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Stop Launching Programs and Start Creating Experiences

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I vividly remember the conversation. We were in the boardroom for over three hours, going around and around about what we had done and what we should have done differently. On paper everything made sense. When we went around the room, every idea we had seemed like it would have worked. The pricing strategy seemed attractive. The marketing was fresh and new. The benchmarks and key performance indicators (KPIs) we set for the company seemed reasonable. Then the CEO of the company looked directly at me and said, “Ben, why isn’t any of this working?”

If you have been in the gym business for any length of time, you know clean treadmills and big free weight areas are a thing of the past. The majority of gym members nowadays know they need to workout, but have no clue where to start. The vast majority of those people don’t even know how to set goals for themselves. 

The industry knows this, which is why we see so many programs being launched across the globe. More and more large chains are starting to put more focus on group programming, small group training and fee-based challenges, yet all they are doing is adding an edgy name, creating some marketing material and hoping the in-club staff will sell more stuff. The problem is deeper than just following a trend — it starts with how it makes your consumer feel.

1. How does the program tie into your brand?

If you are creating a program simply to add an additional profit center to your gym, it will fail. Consumers in the fitness market are smarter and have been exposed to more options than ever before. Ten years ago, the choices for fitness were pretty straight forward: you could join a big box chain, a privately owned stand-alone, or maybe see what all the rage was about at a Crossfit box.

Today, franchising has expanded the footprint and offered a huge variety. There are hundreds of options, from boutiques to online bootcamps — you can even go online and order an interactive mirror to workout with. The point is what does your business stand for? How do you want to be known? Only bring a program on board if you know it will strengthen your bond between who you are and who you want your customer to see you as. Today’s consumer will jump on board if you tie the relation to how you will create something new and improved for them.

2. Who will execute the program?

Do I have the right people on board to make this program work? Too many fitness studios lean heavily on salespeople or trainers to launch new programming. Here’s the issue: if the program is high energy and community based, my NASM-certified, highly intelligent, by the book trainer will not only be extremely uncomfortable teaching, but they won’t even know how to get anyone involved in a program like this.

Or worse, a salesperson could tell a customer whatever they think will get them to join a program instead of painting a true picture, if they didn’t understand the vision to begin with. Your business must create programs that are built around your culture and staff.

Last, remember just because you understand the big picture, it doesn’t mean your whole staff will. Create specifics on how the program ties into your culture. Cast the vision for your staff first. The people closest to the consumer are the ones who paint the picture for them, not you.

3. What does a successful program look like?

For those of you who think this answer is easy, it’s not. Increased revenue within 90 days, more leads coming through the follow-up software, marketing material getting more hits, or even worse, meeting the KPIs you set for the program launch, can all be false positives. Though none of these things are bad, they are not the sustainable life we all want out of a program.

As a leader, it’s easy to create a focus on one item of your business, see quick results, assume it’s working, and move on to the next thing. This is why so many programs fail. True successful programs are measured by the members.

Do your members talk about your program organically (not an email blasted to them from you asking them to please leave a Google review about your new program)? Do your members bring other members to specifically take part in your new program? This is an easily trackable number if you set out the proper channels for marketing and ensure to measure the stats weekly.

Does the program produce raving fans or even new instructors? Ideally, certain members come to your club only for this program, or if they do other programs inside your club, they invite people to the new program. Even better, they’ve done the program so much, they can teach it. Some of the most enthusiastic and best instructors I have ever seen started out as raving fans and program enthusiasts.

As a gym owner, manager or program director, it can be easy to measure success by dollars and cents. Seeing an increase in dollars per visit can be exciting at first, but remember, building successful programs is a long game, not a sprint. Do these things right, and the dollars and cents will follow for years to come.

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