// Grow your business with group fitness

by Claire Williamson

Social trends indicate that people are making health and wellness an increasing priority in their lives. Business trends show that consumers want more than just a ‘functional benefit’ (i.e., weight loss, trimming down, toning up) from the products and services they invest in. In the fitness industry, consumers expect a high level of service, personal interaction and, most importantly, to be provided with an engaging experience that also enables them to achieve their desired benefits. As business owners the potential value of providing this service is very appetising – you just have to know how to harness the power of group fitness.

Managing the mayhem

Any business owner would agree that managing cash flow would be very hard unless you knew the amount of money currently in the bank account, expected income and accounts payable. In fact, it is very difficult to manage any part of a business if you do not have clear and measurable objectives and accountability systems – what use would a sales team be without targets?

At Les Mills, the system used in over 11,000 fitness facilities around the world is called the Group Fitness Management (GFM) system. Working with over 1,100 clubs in the Australasia region, I see these systems work in businesses of all shapes and sizes – from boutique country gyms to huge inner city ‘Globogyms’. I also meet many managers and owners pulling their hair out trying to understand what is ‘going wrong’ or being surprised by ‘sudden disasters’ which would have been foreseen and planned against had they been using a systemised approach to group fitness management. The system is simple, do-able and guaranteed to turn your business around.

The management techniques discussed below have proved highly successful in the management of prechoreographed programs, but this is not the only arena in which great group fitness success can be achieved in your facility. The key is building a strong team of great people, be it in a pre-choreographed or freestyle environment.

The size of the prize

When considering the potential profit, or business growth, from group fitness, there are two closely linked key variates, retention and acquisition. Research undertaken by the UK’s Fitness Industry Association indicates that improving a member’s average number of facility visits by only one per week will lead to a 3 per cent increase in a club’s retention rate.

Research commissioned by the US’s International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) suggests that on average participants attend their facility 1.75 times per week, and attend a Group Fitness class 0.9 times per week. More recent research conducted by ACNielson on behalf of Les Mills International shows that on average, participants in Les Mills classes attend 2.9 times per week.

Reach for the sky

From the above results, business owners can begin setting targets for their team to ensure that this ‘goal’ becomes a reality – in fact most business who set these targets and use the following pointers often double or triple their expectations, proving the power of setting goals and involving your team.

Recruitment – the power of stars

Achieving a successful, profit-generating group fitness program is as simple as getting the right people on the bus. To many group fitness managers this is a nice idea in principle, but the reality remains that there simply aren’t enough people with ‘bus passes’ to be choosy! In fact, some owners and managers are being ‘forced’ to make bad business decisions, such as removing popular classes, simply because a great instructor leaves or becomes ill. A good management system for any part of any business will include succession planning, i.e., who would take over if a ‘star’ instructor left or became ill?

As we have seen, group fitness can considerably increase your bottom line and retain your members, so exactly what level of priority should be given to forward planning in recruiting great people? I suggest having a quick look at the results from your calculation earlier to make your decision. Did you come up with $50,000 potential extra profit, $100,000 or maybe $200,000? It’s up to you to realise this goal or allow the gym down the road the pleasure!

So where do we find these people? Ask any instructor what they were doing when they decided to take the stage. Ninety nine per cent of the time you will find that your next generation of instructors are right in front of you, week after week with a grin that says ‘pick me’! Your first couple of rows of participants already love the classes they are participating in, have a passion for fitness and know what it takes to create the ‘exertainment’ factor necessary for a great class. You just have to let them know the next steps. The best clubs around the world use this recruitment technique as part of a regular recruitment schedule to ensure they have a team that is constantly growing so they can pick the best and inspire the rest!

You’re only as good as the people on your team I regularly hear from both instructors and club owners that there are too many teachers out there stagnating and on the brink of boredom. These can be instructors who used to pull record crowds, and more commonly represent instructors who, once initial training was completed, were left to their own devices to become ‘good enough’ and stay there.

We must ensure that budding champions are coached to achieve their true potential.

Great group fitness instructors will, after all, attract and, crucially, retain more members than the best sales person. Having a mentoring and training system in place is a big step toward achieving a successful team that will make you reach, and surpass, your business goals. All instructors should be assigned a mentor who is their coach and evaluator for at least the first three months of their initiation. 

I recently met with a world class group fitness manager for a large multinational company which can count it’s training, mentoring, assessment and up-skilling systems among the best in the world. All the instructors performed regular assessments on each other and attended technique, coaching, national quarterly and in-house workshops. As a result, every single member of the team was high performing and renowned for their skills. For career longevity and team strength, it is incredibly important to ensure that every team member continues to grow professionally in their role.

Expanding your horizons

If you have a great team with clear objectives and incentives to grow your business then you are already on your way to success. However, to become really successful you must become savvy about marketing your product to the right demographics.

The World Health Organisation states ‘the growth in the number of severely overweight adults is expected to be double that of the underweight during 1995 to 2025’. By 2015 the International Obesity taskforce predicts that nearly 2.3 billionpeople globally will be overweight. This represents a huge opportunity for our industry, BUT – and it is a BIG BUT (no pun intended) – we have to be smart about marketing the quality of the service we have to offer.

It is now crucial for fitness businesses to tailor their offerings to the overweight and de-conditioned population. To do this, we must first understand the motivations and inhibitions of this market. IHRSA provides evidence that the deconditioned market may have five ‘fears’ in joining a health club, namely; physique anxiety, fear of looking stupid, feeling like a ‘klutz’, fear of isolation and fear of the ‘hard sell’.

This information, combined with the need to have members attend group fitness classes to decrease attrition, shows that the programs we offer must be tailored to suit, and marketed accordingly. Having a ‘participant friendly’ outlook and exercises that are attainable are important, as they allow participants to feel an all-important sense of success upon completion of a class or program. We must also ensure that we are providing non-threatening environments – miles of mirrors are not always a necessity when refurbishing a fitness studio! Finally, we should create environments and programs which encourage participants to interact with each other. IHRSA acknowledges that member/member interaction increases retention far more dramatically than staff/member.

Keep on growing and moving on up!

In order to run a successful fitness business, we know that we have to not only attract new members to our club, but to retain the ones we already have. John McCarthy, Executive Director of IHRSA states ‘Today, new members are not only harder to find, but they are also more expensive to acquire. As this trend progresses (and there will be no end to this trend), more and more clubs will be placing a greater emphasis on membership retention, i.e., on keeping members they already have’. Group fitness is clearly the vanguard of our industry when it comes to retention. Running a successful group fitness system is easy and rewarding if you have the tools, know-how and support.


Claire Williamson, BAppSc (Psych)
Claire is the business development manager for Les Mills Asia Pacific, and presents business management seminars throughout Australia and South East Asia. With a background in club management and sales, she specialises in tailoring the Les Mills Business Solutions to drive growth and profit in fitness businesses of all shapes and sizes. For more information visit www.lesmills.com.au or call 02 6282 8192.