The Xplor Xperience took place on 9 November 2023 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Oxford Belfry. Here are 7 growth lessons for ambitious gym owners and operators from our expert line up of speakers.
Gym owners and operators, along with industry experts and partners, gathered on 9 November 2023 for the second Xplor Xperience. We had a packed schedule of insight and inspiration. Delivered by the most accomplished and experienced people in our industry.
This event was curated to leave owners and operators feeling motivated and inspired. Empowered to take their businesses to new heights in 2024.
Thank you to everyone who attended and made the day a success. If you couldn’t make it (or want to relive it like us!), we’ve got you covered with our top 7 growth lessons from the day.
7 growth lessons from the Xplor Xperience
We’ll deep dive into each of these lessons in this article.
Pressed for time? No sweat! Here’s a grab and go summary of the 7 growth lessons that will supercharge your success in 2024:
- Focus on your members – Have fun, be humble and respectful, keep it simple, be consistent, and importantly create something that people will love.
- Build a brand people buy into – Fuel growth by understanding why and how people buy (it’s usually not logical!), so you can create a brand that people connect with and buy into.
- Get closer to your members – Consumers have high expectations from businesses today. That’s true for gyms too. Tech can help you meet people where they are, building stickier experiences.
- See and hear members more often – Tackling attrition is key to unlocking lasting growth. Design a member experience that drives members on to keep visiting. Take quick action when visit habits slip. And listen to your members to resolve frustrations that lead to cancellations.
- Nail fast lane marketing – Running Facebook & Instagram ads is an effective paid way for fitness businesses to grow. And by fixing common mistakes made when running ads, it becomes easy to reach and win those ready to sign up.
- Dust yourself off and go again! – Reflect on and learn from experiences both good and bad. Dust yourself off and apply those learnings to go even further next time. Be clear on what you’re trying to achieve.
- Go further together – To grow faster and achieve more, leaning on and learning from others is essential. Find the right mentors. Choose the right business partner(s). Connect with others in the industry.
Let’s get stuck in to the detail…
#1: Focus on your members
The Xplor Xperience kicked off with our inspirational headliner – Al Barratt, Founder & CEO of Grenade. In an unmissable session, Al shared his story. And explained the ingredients that have made Grenade the success it is today.
Al has spent his career in and around the fitness industry. He left school to work in the gym he did work experience in.
Al quickly learnt the importance of personality, hard work and hustle. As well as the value of building personal relationships with his members. He is still applying much of what he learnt in those early days working in the gym in his business today.
Fulfilling a need, driving repeat custom
A poor eater, Al found it tough to get the nutrition needed to see the results he wanted. And observed that most of the supplements available at that time were imported from the US. He also saw that the best supplements weren’t the best marketed. And the best marketed weren’t the best quality.
So, Al set out to offer the best marketed, best quality supplements available. And knowing that people, relationships, and results matter, he knew he must focus on repeat sales. Making sure people would come back time and time again.
Deciding to focus specifically on supplements for weight loss, Al asked a friend who was training for the Special Forces to test them out. The feedback received inspired the brand name today. The supplements were ‘like swallowing a Grenade’.
To grow the Grenade brand, Al knew the right mix of personality and playfulness would be essential. Grenade has never failed to make an impression. Stunts like driving a tank into the 2011 Bodypower Expo keep pushing boundaries.
Fired up by belief
Always determined to do better for customers. And with Grenade supplements selling across all major health and nutrition retailers, Al set out on his next mission. To create a protein bar, one that people would actually enjoy.
Despite many saying it wasn’t possible, and after 43 attempts, Al created a protein bar that would sell. In fact, the first 50,000 bars sold in 2 hours and the bars were consistently out of stock for the 2 years that followed.
Today there are approx. 200,000 locations across the UK selling over 100,000 Grenade bars. Al has achieved his goal of making the bars the number one confectionery selling bar in the UK. And in March 2021, Mondelez acquired a significant majority interest acquisition in Grenade.
Al continues to drive Grenade forward to keep innovating and reach more people across the UK and Western Europe.
Al’s advice for owners looking to open new locationsTip
Remember the basics. Provide the best possible product/services. Create a friendly environment. Keep standards of cleanliness high. Help your members get the best results. As you scale and open more sites, remember to keep existing members happy. It’s cheaper to keep existing customers happy, than to attract new ones. And happy customers will help you grow organically. Plus, focus on what you can control. Consistency is key. It takes time, but consistency will lead to results.
