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(Editors' Note: This article is part of Club Industry's report, "Technology's Role in the Future of the Fitness Industry," which can be downloaded for free by going here.)
Machines in group workout classes: It’s a trend that started slowly and quietly picked up speed until all of a sudden, it’s everywhere. What began with stationary bikes in the exercise room has exploded into treadmills, rowing machines, Stairmasters and ellipticals in the exercise room—and health clubs around the country are benefiting in terms of both retention and secondary revenue. If you haven’t yet begun offering machine-based group classes, or you haven’t expanded your offerings beyond daily indoor cycle classes, it’s time to consider the possibilities.
First, understand what kind of machine-based group workouts your community would be interested in. Take an online poll or ask members to fill out a survey when they walk in. Ask questions carefully. You want answers not only from members already familiar with exercise machines but also from members who do not regularly use them. Ask survey respondents which machines they have used in the past, which ones they might be willing to try, whether they’ve ever taken a machine-based group class before and what might incentivize them to try one. Once you’ve gathered enough responses, assess the results.
Weigh the insight you gathered from members against your capacities as a club. If the majority of respondents said they’d like to try, say, a rowing class, consider whether you already own enough rowing machines to begin offering such a class. If you don’t, do a cost-benefits analysis to determine whether it makes sense to purchase additional rowing machines. If your members’ responses to survey questions leave you with no clear direction — that is, equal numbers want rowing classes and treadmill classes — you’ll need to decide whether you have the space, machinery and resources to offer both. If not, you may need to make an educated guess about which one seems more likely to attract members (and new clients).
Next, plan the logistics. Machine-based class programming is necessarily more involved than other kinds of class programming. You have to know what space in your facility can serve as a dedicated rowing, StairMaster or other specialty machine classroom. Perhaps the machines you need can be isolated to one side of a room and reserved for 45-minute stretches at a few points during the day or week when you offer the class. While this kind of planning is under way, consider what new equipment you might need to purchase and how you’ll go about doing so. Will you take out bank loans to cover the cost? Will you lease machines? If the latter, what type of lease will you seek? It’s best to start a few direct conversations with both banks and leasing companies so you can decide which option will work best for your facility.
Once you have those details plotted out, try offering mini trial classes. You can consider these market research. If you pitch them to members as focus groups that will allow them to have a hand in shaping the class experience, you’ll likely find enthusiastic participants. After the trial classes, survey participants to find out what they liked and didn’t like. Ask specific questions: Did they appreciate whatever music and lighting effects accompanied the class? Do they have suggestions for improving the instruction? Did they like the warm-up segment of the class? The cool-down? What would they change if they could change anything?
Finally, when you have the form of the class fully figured out, you must advertise. Post videos, photos and testimonials on social media sites; paper your facility with informative flyers; and give trial participants incentives to spread news of the class by word-of-mouth. Soon, you’ll be considering what class to develop next.
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