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Every business has at least one slow month or period of time it has to “survive” until things pick up again. For health clubs, that period is typically summer. Despite an increased amount of aggregate free time available to the general population, many health clubs see fewer bodies out on the fitness floor starting in June.
It’s not rocket science — during the summer, the weather is usually nicer. It’s human nature to be drawn toward the outdoors.
And so arises the million-dollar question: How can clubs get people inside when their instinct is to go outside?
“Ultimately, the answer is you can’t,” answered Tom Wingert, the marketing director for City Fitness in Philadelphia. “Think about yourself as a human being — why do you go on vacation, go camping or do anything outside? When it’s nice out, people like to enjoy it and don’t appreciate efforts to keep them inside.”
As a result, the key might not be herding members indoors, but bringing your gym outdoors.
“In Philadelphia summers, we deal with a ton of folks taking long weekends to the Jersey Shore, vacations, lease turnover or student absenteeism,” explained Wingert. “We have about 14,000 members — there’s no way we can change the broader behavioral trend of the city. So we take an honest look at how the city responds to the summer and align our marketing and communications accordingly.”
Remember, people will generally prefer being outside during the summer — use that knowledge to your benefit.
“We take advantage of the great weather and design awesome fitness experiences outside of our clubs,” explained Wingert. “We look for amazing venues and produce great experiences that make it worth disrupting a vacation for someone to work out with us, like a Spinning event we ran with Precor on top of a skyscraper last June.”
Think of it this way: If people want to be outside doing a fun activity, why can’t it be your fun activity?
For Gainesville Health and Fitness in Gainesville, Florida, the most effective summer marketing strategies have revolved around the local community.
A perfect example is the Free Teen Summer program, which the club has offered for the past 10 years. “All teens 13 to 17 years old get a free membership for two months in the summer, whenever school is out,” explained Debbie Lee, the marketing director at Gainesville Health and Fitness. “That’s a big community initiative for us, and we get anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 teens coming in over the summer.”
Engaging the community in such a personal manner goes a long way in building trust with members. “All your community outreach is a division underneath marketing — it’s good for your image,” said Lee.
On top of gyms trying to drive people indoors, they all seem to be making the same noise. “Every gym talks about the same thing during the summer, because that’s what their members are talking about,” said Lee.
As a result, Gainesville Health and Fitness relies mostly on its good rapport with the community to garner attention for its summer programs, especially the teen membership program. “We don’t have a selling component related to that,” explained Lee. “We want it to truly be a community event, so we don’t bring you in and try to sell you a membership.”
Wingert’s advice? “Do not run closeouts or panic about lagging sales performance each month,” he emphasized. “Ultimately preparing for a big month at the end of the summer will be better for your bottom line, if done properly, than selling yourself short with a cheesy promotion that sounds something like, ‘Summer’s Just Heating Up.’”
City Fitness’ approach is to instead design promotions that bookend the summer months.
“We lean more on September and October each year, when people are settled in new homes or returning from vacation, while letting lead generation build up during the summer months,” explained Wingert. “After the summer ends, deliver a knockout promotion: a strong, creative, clear, compelling and tactfully deployed discount.”
Most importantly, have fun with your programming. The theme of summer is enjoying the sunshine and time off, so try to channel that same energy when engaging members with outdoor programming.
“Think as though members and potential members have lives outside the gym, and figure out how to contribute to those complex lives,” said Wingert. “Get ambitious and creative and think of something cool to do outside of your club.”