If you’re a gym owner, you have probably learned most of your members join your gym to get fit, lose weight, gain strength, but they tend to stick around because of the community. As a result, most small gym owners have become quite adept at engaging current members via social events, fun competitions etc, because they understand the power of community.
That being said, one common area of struggle for the small gym owner is knowing how to engage their greater community of prospective clients—and at creating brand awareness in your local market—ultimately to attract new members into the community.
In light of this, we spoke with 5 successful gym owners to discover their best tips for engaging the greater community to generate new, quality business.
1. Find a niche community
Find another niche community who can benefit from your services and start developing a relationship with them.
Pro tip: Focus on just one small niche community you’re passionate about, instead of trying to attract all kinds of communities and never really capturing much attention (kind of like what Chip Wilson did with Lululemon: It started as a brand for designed for Yogis, and eventually spread to become a mainstream brand recognized all over the world).
Success story: Simon Damborg, the owner of Raincity Athletics in Vancouver, B.C. was passionate about helping kids on the autism spectrum, so he focused on building a program specifically for them. It became Rancity Fit Club. One thing led to another, and today Damborg is a government approved behaviour interventionist for children with autism. This means when a kid is diagnosed, they are funded to come and train with Damborg—bringing him new clients on the regular.
2. Team up with other health practitioners
Preventative medicine has become a buzzword in recent years, and gym owners are at the heart of this.
Gym owners who have had success in this area say the most effective way to help those who really need your help—those with chronic pain or diseases like Type 2 diabetes—is to team up with other health practitioners, be it chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors, so you can become the place they refer their clients.
This is exactly what the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in West Virginia did: Gym owner Ryan Ferns buddied up with a local doctor who was frustrated that his Type 2 diabetes patients kept getting worse every time he saw them. Together they worked to get a health insurance company on board to fund a fitness and nutrition program at the Ryans Ferns Healthplex for those with Type 2 diabetes. Pretty soon, there were six local physicians on board all referring their patients to Ferns’ gym.
Success: A year later, the team at the Ryan Ferns Healthplex had helped more than 20 people put their diabetes into remission and come off their insulin completely.
“Nothing compares to watching people literally save their own lives through this program,” said Christa Giordano, a long-time coach at the gym.
3. Bring on the sports teams
We know, we know, this can be easier said than done, so here are some tips to get your pointed in the right direction.
Tip #1: Start with a community you already have connections with.
Success story: Joe Scali, the owner of Semiahmoo Athletic Club in White Rock, B.C. had tons of connections in the hockey world as he used to be Junior A and college hockey player. When he first opened his gym, his bread and butter became training hockey players.
Tip #2: If you don’t have connections with a sports community already, cast a wide net.
This is what Jeffrey Hajner, the owner Iron Regime CrossFit in Pitt Meadows, B.C., did, and today he works with individuals, small groups and full teams of athletes from various local sports organizations, including baseball, softball, hockey and lacrosse.
He shared his process with us:
- He starts by sending an email with a bio about himself as an athlete, trainer, gym owner to every sport organization in the surrounding area. “If this leads to conversation, I ask if I can come to a practice to talk to parents face-to-face after watching their kids. This gives people a better sense of who I am and what I (do) versus an email with a bio,” he said.
- He also asks all of his existing members if they have any children or know of anyone who might be interested in his services as a sports-specific trainer. “More so than ever right now, parents are looking for kids to keep fit and busy with limited sports going on due to COVID,” he said.
Tip #3: Require a commitment!
Hajner, for example, requires a 10 session commitment if a new athlete or team is going to train with him, “so I can actually help them progress with a program written based on the needs of their sport,” he said. Each time he has done this, it has led to the client signing up for at least another 10 sessions, “and in most cases, a lot more,” he added.
4. Hire someone specifically for community engagement
Stonehenge CrossFit used to rely solely on their social media posts to generate brand awareness and new clients. But after a while, owner Scott Healey realized he was probably missing out on a whole demographic of people in his local community who weren’t seeing their posts and didn’t even know they existed.
So he invested in hiring a team member to be responsible for social media, retention and recruitment. It was one of the best decisions he has made, he explained.
“Celine Mills has been absolutely instrumental in our success. Every lead we got goes through her process for joining. We coaches meet them at (their) first taster session, and she guides them all the way to the first class,” Healey explained, adding that having someone dedicated to client engagement and social media has freed him and the other coaches up to spend more time on other important aspects of the business, namely programming and taking care of their current clients.
Notable: Mills also helped Stonehenge CrossFit mitigate any financial damage during the pandemic. She continued doing her job, they ramped up their social media campaigns and “it paid off,” Healey said. “We’re busier than ever going into 2021 ready for a great year.”
Part of successful community engagement is receiving and acting on feedback from your membership. Download our free Membership Survey HERE.
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