#2: Build a brand people buy into
A serial entrepreneur and customer acquisition specialist, Adrian has helped 650+ gyms attract 1.5 million members and generate £1.2 billion in revenue. He has also built and sold 2 multi-million pound gym chains in 1999 and 2004.
Adrian shared some insights from the frameworks he uses to help gym owners and operators grow their brands. He explained that successful brands get people to go ‘that’s me’, connecting and buying into the brand. That buy-in fuels growth.
How do you create a brand that people buy into? Adrian outlined 3 key steps:
Step 1: Understand why people buy stuff
Most people don’t buy things logically. 90% of the buying decision is driven by emotion and instinct.
People are motivated by pain and pleasure. Moving away from pain or moving towards pleasure. They are looking to solve basic needs: Survival, growth, certainty/uncertainty, love & connection, significance, contribution. In the buying decision these needs become values.
So, the more people value these needs, the more they’ll be willing to invest in them. Especially if they can achieve results faster and/or with less effort.
Step 2: Know how people buy stuff
Once you understand why people buy things, you need to understand how they buy. There are 7 steps:
As people move through these steps:
- They identify a need
- Grow to like a brand
- Desire builds to purchase
- Confidence and trust develops
- Value is placed on a product/service
- A purchase happens
- And finally the habit of using that purchase is built
Step 3: Align sales and marketing around why and how people buy
Create a brand that appeals to the why of your members. Fulfil a need that your target audience places a value on.
And then build a sales and marketing funnel that takes your prospective members through the stages of buying. So, you’ll have a brand that will skyrocket your sales.
Gym growth secrets
Adrian then shared a few gym growth secrets from the 7-figure gym formula:
- There are only 3 ways to grow. Acquire more members, get members to spend more, and persuade members to spend more often for longer. For clubs looking to grow, getting members spending more and spending more often for longer will make the biggest impact
- Keep it simple. Not reached 7-figures yet? Keep it simple to execute with excellence. That means one 90-day campaign, one promotion, one sales funnel, one offer
- Only a small percentage of prospective members are ready to join. Introduce a freemium or first steps free model to remove barriers for entry. Then nurture those leads to sell more in coming months – don’t run sales offers too early though to this audience
- Sell the gap. Create an irresistible offer by selling the gap. The gap between where a prospect is now compared to where they want to be. Create desire. Communicate with certainty. Show speed. And explain what effort will be needed for success
- Squeeze the sponge. Airlines and concerts rarely sell all tickets for the same price and operate at capacity. Instead they create higher value packages that people place more value on so pay a higher price. And as a result they end up making more money from less people. Clubs can do the same. Use different membership packages and options to squeeze more out of the sponge (members)
Movement and consistency matter in building a scalable brand.
#3: Get closer to your members
In the final morning session of the Xplor Xperience, Dave Gerrish (ukactive), Martin Perry (Technogym), and Dave Alstead (Xplor), took to the stage. The trio discussed the growth opportunity that digital technologies hold for independent operators.
In today’s world, people want to interact with businesses, products, and services both digitally and in-person. Often this experience is fluid, catering to the needs and desires of the customer at that time.
For example, supermarkets now let customers in-store use their phone to scan and pay for items. This complements the traditional experience of visiting a sales assistant to check out and pay.
The latest ukactive Digital Futures research found that the industry is in ‘digital experimenter phase’. That means we’re just getting started.
For many independent gyms, the potential to use digital technologies remains almost untapped. Often the in-person and digital member experience are in many ways separate. And gym teams are stuck with inefficient processes and time consuming tasks.
Digital Futures exists to help gyms use digital technologies to full potential. So, the member and staff experience is transformed. Driving lasting, scalable growth.
By taking part in Digital Futures, independents can collaboratively shape the development of technologies. Like those provided by Technogym and Xplor Gym.
Plus, gyms can see exactly where their business sits digitally. So, it’s easy to make practical changes to improve performance.
Uncover the opportunity that tech can bringTip
Retention becomes easier with tech. Tech that helps you deliver a consistent member experience at scale. And blends both in-person and digital touch-points. Collaborate to better serve both members and your team.
#4: See and hear members more often
Xplor Xperience attendees were fuelled up thanks to a delicious lunch freshly prepared by the awesome team at the DoubleTree by Hilton Oxford Belfry. So, the Xplor Xperience educational sessions picked back up for the afternoon.
