Before becoming VP of Customer Support at FitGrid, I was a studio operator and boutique fitness consultant. I spoke with countless studio owners and managers who were overwhelmed by all of the activities vying for their attention each day. Many of them responded to that overwhelm by trying to focus exclusively on their core business and biggest revenue stream: offering in-person classes.
The predictable result? Activities like cleaning the space, curating the schedule, and managing instructors and staff tended to balloon until they took 95% of management’s time. Meanwhile, activities like developing new revenue streams, creating an effective studio marketing strategy, and community engagement would often get lost and deprioritized.Many of these studios would come to me for help. They all asked, “why is bringing in enough revenue always such a struggle? And how have you helped others overcome this hurdle?”
Do you find yourself facing similar challenges? The key is to stop thinking about your business as a box—four walls with classes inside—and start thinking about your business as a brand—a community of enthusiasts that you bring together around a shared interest and mindset.
Sure, your in-person space is important. It helps form and maintain your community, and is often your biggest source of revenue. However, if your community only knows how to engage in that in-person space, you are always going to be constrained. You’ll miss huge opportunities that could help you thrive in good times—and avert catastrophe in tough times.
So what does that mean in practice? How can you change your studio marketing strategy in a way that empowers you to create a successful fitness brand? Below, I’ll share some specific ideas and best practices that I’ve seen provide huge returns on the investment of both time and money. Adapt them for yourself, try them out, and let us know how they go for you!
Gather your clients, instructors, and staff into an online community
Building an online community creates ways for people to interact that don’t require being at the studio itself. Tools such as the FitGrid Class App connect everyone at your studio and let them meet one another, chat, track their goals, and find classes they’ll love.
Having an online platform where your community can engage can help you build a successful fitness brand by:
- Keeping people dialed in during times of change. Whether there’s a temporary studio closure or an individual client going through a life event, an online community allows people to stay involved through transitions. Constant, targeted communication can dramatically strengthen your retention and sales over time.
- Taking some of the weight off of your shoulders. An online community allows your regulars to do some of your work for you. They can welcome new clients, share tips and recommendations with others, organize gatherings, and make your community feel more dynamic, exciting, and rich.
- Giving you a powerful way to spread the word. When you have a special event, survey, or promotion coming up, an online community can catch people who never check their email. You can use this to boost sales, get referrals, drive traffic… the only limit is your ingenuity.
Provide regular online classes as part of an engagement strategy
Sometimes a studio owner or manager will reach out to us at FitGrid and say, “All my clients prefer in-person classes.” That may or may not be true, but there are plenty of situations that can prevent someone from making it to the studio regularly (parental responsibilities, work stuff, a long drive, lack of parking, etc). If you only offer in-studio classes, those clients have no way to stay connected to the classes and teachers they love. If members are able to supplement their in-person workouts with the occasional virtual class, they are much more likely to hang onto their membership and/or return at every opportunity.
Intro classes can also work well in an online format. Studio environments can be welcoming and judgment-free and STILL intimidate newbies. If first-timers can learn the basics and meet an instructor without having to walk through those doors—without feeling watched—it can give them the confidence to show up in person. They access your offering, and you access a whole new pool of potential clients.
Take note: on-demand recordings often aren’t enough. Recorded classes lack the energy, connection, and human-ness that keeps communities engaged. That’s part of the reason platforms from Peloton to Twitch to Instagram have become phenomenons—they’re based on real, fresh, live, and/or ever-changing content. Don’t just give your clients a static offering sitting on a website somewhere—give them something unique that makes them feel like getting off the couch!
Focus on your reputation and how people find you
Many studios get the vast majority of their clients from just two places: proximity (people living, working, driving, and walking nearby) and one-off referrals by current clients. These sources are great—but all alone, they’re a part of the “my business is a box” mentality and often aren’t enough to build a thriving business. Successful companies also create brand reputations that magnetize clients towards them.
Right now, you might be saying to yourself, “Sure, but I’m not Nike. How could I actually do this?” Don’t worry—you can start small. The beauty of this approach is that everything you do has the potential to build upon itself and multiply in value over time.
Think about your Google and Yelp pages. Do they have inviting pictures? Accurate hours and descriptions? Do you have more five-star reviews with real comments and testimonials than other studios in your area? These things matter more than you think. Ask your members to leave reviews, and—this is important—DON’T incentivize them.
Instead, ask folks individually once you’ve built a great relationship with them and you know they’d like to help support your business. If you’re a FitGrid customer, you can also identify great candidates using the Client Feedback, Client Outreach, and Client Profiles tools.
If you maintain your profiles and get enough reviews, search engines will start to give you preferential treatment in a wide variety of ways, and that is incredibly valuable. But here’s the real secret: you’re also nurturing a team of unofficial brand ambassadors. When someone leaves you a positive review, they become much more likely to advocate for you again in the future. The act of reviewing reminds clients that they are invested in your business. Clients who are asked to leave a positive review—and do it—are far more likely to bring their friends to class after that. They’re more likely to tell coworkers about their fitness community. They become more than just clients—they become champions. If you incentivize reviews, you might get a couple more, but they will often be lacking those authentic feelings of belonging and loyalty.
Offer branded retail
The idea of nurturing champions can also form the heart of your retail strategy. Don’t just slap your logo on stuff—figure out what your community and your brand represents. What kinds of images, words, and ideas do your clients and instructors resonate with? What would they be proud to wear, and proud to remember? Build your retail offerings around these concepts that speak to your community.
Quality matters with merch–hire a graphic designer to create your templates, and use good-quality garments. You’re trying to generate revenue, but you’re also trying to make sure that your apparel is worn regularly. You want your clients to love it!
When your clients see a comfy or stylish item that they associate with your brand in their closet, they think of you. If your brand is on their mind, people are more likely to come to class, and they’re more likely to talk about you. When they wear your apparel out and about (if you’ve picked your themes and designs properly), people who resonate with those themes and designs will ask “Where did you get that?” which can turn into an instant referral for your studio.
Some studios are afraid to offer retail because of the costs associated with holding inventory. You have to order upfront in bulk, try to make your money back plus profit over time, and you have to worry about sizing and merchandising and storage and theft.
There’s a secret trick that can help solve all of these problems, plus further improve the community vibe: let your members vote on your designs. Make a simple poll and send it out via email, or create a display in-studio. This way, you get feedback about how interested your community is before spending any money. Once the vote is complete—if you’re getting a good response—have people pre-order their size and pre-pay. Then over-order by a little bit, so you have some remaining inventory that you can sell at a higher price than the pre-order. When people who didn’t pre-order see everyone else with their cool new apparel, they’ll buy it up… and next time, they’ll participate in the pre-order. This approach to branded retail eliminates your risk, minimizes costs of holding inventory, includes a built-in marketing campaign, and causes your clients to feel even more invested in your brand.
Shifting your perspective to see your studio as a brand that extends far beyond your brick-and-mortar studio can open up a world of opportunities. Instead of focusing on the equation that people in the building equals dollars, think about how you can create a broader community that people feel that they need. Consider how your brand can add value to almost every aspect of your clients’ lives—not just the few hours a week that you see them face to face. Implementing even a couple of the above strategies can make a big difference to your business—and your bottom line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jack is a yoga teacher, SaaS professional, business consultant, and former CMO and COO of Kindness Yoga, a nationally recognized chain of yoga studios based in Denver, Colorado. He currently serves as Director of Client Services for FitGrid, a fitness technology and social wellness company that enables studios, instructors, and students to connect with one another in meaningful ways.
FitGrid is a community management system designed for boutique fitness studios to engage clients on a personal level