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BFS Summit 2022: Acquiring & Retaining In-Person Clients in the ‘New Normal’



BFS Summit 2022: Acquiring & Retaining In-Person Clients in the ‘New Normal’

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With in-person workouts continuing to rebuild, studios and gyms are investing in both digital offerings and on-site staff to drive business. By combining the personalized feel of in-person experiences with marketing and management technology, can studios bring consumers back from their digital routines?

Now that restrictions are largely on the decline, consumers have the choice: will they continue with their pandemic routines, return to their pre-pandemic workouts, or find a middle ground? Studios and gyms are finding that consumers have missed the community of in-person routines. To capitalize on this, how should studios and gyms invest in marketing and operational strategies to acquire and retain members?

Social media has been key for communicating the value proposition of in-person workouts. In a presentation at the Boutique Fitness Solutions 2022 BFS Summit in New York, Emily Drouillard, CEO of Modo Yoga International, KK Hart, CEO and Lead Consultant for Hart Marketing & Communications, Inc., and Barry Kostabi, the Founder of Fitness Career Mastery, discussed “The Path Forward for Client Acquisition.” Focusing on how consumers feel has driven their marketing tactics to re-engage and acquire clients. With a “great to be back” mentality, studios and gyms are reminding clients that in-person workouts can drive increased output and focus in classes. A key element in creating a sense of community is the on-site staff. The panelists stressed the importance of attracting and retaining skilled staff members. By empowering their teams, and incentivizing through bonuses, gym owners can reach consumer retention goals. The panelists also cautioned against being miserly with incentivizing teams, as the hot job market means investing in a staff is more important than ever.

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Investing in instructors has also been key to differentiate from virtual offerings. While platforms like Peloton are operating “like a talent agency,” according to Drouillard, they lack the truly personal connection of real-time workouts. An instructor’s job is to guide users toward an aspirational identity, which can be even more effective in real life. Part of a studio’s job is to empower instructors to build their own community and identity (without, of course, becoming an independent entity). In order to make up for Peloton’s appeal of working out with a celebrity (positioned as a virtual friend), studios need to make classes and experiences as personalized as possible. The CEO of Club Sports, Jay Galluzzo, encouraged all studios to consider a “bring-a-friend” policy, as accountability buddies will drive higher attendance and more personalized experiences. Instructors creating a relationship with clients is also integral to driving community. Software offerings like Walla, a studio success platform, allows staff to tag each client with personas based on their in-class preferences for attention, tips, and motivation. A studio will send a “personality quiz” to their clients that dives deeply into their habits. The personality type will then become an easy-to-understand icon on their studio profile, enable staff to engage in a more personalized manner with their clients. This attention can drive increased retention and deeper studio-client connections.

Making booking and client management as easy as possible has also become a concern for studios. Software like Mindbody, Thryv, and Hapana are aspiring to make the processes easier for studios. Using software offerings to measure class attendance, preferences, and booking trends will be important for adjusting class scheduling. Galluzzo spoke at the 2022 BFS Summit on changes in class attendance: prior to the pandemic, classes filled up more in the off-hours: before or after standard working hours. Today, work-from-home culture has brought about more daytime class attendance. Gyms are increasingly functioning as a “break” from the monotonous day at a home office. By measuring trends through the predictive analytics offerings from booking software, studios can stay on top of what their consumers desire from a workout experience.

Automated messaging (SMS) marketing has become a popular tactic in the last few years. New platforms like Helios are capitalizing on consumers’ affinity for texting. With messages that lead with 98% open rates, Helios automates responses with custom messaging, announcing new classes or programs to consumers. It can also communicate with studio staff members, providing important updates. Mindbody Business is also using Messenger[ai], an artificial intelligence assistant to respond to missed calls, drive sales and bookings, and answer general questions. AS 85% of customers who call and do not reach the business will not call back, texting can provide a viable solution for relationship management. Simplifying communication can save time for staff members, improve consumer experiences, and drive revenue.

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Lastly, pricing has become increasingly important for fitness studios. At the BFS Summit 2022, panelists also discussed using avatars for pricing strategies. By assigning class attendees a persona grouping based on their attendance frequency, fitness class preferences, and their monthly/annual spend, studios can refine their marketing tactics. Creating pricing tiers based on these groupings is important; making room for both the frequent, loyal attendee, as well as for the consumer warming up to the idea of in-person classes. Studios should begin by calculating minimum $/class spot, and conducting predictive analyses on their clients’ frequency of visits based on their avatars.

With high consumer expectations returning to in-person workouts, studios and gyms must invest in marketing and technology that communicate their value proposition, seamlessly connect with consumers, and drive retention. The successful in-person studios will be those that invest in relevant marketing strategies, hire and reward engaging and attentive instructors, and implement software solutions that make studio management and booking easier and more member-friendly.

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