No matter how old you get (and whether you have kids or not), back-to-school time always inspires a fresh start. This is especially true if you own a gym or fitness studio. Even the busiest studios suffer from a dip in attendance during the summer, which is why it’s so important to have a plan to get members back to their workout routines after Labor Day.
The unofficial end of summer is the perfect time for a new beginning. We asked studio owners about their plans to drum up attendance in September. From class discounts to fitness challenges, here’s what they shared to help excite regulars and attract newbies to the studio:
Have a Sale
Offering discounted classes is one of the most effective ways to get clients into the studio. It’s especially smart to discount blocks of classes at the end of the summer, when members are eager to get back on track after all those backyard BBQs and booze-filled vacays.
Michelle Gobea, owner of Soho Cycling in Tampa, FL, offers 20 percent off all class packages with a limit of one per person heading into Labor Day. “We like to do a sale at the end of August, which is also our anniversary, to incentivize riders to get in and burn off all their summer shenanigans,” Gobea says. “Even if they can’t get in until after Labor Day, our packages have a one-year expiration date so there’s no huge rush.”
Paul Michael Rahn, founder and CEO of SWEAT in Chicago, IL, prefers not to wait until the end of August to offer a sale to existing and new members. “I use the month of August to drive sales of a class package knowing we are at the slowest point in the year,” says Rahn, adding that this not only helps bring in revenue but also gets members back into classes in August and September. “I open the class package sale to both new and existing clients to drive those who where already clients back into the studio in the fall. The sale runs for four days with a massive email and social media presence.”
Adjust Your Class Schedule
September is the ideal time to shift class schedules to accommodate stay-at-home/work-at-home parents looking to exercise while their kids are at school. But it’s not enough to offer new classes during the school year. It’s just as important to market class times to everyone from new parents looking to get back into a fitness routine to teachers who want to workout at the end of the school day.
“We always offer specials to preschools at the beginning of the year to let new moms know that we are here and have a class time that works for them,” says Amity Whalen, owner of Carolina Barre and Core in Charlotte and Raleigh, NC. “We give teachers and students a discount and offer class times right after school for their convenience.”
So what are the ideal class times for parents and teachers once school’s back in session? Whalen says preschool parents typically drop off their kids anywhere from 9:15 to 9:30 so she offers a class at 9:45 a.m. Parents of school-age kids drop off earlier, so she offers an 8:30 class for them. “We also offer an 11 a.m. yoga class so they can get a little zen and then pick [the kids] up by 12:15 pm,” she adds.
Host a Challenge
Getting back into a groove is hard, especially after being out of one during the summer months. It’s especially tough to get back on track on your own, which is why fitness challenges are such a great idea. The extra push and motivation a challenge brings is the stuff that keeps members excited and committed to working out.
Amanda Cort, owner of Xtend Barre – Newbury Street in Boston, MA, takes advantage of back-to-school time to challenge people to get back into her studio. “We usually try to do a back-to-the-barre challenge after Labor Day to encourage clients to recommit to their fitness goals,” Cort says. “When we do challenges, it’s usually a certain amount of classes within a specific time period. It really motivates everyone to stay committed.”
Rahn takes a comprehensive approach by offering a 30-day fall challenge that incorporates healthy eating and fitness. “This 30-day challenge is a revenue builder as we charge for classes, nutrition-based planning, body fat testing, motivational aspects to seeing the challenge through 30 days, contests, prizes, and select perks from outside partnerships,” Rahn says. “We typically run the challenge September to October which helps bring additional revenue to the studio as well as gets a new customer base ready to sign up for membership after the 30-day challenge has ended.”
Plan an Event (or Attend One!)
Using back-to-school as your inspiration, consider hosting a back to the gym event. Your special event could be anything from one day of free trial classes to a fitness marathon night with discounts on a fall class pack and a chance to hang out after class with teachers and fellow members.
Gobea offers a mix of incentives to make classes, and the overall experience of being in her studio, more fun. “Theme rides, happy hour rides and classes with coffee offered after are always nice little boosts to get people excited about socializing after a class,” Gobea says.
On top of planning your own event, consider attending one where you can promote your studio’s fall specials. Do some research to find out when your city or town (or those nearby) are hosting health fairs or fall street fairs. Or try to find a swap meet– where folks with a common interest get together to exchange items – in your local area. Google “swap meets near me” to see what’s planned and where. You can ask for a booth in exchange for free classes or personal training sessions.
Community events are the perfect venue to set up a booth and offer fitness and health tips and inspiration to potential members. Plus, those potential new members will think of your studio or gym as a part of the local community, which is another plus to attending a local fair—the good will is priceless.
Leverage the Power of E-mail
No matter what strategy you put to work to boost attendance at your studio this fall, one of the most important things you’ll need to do is get the word out. E-mail marketing remains one of the most inexpensive and effective tools to promote your efforts.
It’s a great way to encourage members who haven’t been to the studio much over the summer to take advantage of a discounted block of classes. You can also offer members a special rate if they refer friends to try a class for the first time. And once those people try a class, you can email a special offer to encourage them to buy a block.
You may want to consider sending a series of emails to potential newbies after they try a class, starting with a thank you followed by sharing a fitness and weight loss success story and culminating in a discount offer with the goal of getting them into your studio this fall.
Finally, while you’re planning for a busy September, take advantage of a slower August by checking in with your trainers and instructors. Focus on staff development by identifying key goals you’d like your trainers and instructors to accomplish in the fall. Says Rahn: “We spend more time with our trainers to spark development with them and encourage more relationship building outside their classes with each client, bringing a new level of loyalty to our classes.”