The harsh realities of post-lockdown and how gyms can adapt

Nick Wardle of Body Transformation Centre discusses how gyms have had to adapt after lockdown and how they are moving forward.

The numerous changes and transitions of lockdowns and shelter in place protocols have changed many of the ways coaches attracted and gained new clients during "rush periods". Here to share his experience with how the industry has changed, navigating the new times, and how he and other personal training gyms have had to adapt is Nick Wardle, owner of Body Transformation Centre. To learn about the safety procedures, coaching and business planning processes, as well as marketing strategies he has put in place to stay open, keep welcoming in new clients, and retain his current clients, read Nick's blog below.

Nick Wardle with some of his clients after a session

In normally traditional, non-COVID times, September is a very business month for us. We usually see the biggest uptake of people, generally between March and during the September rush for flow-in. Normally most people think the gym time of year is the January rush, and that actually is not true. For commercial gyms, it may be. But for personal training gyms where for people it's a very considered purchase, we generally see a bigger uptake come March time and all the way through to September. September is what I describe as a second January and it tends to be very busy so the uptake is quite big.

Why the rush of new and existing clients has changed

However, we have had a lot of different factors this year and it seems to affect our sales as well as quite a lot of other personal training gym owners. I am in a couple of mentoring groups and for some, customers are absolutely flying in, but there's quite a few that are not seeing the sales levels that they would normally typically see around this time. And I think there are a few reasons for that. There's a lot of factors going on against the fitness industry that are not in the industry's favour.

1. Summer was busier than usual this year due to lockdown ending

When we got back into things around June, July time, we saw a bit of uplift because of people getting back into the gym post-lockdown.

2. Transition of workplaces and uncertainty

I think at the minute there's a big transition and time of uncertainty around people going back to work. Towns and city areas are still not fully operable and some of the offices haven't returned. We're seeing a lot of transition of people's jobs being moved, maybe from one site to another site or locations, or they're travelling, changing all their shift patterns. Everything's very transient, so there's nothing fixed in stone. And I think for a lot of people, that has put that level of uncertainty in place. Comparing it to a recession, I don't think we're in quite a recession period, but I worked in a business when we had a recession before and it is very similar trading circumstances going on.

That said, there are always people out there wanting to do new stuff and introduce things, but I think this September particularly has been a lot slower than a lot of people were expecting.

3. Marketing changes in social media

Apple's had some huge updates that have impacted the way we advertise. It's caused a lot of problems for a lot of people. And not only that, but Apple has just done another update that is now affecting email opens. We were notified by our CRM system that we use that basically said Apple is opening pretty much every email before it gets to the client. So they scan all the emails and auto block anything that they think is a spam score. It is meant to help stop spam, but it is auto-sifted.

4. Socialisation is being prioritised over public health

I also think there is a lot of socialising going on. I would have thought that considering everything that's happened with COVID that health would have been more important now than ever before. But the media hasn't talked about this very much in the UK and they're not, nor is the government putting very much emphasis on public health. What they're talking a lot about is getting back out, getting back to normal and that's it. And to me, that's the wrong angle.

They should be encouraging more about health and wellness. Obesity is linked, but then they're not actively talking about it. I think that's because people are going back out and are being blindsided a bit after about 18 months of pretty much not doing it a lot, and are now playing catch up with friends.

So consequently, their health is being pushed down the ladder again. And while that's maybe okay, it could lead to more problems down the line and this is what's a little bit worrying. I just don't think people take their health very seriously in all honesty. And I don't mean that in a really harsh way. I just mean it as a blanket statement.

I personally believe the government should have done more about this. I spoke to my local Member of Parliament about it because I don't feel that they're doing enough.

5. The media is presenting conflicting information

The Telegraph did a study or find on all of this and they've been monitoring what's going on with regards to it all. What they've said now is that gyms are no risk, they never were, and never should have been closed down. But it hasn't been made a big enough deal in the industry. I think the stats at the minute are that 35% of all gyms have shut permanently and they reckon there's going to be another 15% to go.

6. Gyms have had to function in the new normal while at a loss

There's a lot of people holding on by the skin of their teeth because there is no financial assistance like a VAT cut, there are no rate cuts. The rent is still the same. Gyms have had to adapt massively, from offering online workouts which is not what they're about most of the time, not live stream anyway. And that's an investment in technology. There are also a lot of cases where people have had to invest in more kit because there is not enough, especially in the way our set up is where we had to set it up where everyone had to have their own pods which we had to buy more kit.

