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How Studios Can Compete with Low-Priced Big Box Clubs, Other Studios

When competition starts building up around your studio, it doesn't mean your business is doomed to fail. Businesses in many industries face competition right across the street and they survive for various reasons.   

Brand differentiation is necessary and good. People need to understand what to expect when they come to see you and possibly try you out.

Being in the fitness industry, you've probably started to feel the space get crowded. In this environment, your goal does not change when competition surfaces.

To successfully fight this fight will take a shift in your thinking and a sound approach to the sales process to identify what's necessary to grow.

The Reason to Buy

Have you noticed before in major cities there's always a Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, etc. The food they offer is pretty much the same no matter which restaurant you choose as well. So how is it possible that these restaurants survive when their competition is everywhere?

Their survival skills are rooted in the fact that the business owners understand that a saturated market can often times mean success and strength.

Here's an example: let's say two fitness studios are on the same block. Each studio has a targeted area for advertising that equates to a three-mile radius around each facility. Now let's say 100,000 people between the ages of 22-50 live within that radius. If each studio needed a few hundred paying members to be considered successful, doesn't there seem like enough to go around? What about the other 99,000? Where are they going?

Most likely, they aren't working out at all.

The idea of a saturated market also means your focus on selling needs to rise to the top. But don't fall into the trap of selling your features, which generally means you use phrases such as, "We have the best trainers/instructors in town" or "Our equipment is state of the art." What you want to do is focus on selling your benefits.

The benefits you offer paint the picture in your client's head of "What do I get out of it?"  Another option is to look at selling your benefits as results. What will your client achieve by joining your studio over the competition? Will they have more energy? Improve their mood? Lower their cholesterol or blood pressure? 

When you focus on their needs and wants and allow them the understanding of how it will personally affect them in their day to day lives, then you're selling your benefits rather than features – and you will stand out amongst your competition.

Who (or What) Is the Competition?

Sameness permeates our society.  Repetition and replication are often the models on which businesses are built. Why a McDonald's always near a Burger King? Why are there always three banks on the same corner? Or gas stations? In California, if I pass a CVS Pharmacy, I know a Rite Aid is nearby.

The point is that the only thing that matters is your potential (or current) client's results and experience. How or why are you different, even when others might see you as the same.

Don't fall into the trap of stating the same thing everyone says "Our trainers are certified by ABC and XYZ" or "Our Zumba classes are the best in town." Well, that's great, but what if I'm not into Zumba? Our one-on-one trainers can't be beat. That's nice, but I prefer group training.

At this point in time, your competition is not the competition. You've already won that battle because the client is in the building.

Often, the potential client sees price as a barrier. It's not. They're already there. They know your membership or access fees will cost. Might they turn away because your price tag is more that somebody else's?  Sure, they might, but they won't if you convince them that you understand their needs, and you have the strategies and capabilities to satisfy those needs.

In reality, a much greater barrier than price is time. There you need to probe. Without getting too personal, what is your lifestyle like? Are there kids to be shuttled around? Work hours to manage? Travel to contend with? Help me help you.

Painting the Picture

You can't drive from New York to California without crossing rivers and climbing over mountains. Not achieving the goal (reaching California) can be caused by any number of things. Maybe you got lost. Maybe you ran out of gas money. Maybe the trip was taking too long. And then, maybe you gave up.

Paint the picture for your prospects. The palm trees are still there. The sparkling blue ocean still sings your name. The new, healthier, happier you can still be had. Take my hand and let's get there, together. When you stumble, I'm here to help you. When you get down, I'll pick you up. Yes, we'll need to cross rivers and mountains. And when we do, we'll be that much happier at the success we've achieved.


Josh Leve is the founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios (AFS). AFS' mission is to provide studio owners and entrepreneurial fitness professionals with the platform to effectively start, manage and grow their businesses.  With 13,000 members and 60 industry partnerships, Leve's success with AFS has translated into being featured in all major fitness publications, the Wall Street Journal and US News. He is a featured speaker for events such as Club Industry, NSCA, EMPOWER!, and more. Leve has grown up in the fitness industry. Both his grandfather and father started fitness associations. His grandfather helped found the National Court Clubs Association (NCCA), and his father Chuck Leve is a founding employee of IHRSA. Prior to starting AFS, Leve served as general manager for several high-end health clubs in Chicago, successfully turning around the financial performance of three facilities while managing and consulting with other fitness studios.

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