The pair shared findings from the Winning The War On Attrition report to shed light on the state of retention in the fitness industry.
With a proactive mindset and approach, gyms can unlock lasting growth. All by tackling attrition to keep more members coming back (and paying) for longer.
Start by looking at the member journey. When designing a journey, clubs are really designing the experience members will get. Many clubs will welcome new members with an induction of some kind.
If a member has had an induction they keep visiting and using their membership for an extra 4 months on average. And for new members who’ve not been active regularly, Active Insight found that 67% value a warm welcome when attending an induction.
This first starting point has the potential to make a big difference to fitness businesses. And members too.
For those who’ve been a gym member at some point in the past, it’s likely they’ve had an underwhelming induction. So, it needs to be easy for all new members to understand the value of this session.
That could mean renaming it. And it definitely means getting feedback on inductions to understand what’s working and what’s not. Think beyond a one size fits all approach. Meet the member where they are at. Offer a personalised session to fit member experience, interests, and goals.
The attrition research found that 31% of current members in the UK & Ireland are sleeping. That means they’ve not visited for 30+ days.
And while recent Active Insight & HCM research found that 16% of sleepers keep paying because they think it’ll encourage them to return, Julie and Guy urge that as an industry we have the responsibility to turn that around. After all, most members will cancel around 5 months after their last visit, never returning as they’d hoped.
Timing is everything when tackling sleepers, contact members sooner rather than later. And take a multichannel approach getting in touch by text, email, letter, phone call etc.
Finally, use the data you have available to tailor that approach and messaging. Effectively reaching and appealing to each member.
Keep listening to members
The attrition research found that 52% of former gym members never told clubs why they were leaving. This creates a tricky situation for gyms looking to grow. Without this insight it’s tough to make improvements that stop more members quitting for the same reasons.
Clubs should consider reaching out with a feedback survey to these members. And the most effective approach is to start asking for member feedback right from the start of their journey. Build a culture where feedback is valued. And members know action will be taken. This can both cut attrition and reduce the likelihood of members quietly quitting.
Use what members tell you to continuously redesign and improve your gym member journey. Above all, engage members to drive behavioural change. Keep working to encourage members to make that next visit.
Help new joiners build the habit of visiting when joiningTip
Make it easier by helping each new member create a weekly activity plan during induction and as part of your onboarding process. Even put in place reminders to help members stick to their planned schedule.
#5: Nail fast lane marketing
In our penultimate session of the day, we had the pleasure of welcoming Charlie Horton to the stage. Head of Growth at the Fitness Marketing Agency (FMA), Charlie is an exceptional speaker. And a leading authority on lead generation in the gym and fitness space.
Full funnel marketing
Charlie explained that there are 3 types of marketing that gyms need for success:
- Slow lane marketing – for example, organic social posts, search engine optimisation, print ads, etc. – capturing the attention of new prospects who aren’t ready to buy yet
- Medium lane marketing – for example, email marketing, referrals, lead magnets, etc. – to nurture those leads who will be ready to buy in 6 months or so
- Fast lane marketing – for example, Meta and Google ads – for those who are ready to buy now
To create marketing that drives long-term growth, gyms need to run marketing in each lane. Planting seeds and harvesting crops at the same time.
At FMA, Charlie has helped over 400 fitness businesses to acquire new members and clients. Most businesses are getting their leads and new members through slow lane (organic and website) and medium lane (referrals/word of mouth) marketing.
That leaves many missing out on fast lane marketing attracting those ready to buy. And if gyms are struggling to grow, nailing fast lane marketing can make all the difference.
Get Meta ads firing on all cylinders
Meta (Facebook and Instagram) ads are the most effective paid way for fitness businesses to get new leads and members.
