a resilience to the inevitable “peaks and valleys” of operating in an uncertain environment at the best of times. Organizations, who have fostered a culture of a results-based fitness approach within their facilities have benefitted versus those who may espouse a more social or amenities-based value proposition to their member base.

While there is not anything inherently wrong with the aforementioned promotion of your facility as a social hub for members, doing so at the expense of the core offering of “fitness” may lead to some unintended outcomes.

Steam rooms, hot tubs, massage chairs and beds, juice bars, lounges and gathering places can all be wonderful and valuable additions to a gym and may indeed be a boon to member acquisition. However, these are amenities and services which can be provided, and probably to greater effect by other businesses who specialize in such things (i.e. restaurants, bars, and spas for example) and therefore not a core competency of a gym.

This is not to say a gym should not offer such services, in fact many a gym business has enjoyed increased revenue diversification and numbers from doing so. Rather it seems clear the members who prioritize physical progress and change over other “ancillary” offerings, are more likely to venture forward out of their imposed lockdowns and get back to achieving their physical goals at their gyms.

Essentially one can draw a clear correlation between members who have returned and those who place import on achieving their goals. Clearly members who have invested a meaningful amount of time, effort, and money into personal training fall into this latter category and take the pursuit of results seriously. Thus, clients who prioritized fitness goals, and placed value on the relationship developed with their trainers demonstrated a seemingly greater willingness to get back to their gyms, their trainers and ultimately their healthy habits.

About Mario Mavrides

A 25 year veteran of the fitness industry  (with the bumps to prove it) Mario has successfully worked with most of the major players in North America. From business development to certification, education and training Mario has provided support and guidance to thousands of individual trainers, and operators on how to grow and build a strong, vibrant fitness business.

Most recently as an active member of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and it’s Ontario Coalition, Mario has played a leading role in creating and advocating the #practicesafefitness initiative, a framework developed to help operators provide a safe exercise experience for their members.

Currently based out of the new TapOut Fitness brand’s flagship in Woodbridge, (www.woodbridge.tapoutfitness.com) Ontario, Mario can be reached via email at mmavrides@gmail.com.