How To Beat A Pure Gym: Case Study of an Independent Gym
‘A PureGym is opening in the area’
In every industry and sector, we have stories like this. The biggest fish is moving in. McDonalds to the fast food industry, supermarkets for convenience stores.
And often there are one of two reactions to this development. One, incorrectly, is to view it with an air of defeatism and inevitability. Some approach it with the steady resignation that impersonal and corporate brands will just roll across the country, setting up cookie-cutter businesses with the lowest overhead and the largest appeal.
While this is not unfounded, it is also not useful and ultimately, not true.
McDonalds has existed as a global force for over 50 years, the supermarket as we know it is (debatably) pushing a century. And yet neither has eradicated independent and local business.
PureGym, for those curious, is 15 years old this year and just like our previous examples, does not need to signal doom and despair to independent gyms and fitness clubs.
And as we like to show our workings, our blog today is about a real instance of an independent gym fending off and thriving when a PureGym moved to their large town.
So we will be looking at how Fit Club picked the second reaction to a PureGym moving, not despair and defeatism, but energy, dynamism and resourcefulness. We will look at how they were able to maximise their strengths and account for their weaknesses, all while taking into account what really mattered, their membership and the local area.
How The Fit Club Thrived When A Pure Gym Moved In Next Door
We will start by painting a picture of The Fit Club in Redditch as it was just before PureGym moved into the town…
It is a gym that attracts members from all walks of life and all levels of fitness. Seeking to put itself into the bracket of a ‘low-cost provider that delivers more’ with a large range of top quality equipment, free induction upon sign up, a sauna, and a raft of daily classes hosted across three separate studios.
The situation just before PureGym opened (and before their partnership with us here at Ashbourne), the club was not in a good place. Known as Prime Fitness Redditch at the time, the gym had several glaring problems, some were systemic, others just unexpected results of other, necessary decisions.
The first issue that was identified was that the club had adopted an unsustainable, costly, and unprofitable 24-hour model.
Further compounding this problem, members were able to share access codes without any recourse or mechanisms to check.
So the arrival of the PureGym represented something of a wake-up call. The inadequacies and profit leaks of the past would no longer be acceptable. With a competitive, more up-together and well-known brand moving into the area, many aspects of the fitness club would need to change.
So we are going to look at some of the key factors that had to change for The Fit Club to hold their ground against PureGym.
This will include the practical measures that Ashbourne helped introduce and enable through our membership management software, as well as structural initiatives and more social-based, community outreach that The Fit Club engaged in.
Value Proposition Increase for Members
Once the name was changed from Prime Fitness – Redditch to The Fit Club and the partnership with Ashbourne had been forged, it was time to get to work.
PureGym was already on the march so time was of the essence to make meaningful, tangible changes that would improve the experience for the existing membership while hopefully drawing in new members through positive word of mouth.
At Ashbourne, we know that one of the biggest obstacles to retention is the Value Proposition.
If members do not feel like they are getting value for money, the likelihood of them retaining the services of an independent gym or fitness club drops dramatically.
So we identified the first big win, one that was impacting the image of the Brand, the operational costs, and the perceived value generated from gym membership.
That unhelpful 24-hour opening time.
In and of itself, not an inherently bad concept of course, if it is managed correctly. But the complete lack of access controls, combined with the very low number of regular paying users made this the first area our Membership Management Software was able to ascertain.
While the physical infrastructure was in place in theory, a full-height turnstile was backed up by a keypad access system. It was not supported, either by personnel or software.
This was combined with the 24-hour nature of the pre-Fit Club and pre-Ashbourne facility. It meant that pin sharing was rampant and there was no effective recourse to stop it.
This collapse of access control and security represented our first massive impact on the value proposition, and this one problem reduced not only the perceived value but the actual value of Prime Fitness membership in several ways.
The first and most apparent, is, of course, a not-significant amount of unrealised income. Money is not spent by those using the facility who might otherwise have memberships.
And of course, news spread around Redditch that this was the case, not least among the members of the old gym.
This meant that the perceived value was reduced drastically. If others are getting away without paying and the gym is doing nothing to stop them. Why pay? Is it a club worth paying for? Suddenly the entry price could be zero if only you knew someone with a valid access code. It was a recipe for disaster and the reputation suffered, all from this one, unaddressed problem.
And finally, of course, there was the vandalism that can come with unchecked, 24-hour gyms and clubs.
All of this represented a significant drain on profit, morale, and value for the members. Something had to change if this club was going to survive the arrival of a PureGym.
Once the partnership with Ashbourne had been cemented, things quickly began to change.
Like many fledgling operations, the initial club was not collecting data about many key factors of their operations. The club was running on inertia. It generated money, but outside of an amount deposited, no one knew how much or why.
This is where the first major change came in.
With Ashbourne’s membership management software and access control, several problems that had previously seemed insurmountable were quickly solved.
First, our gym management software allowed the newly minted Fit Club to deny duplicate entries into the facility when they originated from the same gym membership. This was simple and incredibly effective, instantly ending access sharing.
To further eliminate this problem, a fingerprint entry system would also be added. Allowing not only the benefit to the membership of not having to remember an access code but also increasing security and with it, that all-important value proposition.
