Everyone in the fitness industry knows about the dreaded slow season. The hot months of summer, June through August in the United States, are notorious for low client participation and a dearth of new memberships. How can you weather the heat and keep your gym running smoothly even during the slowest of summers?
Plan Ahead For The Seasonal Dip
The good news about the slow season is that it’s widely known and accepted, so you can anticipate it. Don’t let June’s lack of client engagement take you by surprise. Plan your year ahead of time, from your annual budget to your class scheduling and your advertisement strategy.
The easiest way to anticipate how the slow season will impact your business is to take a look at your numbers from years past. Analyze previous years’ membership rates by month, monthly income trends, incoming leads from advertisement campaigns, and any other statistics you keep to formulate your prediction for how this year’s slow season will unfold.
You can use these metrics as guidelines for moderating your year-round budget and expenses to take into account the probable dip in the middle of the year.
Make sure your gym uses sophisticated expense tracking software and membership management software. Having these data at your fingertips makes it easier to crunch each year’s numbers into valuable insight and predictions for the future.
Emphasize Client Retention
Your existing clients should be your priority during the slow season. Trying to generate new leads during the dead of summer can feel like fighting a losing battle, so put your focus on the members you already have.
Outdoor classes in the warmer half of the year boost retention by providing a fun and motivating atmosphere for members who would rather spend time in the fresh air than be cooped up inside.
Themed "vacation" challenges keep members actively participating – by logging on to your website or app – even when they are away on holiday. Fun vacation themes can include uploading a GPS route map of a jog or bike ride along a beach or tourist destination, a "maintain your weight on vacation" challenge for users on a weight loss journey, or hotel room workout challenges designed to be done with minimal space and equipment. With some creativity, you can motivate your existing clients to stay involved and active, maximizing the chances they will return to your gym once they come back from vacation.
Summer is also a great time to sponsor fitness challenges for clients who stay in town. Rewards and recognition for active members and winners of competitions boost morale and engagement from clients who might otherwise be struggling with motivation.
Experiment With New Strategies
Since the slow season naturally brings in fewer members, you can’t expect high-budget advertising to work at peak efficiency. When overall membership and member participation are down, now is the time to experiment with new advertising strategies instead of sinking dollars into big-budget ads that aren’t likely to produce a worthwhile result.
If the new ideas work well, you will have a solid plan in place to use during the busier times of the year that are more likely to result in new members joining. If your advertising experiments fall flat, you haven’t risked that poor result during the busy time that would have been better spent on tried and true big-earners.
New social media or mailing list campaigns are low-budget avenues that offer endless experimentation opportunities during the snail-paced summer months. This is also a great time to make any new marketing hires and get them up to speed before the busy rush hits at the end of the year, or develop new flyers, commercials, or other graphical ads you plan to use in the coming months.
Ads aren’t the only areas you can experiment with. Run promotions for new members, family and friend discounts, trial memberships with more or perks than usual, or other promotions to boost membership without much extra cost to you while the budget is tight. Keeping promotions fresh each year motivates long-term clients and keeps them from getting bored of the same promotion every year.
While you’re experimenting with broadening your gym’s base membership, why not widen your focus to other fitness and health related opportunities? If your gym has a space that goes largely unused in the summer – perhaps because you have moved some fitness classes outside to take advantage of the warm weather – consider hosting community events that will draw new people to your building. For example, you could allow one of your independent trainers to sell space in a nutrition seminar hosted in your gym, for a percentage of the fee.
Catch Up On Other Tasks
You can leverage relative downtimes to your advantage by planning ahead to use this time on various administrative tasks that set you up solidly for the future. When you are running a gym or another fitness business, there should almost never be a time when you feel you have nothing at all to do.
When business is booming, some tasks tend to fall to the back burner:
- Updating management software and pruning member profiles
- Deep cleaning or rearranging equipment layouts
- Renovating outdated facilities
- Following up with clients that have stopped coming in – either to offer a promotion if they return, or to ask for feedback on why they are no longer attending
- Organizing inventory
- Planning staff work schedules and advertising runs for the year
Even when your checklist is complete and you feel like you’re just waiting around for more clients to walk through the door, don’t be idle. Taking a proactive approach toward coming up with new and different opportunities for your business is something you can always improve on, regardless of how much you have already done.
Consider setting up additional revenue streams to generate extra income. The slow season is the perfect time to hire and train staff and pull together all the materials to get your new ventures off the ground. Even better, revenue streams like paid online exercise or nutrition tutorials from qualified trainers will earn money for your business passively and help offset the lack of membership dues coming in during the summer.
If you learn to use the slow season to your advantage instead of viewing it as a huge obstacle in your business plan, you will place yourself miles ahead of the competition. Regardless of the strategy you end up pursuing, the key is to think of the slow months as an opportunity that allows to you expand and try out new directions while catching up with the basic administrative tasks that pile up over the year.