FMA find that businesses who have tried Facebook or Instagram ads in the past without success make common mistakes. These impact performance and can easily be fixed:
- Running ads to the wrong destination – ads often direct prospects to a club’s website where the prospect will browse before getting distracted and leaving. Or prompt the prospect to send a direct message, that all too often that’s the last a club hears from them. Effective ads direct prospects to a destination where they are not distracted and can sign up or provide contact details for follow up
- Not equipped to convert leads into sales – 20-40% of leads should sign up straightaway to a membership. And to convert more of the rest, clubs need the right tactics and tools in place
- No front end offer or an unappealing offer – to make Facebook and Instagram ads work, gyms needs to have an attractive offer that’s fast and easy for prospects to understand. Successful examples include a 30-day trial, a 3-week challenge, a 21-day kick start programme, a 12-week summer shape up plan or an 8-week beginners only programme
- Trying to reach everyone and speaking to no one – to be successful ads must be super-niched. That means working out an exact audience and understanding what they’ll find attractive enough to act on
- Understanding how to make an ad but not how to set ads up to work – there are 3 levels to a successful ad. Firstly, campaign level where an objective is set. Secondly, ad set level where an audience, budget and schedule are specified. And thirdly, ad level where ad creative and copy sits. 90% of success is down to copy and creative. These should align to your campaign objective and appeal to your specific audience
Want to create a winning ad that attracts new members?Tip
Speak to a specific audience as directly as possible. Highlight the problem that audience faces. Include details of a straightforward appealing offer. Explain the benefit your audience will get. Add a clear call to action.
#6: Dust yourself off and go again!
To top off our uplifting Xplor Xperience line up we were treated to a session delivered by the uplifting Jamie Cartwright.
An industry legend with 25 years of experience , Jamie shared his wisdom from scaling a fitness franchise from start-up. And then going onto launch the hugely successful BOX12. Plus, of course, he spoke of his experience taking part in series 6 of Channel 4’s hit SAS Who Dares Wins.
SAS Who Dares Wins puts recruits through the Special Air Services screening process. It tests their mental, emotional and physical strength. Many of the same strengths that leaders need to build a successful business.
Experience and learn
In 2006, Jamie along with a childhood friend, launched Ladyzone. A ladies-only gym offering a 30-minute circuit-based workout. The pair aspired to grow the business into a national and then international franchise.
The business was always cashflow positive. It grew to 15 sites (10 of which were franchised). And achieved £2 million turnover per year. But, ultimately, by 2015 the business went into liquidation.
Some would have walked away. Yet, Jamie reflected on the experience of building and scaling this business, taking lessons for success into his next venture.
Grit and determination
Jamie adopted a true growth mindset. Identifying and working on what went wrong in this first franchise venture. And then feeding that into his next business to make it even more successful.
Having met John Eade, Managing Director of Hatton Boxing, the pair combined forces. Together they created BOX12, a boxing and functional fitness tech-led workout.
Since launch in 2019, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the business has scaled rapidly. And now provides tech-led workout solutions to clubs across the UK and Saudi Arabia.
Jamie explained the lessons he’s applied. Addressing the factors that led to failure last time. And powering the growth of BOX12. Here are those lessons:
- Align founders both personally and professionally
- Establish an exit strategy from the start
- Create a clear and defined business model
- Focus on profit, not turnover
- Take advice and guidance from experts
- Hire qualified, experienced team members
- Make considered leadership decisions, constantly challenging own thinking
- Keep a lean head office
- Build protection into the business model for owners
- Maintain a laser focus on achieving set objectives and achieving an exit
Have an exit strategyTip
When building a fitness business make sure you have an exit strategy in place. That will guide you in achieving what you’ve set out to. And, you can always choose to stay on once you’ve hit your initial goals!
#7: Go further together
Finally, we wanted to share a growth lesson that ran across most of the sessions at the Xplor Xperience.
Gym owners and operators can go further, faster, by leaning on and learning from others. The more we connect and partner together, the bigger and better our achievements will be.
- As a Virgin Startup mentee, Al Barratt was able to learn directly from Richard Branson. Sharing experiences and problems, goals and aspirations, to learn, grow, and lead the Grenade into a phenomenally successful business
- As software and technology partners to the industry, Technogym and Xplor Gym are working together to provide gyms with the best solutions for their businesses and members
- And by finding a business partner whose experience, expertise and aspirations aligned with his own, Jamie Cartwright has been able to achieve incredible growth in a short period of time with solutions that solve some of the industry’s biggest challenges
The Xplor Xperience is all about creating opportunities for gym owners and operators to go further together. Creating connections with likeminded peers, as well as building relationships with industry experts and partners, to learn from and grow with one another.
The wrap up…
Those were our 7 growth lessons from the Xplor Xperience:
- Focus on your members
- Build a brand people buy into
- Get closer to your members
- See and hear members more often
- Nail fast lane marketing
- Dust yourself off and go again
- Go further together
Watch this space for more details of the next Xplor Xperience… and download your free copy of the 2024 Fitness Marketing Campaign Planner for a sneak peek of our 2024 dates.
Article by Xplor Gym
First published: 13 November 2023
Last updated: 20 November 2023