A few weeks ago, I ranted about my gym, the Ranch Health Club in Valley Ranch.
In that post, I detailed the many things the club is doing wrong and how it was setting the standard on how not to run a business.
Since then, it hit me to maybe try to be a part of the solution, not just complain about the issue. So here it goes.
First, the new owners at the Ranch are now in town and going full force, which is a good thing. At least there’s a vision now. They’ve already put on new vinyl on the machines, painted the whole place, added a coffee machine and implemented a “free Margarita Thursday night”(?). That last one caught me a little off guard, but if it works, so be it. These new owners also own a few other gyms in town, so I have to assume they know what they’re doing. And you can definitely tell they’re cracking down with the staff.
Anyway, with all this being said, I’d like to take a shot at giving some ideas on how the Ranch or any gym can grow their business a little more. I’ve never owned a gym, and I’ve never worked in the industry. So some of the things I might suggest might either be gym-owning 101 or so outrageously out of the question that you won’t be able to close your browser fast enough. But, I am a gym attendee, the person you’re trying to impress, so maybe I can offer a thing or two that could help.
- Let me try it out.
I hate gyms that make me pay for a single visit. If I’m thinking about joining your gym, I need at least 2 weeks to figure out if I like it or not. Not just one visit. And I shouldn’t have to pay for it. In fact, give me a month free. Just charge me for the card. Or a very small fee. You see, if you can get me hooked on your place, it’s going to be a lot harder for me to let you go. And, because you’re giving me that first 2-4 weeks so cheaply, it’s going to keep me from going somewhere else. Let me sample what you’ve got.
- Have a referral program.
Most gyms do this, so I won’t go into detail, and I won’t act like it’s a revolutionary idea. But just make sure people know the full details about it, and that the reward is significant.
- Have a loyalty program.
Don’t get caught up in getting new gym rats that you forget the old, loyal, 4 times a week gym rats. This program is much more important than any other marketing program you have. If you treat your top 10% of your customers right, they will take care of most of your other marketing for you. Come up with programs to make them feel appreciated. Free t-shirts. Got extra services at your gym, like massage therapists, supplements or a Smoothie King? Give them a coupon for one of them. Keep the people who love you in love with you.
- Find what makes you different and shout it from the rooftop.
This is marketing at its most basic form, but find out what makes you different from 24 Hour Fitness and put it in people’s face. In the case of the Ranch, my impression is that its a more serious workout facility. It’s not a pickup joint, and the layout is much better than 24 Hour Fitness. It also has top-notch trainers (or at least used to – see below). All of this breaths a certain brand experience.
- Treat your trainers right.
If you’re going to allow trainers into your gym, get the really good ones. The ones that do it for a full-time living, not the ones that just like working out so they figured they could make money showing other people how to do it. In the past, the number of impressive trainers at the Ranch is what really impressed me about it. I have never used one, but just seeing them there, knowing they are the real deal made me feel good about being at the Ranch. Rumor has it that the new ownership at the Ranch is actually going to charge the trainers more than they have been to use their gym. Which is going to drive the full-time trainers away to another gym – it’s their livelihood, so they have to. I think this is a huge mistake. Your trainers are your endorsers, your spokespeople. I would charge them less than I used to (they kinda fall into that loyalty program group). I would do everything I had to to keep them there, and not look at their fees as a money-maker, but look at the memberships they drive as my money-maker. That would only make them feel appreciated and possibly attract more great trainers if you needed them (which would then bring their clients, etc.).
- Leverage your trainers – have events.
Lots of trainers are interested in doing more than just training. Many like to teach. Can you give them the opportunity to do it? Set up events to talk about nutrition, strength training, specific exercises for sports, stress management, weight loss, organic foods – ANYTHING. The wellness industry is huge, so capitalize on it. And invite the whole community.
- Build a great blog.
In my mind, this would take any gym to the next level. Let’s say you have 15 different trainers. Plus you and your team probably know a thing or two about health yourself. That gives you 20 or so people who could contribute to an amazing blog. Think about it – daily exercise tips, diet and nutrition tips, wellness, weight-lifting, sports, ANYTHING! Plus, it provides a great way for you to communicate what’s going on at the club. But most importantly, it builds a community among your users with the staff and trainers. Which will only feed more loyalty. And when they’re impressed with what a trainer writes, it will only lead to more training enrollments. Then, of course, some of them will email a link along, which will only feed more referrals. Which all leads to more business.
- Build (or find) a great website.
Don’t let this intimidate you. But if you want to succeed in any business today, you’ve got to have a passable website. The secret for a gym is to load it up with services, like diet trackers, workout trackers, etc. But don’t build it all yourself – programs that do this are a dime a dozen online. Find one, partner up with them, and let them do the work. You just link over to it. For some of it, you might need to charge, but for a lot of it, you can just claim that it’s “part of the membership fee.” It will make a huge difference. Have lots of pictures, be clear on your prices, advertise any promotions and make it easy for someone to find you. Web-surfing is just part of the buying cycle now.
- Get involved with the community (this is my wife’s idea – it’s a good one)
Work with local businesses, apartments, associations, etc. and offer special rates for their employees/patrons. Find out who’s new in town and give them a month for free. Or a free training session. Or a free 1-hour massage (they probably need it after moving in). The smaller your community, the more important this is. Make sure you’re seen as a foundational part of the area, and people will appreciate that.
- Buy people back.
If someone leaves you to go to another gym, give them some really good reasons to come back to you. If you’re a good gym, chances are they are regretting their decision. Figure out what the obstacle is that would keep them from coming back, and address it. It might cost money, it might not. Figure out what makes good business sense for you, and do it.
BONUS TIP: Remember my name. If the guy working the front desk remembers my name, you’ve got me. Do whatever you have to do to find someone who can do this.
My wife and I both have other ideas, but this is enough for now. If you’re a gym owner or trainer and like at least a few points you see here and want some help marketing your business, please contact me. I’d be glad to help as much or as little as you’d like.
And let the record show that we are still fans of The Ranch. That’s why I thought I’d stop complaining and start helping.