Back and bigger than ever, the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2023 saw gym owners from across the UK gather for a day of networking and knowledge sharing. Here are our 7 need-to-know takeaways for independent gym owners.
The Independent Gyms Summer Conference returned for 2023. The event of the summer for independent gym owners and operators, was back at Cranmore Park, Solihull on 6 July 2023. And it was bigger and better than ever with 50+ exhibiting brands, 150+ gym owners and education sessions across 3 rooms.
Congratulations to the fantastic team at Independent Gyms for delivering an impressive event that had an incredible buzz. The day was followed by an unmissable summer social taking place at Inn at The Farm.
Thank you to everyone who stopped by the Xplor Gym stand for a chat with our team. It was fantastic to speak to so many gym owners and supplier partners.
There was lots going on at the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2023 and we know for busy gym owners it wasn’t always possible to be there in person. So, here are our 7 need-to-knows from this year’s conference.
Let’s get stuck in!
Need-to-know #1: 24/7, unmanned gyms are a win for owners & members
The conference kicked off with the Independent Gyms Doing Things Differently: 24/7 & Unmanned panel session led by the knowledgeable Guy Griffiths. Guy was joined on stage by 3 inspirational gym owners:
The panel shared learnings from their journeys to become 24/7 and unmanned facilities. From motivations to practicalities, the group discussed what it takes and means to run a facility of this type.
One thing shone out from the discussion. Going 24/7 and becoming unmanned can be a win-win for both owners and members.
For owners, it can reduce the strain of running a gym. Relieving owners of the need to work relentless hours to cover resource and staffing challenges. It creates a better work/life balance. And can give owners back valuable hours to spend investing into the business, team, and members.
For members, it offers ultimate convenience. No longer restrained by opening hours, members can workout on their schedule. It’s fantastic for shift workers and night owls alike. Plus, it allows independents to compete for these members with big name chains who offer 24/7 access as standard.
Need-to-know #2: Tap into generation active
Next up on the main stage was Carl McCartney from group fitness leader (and an independent gym back in its native New Zealand) Les Mills UK. During the Generation Active In Clubs Around The World, session Carl shared new insights from the latest Les Mills research report (Gen Z Fitness: Cracking The Code).
Around the world, 80% of gym and health club goers are Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born 1997-2010). While many independents are more focused on older generations, attention needs to be paid to ‘generation active’ (Gen Z) to tap into the opportunity for growth this audience offers.
And the good news is that 30% of Gen Z already workout using fitness facilities. Plus, a further 50% want to start working out regularly but need help getting started. They’re waiting for you to support them. All it takes is knowing what they want.
So, what do Gen Z want from a gym? Gen Z is motivated by getting fitter. They also want to be healthier, improve their appearance and feel better.
They want a digital experience – 51% of regular exercisers use an app to guide them in the gym. They demand flexibility – 72% of regular exercisers workout inside and out of the gym. And they favour strength workouts – 82% of gymgoers use pin-loaded and/or cable machines and 81% use free weights.
Gen Z want a social experience. They want to feel supported. And clubs need to help them build social connections with other members to increase confidence. They want value for money and convenience (like a 24/7 option), they want variety, and they want guidance. They listen to influencers, seeing instructors and trainers as local fitness influencers.
Need-to-know #3: Operational consistency pays off
Craig Campbell from OpsPal brought enormous energy to the main stage for the How To Fix Your Top 10 Operational Issues session.
Operational issues big and small can hold independents back. Eating up staff time. Impacting member experience. And even causing serious damage to your club.
Time and effort, along with the right systems, are needed upfront to do the work that will build operational consistency and excellence. That means documenting your procedures, even the small everyday tasks like emptying bins and cleaning toilets. So, you can do everything consistently and look for ways to be more efficient.
It means making sure all staff members get consistent training for their role – even part time staff. And the more you document staff inductions, the easier they’ll be and the more you’ll have to refer staff back to.
It’s also about recording what’s been done and who has what training. So, you can use this to measure and celebrate performance. And you have an evidence trail that’s quickly accessible should you ever need it.
Plus, with your standards set, you can even make sure you anticipate those tasks and times that can come as a surprise. So, you’ll be ready to get the grit out for that first frost. And you won’t be surprised when January comes around again!
