What is the "Slow Season," anyway?

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  • What is the "Slow Season," anyway?

If you are new to the fitness industry, you probably have some amount of trepidation toward the time of year known as the "slow season" for gyms. Typically, when people talk about the slow season, they are referring to the summer months where most gyms struggle through a dip of low memberships and class participation.

Assuming you have just opened your gym, or you are still preparing for a grand opening, you have not yet been through a slow summer in order to judge how it will affect your business personally. However, in this post we’ll run through the basics of what will happen, on average, so you can prepare your budget accordingly.

Why do people stop coming to the gym during the summer?

There are several reasons you can expect your gym to empty out during the hottest months of the year.

Here are just a few of the most common explanations:- People are going on vacations and are out of town sporadically.- Children are home from school, so parents may not have time to hit the gym anymore.- Some people prefer to get their exercise by doing outside activities while the weather is nice.- Summertime concerts, festivals, and sports games interrupt weekly routines.- The rush of New Year’s resolution exercisers wears off right around this time.- Families might choose to reallocate their "luxury spending" budget away from gym memberships, in favor of taking trips and attending events.

How much should you expect business to slow down during the summer in comparison to the rest of the year?

You might expect to see the biggest membership bump in January, following New Year’s, but this isn’t usually the case. March and April are often the busiest months of the year, surprisingly, as people begin to feel summer approaching and want to start getting their bodies swimsuit-ready.

Therefore, you probably won’t see a significant downturn until much after April.

June and July are a different matter. Expect both of these months to bring in just 3% of your usual yearly visitors. This is in comparison to the roughly 12% you can expect in January, and the monthly average of 8% over the whole year.

How can you use your winter numbers as a baseline for calculating your yearly expected income if your gym hasn’t yet weathered a slow season?

If you already have a certain percentage of your income that you expect to make from memberships alone, the math is simple.

Each month on average you can expect to bring in just over 8% of your members. However, if your gym has only been open during the winter so far, you might have gotten a false sense of security from high membership numbers during peak season.

If, for example, the average gym sees 12% of its yearly members during January, you can conservatively overestimate that your January membership might have been 15% of your expected memberships.

And, if the average gym sees 3% participation during June and July each, you can conservatively underestimate that you will see just 1% or 2% of your annual members during this time.

This allows you a safe amount of wiggle room in your budget so if one or two months underperform, you will still be all right.

Is the slow season something all gyms should expect to experience?

Yes. Gyms, independent fitness trainers, and pretty much everyone else within the fitness industry should prepare for possible slowdowns during the summer.

Some businesses are more likely than others to weather the slow season with ease, of course. But unless you have many years of solid summer numbers under your belt, it’s always a good bet to prepare for a slow season and hope that your business will be one of the few that seem immune.

What else should you accomplish while member participation is on a downturn?

The gym slow season doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As long as you budget appropriately, feel free to use the relative down time during the summer to accomplish goals that may have gotten pushed to the back burner during the peak winter months.

Focus your attention on tasks such as…- Coming up with your advertising campaigns and other marketing strategies for the year- Planning your staff members’ schedules- Managing payroll and benefits for your employees- Hiring and training new employees- Finding personal trainers and group class instructors to fill your roster once memberships pick back up- Giving your staff performance evaluations and encouraging further training- Cleaning, reorganizing, and completing any maintenance projects- Balancing client membership accounts, collecting on any outstanding debts, and purging any lapsed memberships from your billing system- Upgrading equipment, software, or even the building itself

What are some alternative ways of generating revenue for your gym during the slower months?

Depending on the style and atmosphere you are going for in your gym, you might consider adding features such as a juice or protein shake bar, a lunch cafe, or a coffee shop in accessible lobby areas. Doing so requires extra overhead in renovations and employee salaries, but can pay off big time in other ways.

Not only will clients spend money on refreshments (you can encourage this by allowing members to charge a tab against their existing payment profile with your gym), but they will also stick around in your gym longer to enjoy a meal or a drink in a cafe area. Providing a few tables encourages a social atmosphere, which keeps members coming back for the social aspect of your gym even during months when their fitness motivation might be lacking.

If food and drink would not fit your gym’s style, think about offering branded merchandise instead. A small merchandise shop brings in a bit of extra money with relatively low expenses, if you can staff the counter with one or two employees. And, of course, the benefit of having branded merchandise circulating wherever your members go on a regular basis (think yoga classes, the park, and even the grocery store) is greater recognition for your business in the community.

If you’re still struggling, take a look at these tips for minimizing the summer dip:- Retention Tips to Beat the Attrition of the Slow SeasonClient Retention Habits To Get Your Fitness Club Through The Slow TimesMarketing To Pick Up Members During The Slow Months Of Summer