The Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024 saw owners and managers of independent gyms across the UK gather for a day of networking and learning. Check out the 7 need-to-knows for independent gym owners.

The Independent Gyms Summer Conference once again returned to Cranmore Park, Solihull on 3 July 2024. The event of the summer for independent gym owners and operators was bigger and better than ever.

Incorporating the SWEAT event too, the day promised gym owners:

  • 17 educational sessions
  • 50+ exhibiting brands
  • 1 big day of networking with hundreds of fellow independents

And it really delivered! Massive congrats to the team at Independent Gyms for delivering yet another high value event that had an awesome buzz. The day was followed by the unmissable summer social taking place at Inn At The Farm.

Thanks to everyone who took time to chat with the team at the Xplor Gym stand. It was inspiring to speak to so many owners.

There was plenty going on at the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024. And of course we know for busy gym owners it’s not always possible to be there in person. So, here are your 7 need-to-knows from this year’s conference.

Let’s get stuck in!

Need-to-know #1: Gen Z has entered the chat

Gen Z has been an increasingly hot topic for gym owners and operators over the past few years. And it was a key topic discussed during the How To Win Members & Keep Them Too! panel.

Hosted by Joanna Walker, the panellists – Julie Allen (Active Insight), Georgie Poole (ukactive), and Dave Alstead (Xplor Gym) – shared an exciting preview of new first time gym membership sales research.

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Covering more than a decade of data from UK gyms and fitness clubs, the research shows that Gen Z now make up a growing proportion of first time members. Growth is expected to continue over the coming years. Gen Z presents a big opportunity for clubs looking to attract more members.

However the data also shows that Gen Zers are more likely to leave within 90 days of starting an agreement than any other generation. And least likely to tell clubs why or even that they’re leaving. So, they’re also a big threat – one that’s potentially costly too.

The panellists shared that winning and then more importantly keeping Gen Z is all about creating personalised experiences and building a brand that they feel connected to.

Use your tech to create personalised experiences that are tailored to each individual’s motivation for being with your club. Up your social presence, make sure reality and expectations match up.

A photo from the Independent Gyms Summer Conference showing Dave Alstead, Georgie Poole, and Julie Allen discussing new gym membership sales research findings on Gen Z.

Need-to-know #2: The uncomfortable problem

The barrier gym owners and operators face in helping more people overcome feeling uncomfortable about joining a gym was another topic discussed during the How To Win New Members & Keep Them Too! panel. As well as during the Consumer Engagement: On The Road To Vision 2030 opening session from ukactive.

ukactive’s quarterly polling measures key consumer engagement factors. When looking at barriers for people who do not use gyms they found that beyond cost and lack of interest, feeling uncomfortable at the thought of joining a gym is a top barrier in recent polls. That’s followed closely by not having the confidence to join.

How can you overcome this and help people feel comfortable and confident joining a gym? ukactive CEO Huw Edwards emphasised the importance of storytelling. If you can tell and share relatable stories about the people who use your club, you’ll show more people that your club is where they belong too.

Likewise, Julie from Active Insight shared the importance of making sure your imagery is relatable. All too often panels of consumers report that imagery used in campaigns fails to resonate with them.

Need-to-know #3: Power of group fitness

Carl McCartney from global group fitness company Les Mills took to the stage to talk about Group Exercise For Profit. Research has shown that regularly attending group fitness classes can boost member loyalty.

How can you take advantage of group exercise in a profitable way?

Carl shared that clubs are facing four big challenges right now when it comes to building profitable businesses:

  1. Digital disruption – particularly from YouTube when it comes to group fitness
  2. Competition has dramatically increase
  3. Demographics – globally now 80% of gymgoers are Gen Z or Millennial (and they all grew up a bit over COVID)
  4. Retention – particularly with Gen Z

Overcoming these challenges calls for the right environment, the right programming and the right management.

You need to create the kind of motivational fitness experiences that people are willing to pay for. And you need to know your members. Pay particular attention to the average age of new joiners – for most clubs this is 27-36

To tap into the power of group fitness in a profitable way, Carl emphasised the importance of regular measurement and goal setting.