I know a lot of businesses are all in the same predicaments. The gyms have been battered, have been demonized, and now there has been nothing to encourage people or incentivize people to go back to them. And with that, there's potential for long-term damage to the gym industry.

Keep reading to find out how Body Transformation Centre continues to deliver great sessions post lockdown

How we have adapted to provide the best experience for our clients

First, as a business, we're still here and that's a big thing. Over lockdown, we've had to reevaluate how we're operating and have done a number of different things with our clients.

We removed our 12-month terms

A lot of people are not sure what's going on with their jobs and there is uncertainty. It has caused a lot of disruptions to our recurring revenue from when we first had the lockdowns because obviously people didn't plan to be doing online classes and that's not really what they're paying for. It's not necessarily going to harm the service or change the service of what we're offering because it's still face-to-face and there is still a lot of value on a screen and in keeping people training. But it's not the service that they're paying for.

We changed our semi-private PT model from one PT to six people

We used to have our SGPT 2 program, which is our most common program for £240 a month. That gave somebody access to up to nine semi-private personal training sessions a month. They would also get access to one or two of our group fitness classes a week as well, and that was with a twelve-month term. Now we've changed it and we've upped the semi-private personal training to small groups of sixes (used to be fours) because it doesn't impact the way the clients trained, and we surveyed the clients to get feedback. It doesn't impact how it affects them and the service they get from us.

We adjusted our price point

Now they can train on our new member rates for £159 a month for exactly the same thing. So for us, that's a £90-pound month's difference and not only that but they also get access to unlimited fitness classes as well. We're not talking commercial gym style fitness classes where you can have up to 30 in a class. We're talking up to 12 in a class. It's still relatively small, but it's a big difference in pricing and it makes it so much more affordable when you compare it to one-to-one personal training. You can pay that amount sometimes just for one pt session a week, on top of your gym membership, and nutrition, but we offer it all for that price.

It's a no-brainer what we offer now, and we've done that because we want to make personal training affordable. Now our terms are 60 days cancellation.

We have moved to a bigger facility which is another step up in itself

We've kept up our numbers in our new gym. Our space is 2,500 square feet. Even with the COVID restrictions, we can have 24 people in here. Without the COVID restrictions, we can have even more. Until the new year, we are capping it at 12 people at a time. 12 people in this space is a massive amount of room 200 square feet per person to be precise. We've done that to make people feel safe because right now it's about people getting their confidence back in the gyms and feeling safe.

We have new clients that have come from big commercial gym settings who don't want to go into gyms now. They're nervous. If you look at big gyms as well, it's generally the younger generation that has headed straight back. The older generation hasn't because of potential and overly apparent risks, but we've done everything we can to minimize risk.

We have kept all of our distancing and cleaning procedures in place

A lot of the cleaning procedures originally mandated have now disappeared out of a lot of big gyms because it's not actually required. We have kept them all still in place, for the safety and to keep the confidence of our clients. And they can't believe how clean we have kept everything.

When I think back now, how you used to walk into some bigger commercial gyms or even some of the private gyms where people use the towel, they'll dry the sweat off and rub it into a bench. And now I think about it and I think how dirty it was. Whilst gym cleaning protocols are generally quite high anyway, one of the cleanest industries around, some of the stuff that used to go on it always relied on the member cleaning everything down generally. And the members don't do that because they'll just think I'm paying a gym membership, let the staff do it. That's a lot of the attitude.

Whereas the onus is now being pushed more towards the gym member. There's no escaping skipping it in our small group because people have frowned upon it. And I think it gives people reassurance. Having a smart, nice, higher-end gym is what people want.

We've added more training slots

We've added more training slots so people can train pretty much most of the day and we'll keep adding more as time goes on.

Nick Wardle's clients get ready for a socially distanced workout at Body Transformation Center.

How to adapt your marketing strategies to attract new clients

We talk a lot about our protocols, how we're doing stuff, and how we operate in our marketing. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, we show the cleaning we do, the distance in between everyone, and portray it in the manner that will get to as many people.

Post video proof

Now more than ever videos and photos drive the markets. Videos are probably driving the marketplace really more than anything ever before because that is real proof. Anyone could put a post up and say, oh, 'we're doing this,' but it's actually the reality of it that shows people.

Be aware of the dangers of email marketing spam

We have our email marketing ecosystem, but with the new spam filters, a lot of things are getting missed and labelled as spam with the auto filter, and I see it with my own business stuff. People really abuse the system, even though all the GDPR rules and regulations are in place. That's a genuine problem. We get so many emails. It's ridiculous, but it is what it is.