Need-to-know #4: Prevention matters in the war against attrition
Xplor’s own Dave Alstead was joined on the main stage by Julie Allen (Active Insight), Guy Griffiths (GGFit) and Jean-Claude Vacassin (Foundry) for the Winning The War On Attrition panel. The group discussed now released attrition research from Xplor (download your free copy of the report).
‘Prevention is better than a cure’ is certainly true when it comes to fighting attrition. The research shows that over half of cancellations happen without a member really sharing a reason for cancelling (and many not even cancelling directly at all). At that point it’s tough to win back members.
To tackle attrition, you need to measure member experience early on when a member is new. Just as you help your members get in the habit of visiting regularly, you need to get them into the habit of giving feedback and seeking out support when needed.
And when you get negative feedback, you need to act on it. Make changes where practical. Publicly show how you’ve used member feedback to make positive changes. Remember to celebrate positive feedback in the same way. You’ll cheer on your team and remind members of the reasons to choose your club.
Need-to-know #5: It’s all about community
For many independents, it really is all about community. And that stood out in several sessions at this summer’s Independent Gyms Summer Conference.
During the Independent Gyms Doing Things Differently: 24/7 & Unmanned panel, the risk of losing community by going 24/7 and unmanned was discussed. The owners shared how they’ve maintained and even strengthened their communities since making the change.
Clare Bayley shared how The Loft Gym has kept a strong community feel by welcoming new members in-person, connecting via a members-only Facebook group, and a small yet mighty team regularly spending time there in-person. Clare also shared how passionate long-term members have embraced the change, welcoming newer members, and spreading the same community vibe.
And John Grindrod shared how staff at FTC Gym are trained to deliver a personal touch that helps keep the club connected to its community of members. John also explained that the club has upped its social presence. And John makes time to visit at hours where newer, younger gym goers tend to visit to welcome this group into the community and share valuable information.
Community can also help you reduce attrition, as Jean-Claude Vacassin (Foundry) explained during the Winning The War On Attrition panel. Members need to feel a sense of belonging, as though they are part of something by being a member. And if clubs can make visiting a part of a member’s life, an experience each time where they get to connect with the community, the temptation to cancel falls.
Need-to-know #6: Time to tackle the legacy of bad inductions
When joining a new gym, more and more new members have been a member of another facility in the past. And it’s likely that they’ve had an induction that failed to deliver much value to them.
As the Winning The War On Attrition panel discussed, this makes it tough for you as a gym owner to persuade new members to take up the offer of an induction. And inductions play such an important role in setting members up to get the most out of their gym membership investment.
So, getting inductions right and reaching more new joiners can have a positive business impact.
Jean-Claude Vacassin shared that Foundry offers all new members a 1-to-1 evaluation that sets them up for success in the first 90 days. Rethinking (and rebranding) inductions to deliver real value for each individual member is needed. These sessions should be delivered by your most experienced team members, rather than junior ones, so members get the best results.
Your whole team needs to understand the value of an induction at your club. And inductions should sit as part of a wider onboarding journey that embraces digital touchpoints too.
Need-to-know #7: Measure your way to success
One of the reasons why independent gyms are so special is the strong sense of purpose owners have.
Whether it’s sharing a passion for fitness, building a connected community, or helping people get healthier to live happier lives, at the heart of the most successful independent gym is a powerful purpose.
During the How To Seal The Leaky Bucket session, Julie Allen (Active Insight) brought her inspirational blend of passion, experience, and knowledge to the stage to explain how thinking about the way members feel about your brand will help you stand out. Julie was joined by the fantastic Neil Tandy from 4global.
You can use Net Promotor Score (NPS) surveys on a regular basis, to understand how members feel about your business and how loyal they are. Then see if this aligns with how you want to make your members feel. And check to see if you are having the impact you want to have.
Armed with this data, you’ll see how successful you are in achieving your purpose. And find ways to improve and increase the impact you have on your community of members.
Bring on the Independent Gyms Winter Conference!
Those are our top 7 need-to-knows from the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2023. Do you have any you’d add? Let us know!
The passion of independent gym owners continues to inspire us. And we can’t wait to do it all again at the Independent Gyms Winter Conference on 30 November 2023.
Article by Xplor Gym
First published: 07 July 2023
Last updated: 30 October 2023