Les Mills research with The Retention People has shown that 2 group fitness visits a week is the tipping point to increasing member length of stay. And if you can grow length of stay you’ll grow member life time value – boosting profitability.

Track the impact of increasing membership size, visit frequency, and retention. Set short-term quarterly targets for each class you offer. Base these targets on the previous quarter. Get buy in from instructors and build accountability.

Analyse results regularly. Look for your best performing instructors, class types and timeslots. Consider improvements you can make – consult your stakeholders including participants and instructors.

Virtual group fitness


Running virtual group fitness classes in your facility can be a way to tap into the power of group fitness. Great for those who can’t make it to live classes and for those who are uncomfortable with live classes. If you’re running virtual classes, you can’t compare results to live classes. Expect lower attendance. Offer more classes, more often, with shorter slots.

Need-to-know #4: Master your niche through gym design

One topic that was discussed many times over the course of the conference, was the importance of mastering your niche. As an independent you have the power to build a highly targeted experience that you’re passionate about.

And it was a topic that came through during the Gym Design Secrets That Attract And Keep Members panel. This panel was hosted by Hannah Lewin (Keiser) who was joined by Jamie Bantleman (FIIT), Madi Simmonds (Eleiko), and Ian Kirby (LED Snaps).

The panel discussed the benefits of designing your gym for a specific target audience vs. building it around yourself and your staff. If you can balance the two, you’ll create an experience members love. And one where you and your staff can thrive – doing what you do best.

Design your gym with a clear goal in mind. You don’t necessarily need a lot of equipment. Focus on providing accessible education to help members get more out of each piece of kit.

A redesign can be simple and low cost. Even changing lighting and a fresh lick of paint can go a long way. Think about functional areas – like your entrance and changing rooms – as these can have a big impact on member experience.

When asked about introducing tech, the panellists emphasised that less is more and creating a seamless member experience is a must. Be selective and make changes that will have the biggest positive impact on your members.

Gym lighting will be a mood booster in the future


Ian from LED Snaps shared an exciting insight into the future. The next generation of lighting solutions for gyms will bring the outdoors indoors – introducing a spectrum of light you only normally get outside. Members will leave happier. And your staff will feel the positive impact too!

Photo from the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024

Need-to-know #5: Skills matter if you want to retain top talent

The Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024 played host to a very special live edition of the Love Your Career podcast! Hosted by Lawrence Everest (Love Recruitment), the podcast welcomed industry heavyweight Kevin Yates (Snap Fitness / Lift Brands).

In an inspirational discussion, Kevin shared the love of building clubs that has shaped his career in the fitness and wellbeing industry over the last few decades. He spoke of his desire to leave a legacy of brands and of helping get people across the nation moving.

A keen reader and listener to both podcasts and audiobooks, Kevin has learned a great deal from great (and not so great) leaders throughout his career. And he’s led many inspirational teams on to success.

Hiring and retaining gym staff is tough. So, what’s Kevin’s secret to retaining great talent for the long-term? It’s all about having the right people management skills.

Kevin spoke to the importance of helping your team members go on the right journey for them. When it comes to progression, career satisfaction can be just as important.

Having mellowed over the years, Kevin is looking to give his team more responsibility and accountability for decisions. And he stressed the importance of giving people space for self-development.

What people want and need is constantly evolving. Kevin shared that leaders need to adapt to market conditions. And make sure they build a culture that reflects what’s best for their people.

Persistence pays off


Kevin’s advice for owners looking to grow their brand: Persistence pays off! Make sure you’re positioning your club to the right people. Then push out as much as you can into your local community to get your name out there.

Need-to-know #6: The end of a membership matters

Sounds counter-intuitive right?! During the How To Win Members & Keep Them Too! panel with Julie Allen, Georgie Poole, and Dave Alstead, the importance of a positive leaving experience for members was discussed at length.

Soon-to-be released UK memberships sales research reveals that almost 10% of first-time Direct Debit membership agreements are terminated within 90 days of starting. And clubs don’t really know why – most members either stop paying or fail to provide a reason.