...And potential clients hiding in your email lists

What we find is a lot of people are on our email list, and a lot of them will be on it and they won't sign them until six months after. The buy-in level is about six months down the line. So the people that we were marketing to six months ago are probably the people that are going to start

buying. They won't always be impulse buyers, but impulse in terms of that they're already looking where they have before.

It just might not be the right time, but then you might say something that is on point, and then they'll take action. We just sent an email where we reminded people that we have opened up our 28-day program and that people can come and test the water, and low and behold, we had two people sign up off the email list. And I looked and both of these people had been on our list for six months. We've built more rapport around that time span.

Consider old school method leaflet campaigns

We're actually due to start some old school marketing leaflet campaigns. As much as it's not as eco-friendly, we are trying to do our best to keep it as close to, eco-friendly as possible.

Consider paid advertising on Google versus Facebook

We'll always have some Facebook ad campaigns running. We're also testing some Google ads as well because Google and Facebook are very different. People on Facebook are generally browsing and they're not specifically looking for PT or looking for group training or, looking to lose weight. They might just see an ad and fill out the details.

Whereas Google is a ready-made market. It's a bit like the Amazon of e-commerce. People are going specifically to type in a search for personal trainers in Loughborough or personal trainers near me. They'll search for a search term and it'll automatically bring up the people at the top or advertising. When you have that going on, people trust that instantly. Whereas on Facebook, they're not directly searching. It's just being shown to them.

Build a marketing ecosystem

I think the days of having a website and letting people fly to it have gone. You have to build a marketing ecosystem, which let's face facts, most personal trainers and gym owners have no clue about.

You have to make sure the people who are coming are staying and looking at your site. And you have to stop and review each stage, you can't always do it straight all in one go. You can't build a full ecosystem at once, you have to do it in parts. If you're a small entity and you don't have loads of staff or a lot of time, your time and focus are on making the sales and keeping the business running, not necessarily keeping the new blood flowing into the system so to speak.

It takes time and if you can get someone in marketing and you have the funds to do it and just get someone to study for you or get someone to teach you how to set it up for you. There's plenty of people out there. I'm familiar with it cause I've worked with a number of business mentors to make sure everything is done properly.

Put your clients at ease when they return to gyms post lockdown

Show clients why they don't have to be afraid

From our point of view, I think sometimes you just need to get your awareness back out there and get people over the threshold. It's very hard to explain our environment unless people are actually in it. A lot of people start off very nervous. We had one client start last week and she was confident but was also very nervous about coming and not knowing what to expect. She said she tried to find the personal training sessions with the least number of people and she booked in, came and realised it wasn't as scary as she thought. She used to train in the gym in the past, but because she hasn't done anything since she wasn't sure what to expect.

I do as much as I can to reassure them and show them that there are no egos and that everyone can get on and everyone listens. It's getting people to step out of their comfort zones a little bit and to feel vulnerable again. After everything that's happened since the covid-19 pandemic, it seems like a way bigger task than it is when it's actually going to benefit the person attending.

We are running an open day at the end of October on the 29th. People come down and check us out and meet us.

Create a referral program

One thing we're focusing a lot on at the moment is our referral program. We've been working on that quite a bit recently because once people are generally over the threshold, they're in and generally enjoy it and that's when they want to get involved.

It's getting them through the door nine times out of 10 and what better way to do it than bring a friend or have someone to train with you. We have quite a few couples that train. Not necessarily at the same time, but they're both signed up because maybe one person looks into it and then the other starts seeing the benefits. I think people are more compliant when they're both doing something together because they are on the same journey and same thinking around the same stuff. The support is generally better.

Nick's clients see the results of their workout at Body Transformation Centre.

Preparing for the new year and rush of clients

Staying afloat and hoping there are no more lockdowns is definitely something that we've got to bear in mind, but we should be okay. We have some very loyal clients, but you just don't know with everything that's happened over the last 18 months. At the minute we've been spending a bit more time building what we've determined is know, like, and trust. Giving away some e-books, preparation, seeding in people.

Hopefully, all being well, everything should settle down in the economy with the return to offices and businesses. I think we'll know where that is come December time. The furlough scheme in the UK has just ended so I think all the people who have been parked in employment situations will all be altered. I think we will have a clear idea of what's going on come the new year and hopefully, that will lead to people being more confident, more relaxed, and maybe they might go 'actually I need to start sorting something for my holiday in x.' That's what we should see.

Thanks for sharing Nick! To learn more about Body Transformation Centre, check out their Facebook and Instagram.

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