Just as importantly, the implementation of our membership management software across The Fit Club’s operation revealed that the cost of that 24-hour access may not have been worth the price.
As we alluded to earlier in the blog, the actual number of people that were revealed to be using the facility outside of ‘daylight hours’ was minimal, certainly not worth the physical and moral toll that has been inflicted upon the club.
Up until that moment and without our software, this had not been ascertained.
This is a frequent trap we see independent gyms and fitness clubs falling into. In the wake of the rise of PureGym and The Gym Group, the fallacy that 24-hour clubs represent one of the ultimate value propositions is often proven to be just that, a fallacy.
But with better data comes better decision-making, and in addition to the decrease in unauthorised membership, the 24-hour access system was abolished.
This gave The Fit Club a reorientation and a renewal of purpose, as well as defining it against the emerging PureGym.
With the perceived and actual value of The Fit Club on the increase, these actions transferred into that intangible yet all-important commodity, momentum.
With the gym staff and management no longer stretched across 24 hours, no longer battling with access control issues and not even fielding their membership enquiries now that the Ashbourne support line had taken over, this meant they were more able to focus on the membership in the facility.
Furthermore, they were able to work with us here at Ashbourne to set up their own app, using our existing app model, we have made it easy for independent gyms and fitness clubs to have their own professional and bespoke application up and running quickly.
With the club now being better maintained, the membership more attended to and the security and equipment in much better stead, the club felt confident increasing their prices, incorporating greater benefits such as regular weigh-ins to compensate for this measure.
The visible increase in service level with the above changes, combined with the record high morale meant that most members were more than willing to pay the small increase. Value had been created and as such, more could be asked of the members.
Focusing on the Long Term Membership Health
The next stage became focusing on the long-term health of the members. The goal here was to deliver something that isn’t associated with a PureGym or other large chain while making use of the extra capacity and capability that came from Fit Club’s partnership with Ashbourne.
This represented a move away from simply putting equipment into a room and walking off.
Again, this change in direction became possible due to the systems that Ashbourne put in place.
In the old era, there had not been an app with which to project the benefits of membership beyond attending the facility, there hadn’t been a suitably advanced class-booking system, nor had there been the capacity for the staff to focus on member needs.
With spare capacity and capability came the chance to make a truly lasting impact on the membership. Between classes, equipment, and the regular weigh-ins, The Fit Club came to embody just that, the ethos of being ‘Fit’, not in a vainglorious sense, but in a practical sense.
Membership management software, access controls, and other technologies were able to give them the space to create something truly personal and affecting for their members.
A package that was meant to offer something, not just a soulless, automated facility with doors mindlessly opening and shutting to let people in and out.
It had started to become a club that had the time and ability to focus on the wants and needs of its members.
This brings us very neatly to our last point.
So with everything else in place, we reach the last opening initiative that was undertaken by The Fit Club – Redditch during the initial pushback against PureGym.
And that was the focus on building a community within the club and engaging with the community outside of the community.
Much like focusing on long-term health, this would not have been possible without the capacity created by the Ashbourne partnership.
The focus then became about investing those new profits into forging something else that would not come easily to a PureGym. A fostered sense of community focused around a local fitness club.
This approach took several different forms, from hosting events for both members and non-members to approaching the local council to increasing the number of classes.
The addition of coffee facilities and a seating area only helped to enhance the idea that this wasn’t a place to simply come and work out.
In a few short months, the facility was able to turn from something running on autopilot to a vibrant, community-focused and driven fitness club on the ascent.
And what was the outcome of all of these changes?
Well, we are happy to say that The Fit Club’s membership numbers soared after the Ashbourne partnership to well over 2000 members. This cemented its place as one of the most popular fitness facilities in Redditch.
This is why we decided to make it the focus of our blog today, The Fit Club is a fantastic example of what can be accomplished when the right facility partners with the right talent.
And the right facility might not be the one you expect. Looking at The Fit Club when it was prime fitness, you would have to squint to see the true value and potential. Luckily, those in charge did, and they contacted us at Ashbourne, who shared their vision.
The management wasn’t content to try and outcompete PureGym in a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week race to the bottom in terms of prices and quality.
Instead, they got smart. Recruiting a partner with the experience and knowledge to transform their business by identifying what had gone wrong and what could go right moving forward.
The Fit Club was able to quickly carve out a niche in the market that PureGym couldn’t occupy, as well as patching the holes in their existing structure that had gone unidentified until the Ashbourne partnership.
And from there, it has been a case of positive momentum replacing stagnant inertia. The Fit Club has been able to invest back into its facility and equipment, with a host of renovations and upgrades across its sauna, reception desk, equipment, and class rooms.
The partnership and the rebrand has energised this facility and helped it define itself in a challenging market.
So whether you have a PureGym coming to town or not, perhaps you know a gym that can benefit from an Ashbourne partnership?
As we said, sometimes it is the gym or fitness club you least expect.
If you are a gym or fitness club owner or manager and interested in seeing if Ashbourne can help take your business to the next level, please do not hesitate to reach out here!