This is costly for clubs. And of course there’s much you can do to help new members feel comfortable at your gym and build a visit habit that lasts for the long-term.

An onboarding journey that goes beyond a gym induction is essential. During this process, look to understand and capture details of what’s motivated the member to join. Use your tech to create personalised journeys with targeted communications and touchpoints to guide them on the path to success.

Ukactive’s Consumer Engagement polling has consistently found that members quit the gym as they:

  • Weren’t using it
  • Lacked motivation to go
  • And lacked time to go

Good news! All of these reasons are easily actionable. And with the right tools in place you can watch for signs of all three. Automatically take action to re-engage these members before they cancel.

Inevitably, there will always be some members who want to leave. The panel spoke to the importance of investing time into designing a positive cancellation experience.

Making it tough to cancel can create a negative end to a member’s journey. One that risks tarnishing a member’s memory of your club. Former members who struggle cancelling are unlikely to return and more likely to speak negatively about your gym.

Carefully design a cancellation period that makes leaving a positive experience and you’ll invest in the future of your business. It should be straightforward for members to workout how to cancel and understand any payment implications.

Julie also emphasised the importance of asking the right questions at the point of cancellation. Asking why are you cancelling can be confronting for members. Instead asking a question like ‘have you achieved your goals?’ can open the door for a constructive conversation.

Invest in the whole member journey


Think about the start, middle, and end. Dave shared the value of investing time and effort upfront to create automated membership pathways to send personalised, relevant communications throughout the member journey. Making this investment will create the opportunity for you and your team to spend more time with members in-person while creating an engaging personalised digital experience.

Pre-register now to get your free copy of the Gym Membership Sales Report when it’s released in Autumn 2024.

A photo from the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024

Need-to-know #7: Visits matter

To close the day, attendees were treated to a talk from Retention GuruDr Paul Bedford. In the Retention In An Independent World keynote, Dr Bedford shared insights into how you can tackle the ongoing challenge of retention.

Dr Bedford explained that as an independent operator, there are 3 ways to grow your business:

  1. Sell more memberships
  2. Increase fees
  3. Sell more to existing members

Increasing retention will help you sell more to existing members as they’ll keep paying for longer. How can you increase retention?

There are many factors that influence retention. Visit frequency is the one that can have the biggest impact on how successful and profitable your club is.

Dr Bedford advised that if you can get more members to visit more frequently – ideally 2+ times per week – you’ll increase average length of stay. And that means you’ll grow average member lifetime value, earning more from each member.

The session included a wealth of insights from clubs around the world. And for a small footprint gym (under 1,000 square metres), Dr Bedford’s research has found that increasing average visits from 1 to 2 visits per week increases average length of stay by 3 months.

Increased length of stay and average member lifetime value isn’t the only benefit of members visiting more often. Dr Bedford revealed that the more often a member visits the higher secondary spend you’ll see from them.

Members who get into the routine of visiting frequently are likely to spend more on things like food and drink while they’re with you. Secondary spend on Pilates and Yoga classes can also help increase visit frequency – a win-win!

Likewise, Dr Bedford explained that buying personal training increases visit frequency. Members are most likely to buy PT after they’ve been with you for 6+ months. So, focus on promoting the benefits of PT throughout the member journey.

Increase revenue from retail items


Want to increase revenue from retail items sold at your club? Dr Bedford revealed that visit frequency, product quality, service quality, and scarcity will all drive spending on retail items up.

A photo of Jo-Ann Viera and Joe Bosher from Xplor Gym at the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024

Bring on the Independent Gyms Winter Conference!

Those are our top 7 need-to-knows from the Independent Gyms Summer Conference 2024. Do you have any you’d add? Let us know!

The drive and passion of independent gym owners never ceases to inspire us. And we can’t wait for the Independent Gyms Winter Conference on 5 December 2024.

This time the winter conference will play host to the Retention Convention. So, it’s a must-attend day if you’re serious about growing your gym!

Join other ambitious independent gym owners. See Xplor Gym management software in action – book a demo today.

Article by Xplor Gym

First published: 04 July 2024

Last updated: 04 July 2024