How to stand out from the crowd as an independent gym?

The UK health club market has undergone unprecedented disruption over the past 30 months. Frustratingly, COVID-19 arrived in the country at a time when the sector was at an all-time high. According to research published by Mintel in early 2020, the total revenue registered by the UK’s private gyms and fitness clubs reached a record £3.4bn in 2019 – an increase of 4.1 per cent on 2018 figures.

While the industry has been playing catch-up ever since, it is now getting back to its feet and it has been encouraging to see that operators are returning to those record levels of business achieved in 2019 – in both the private and public sectors. The latest to do so was Total Fitness (a chain managing 15 clubs in the north of England), which announced that it had hit its pre-pandemic membership levels.

There have also been particularly encouraging signs of recovery in one particular segment – among the independent operators.

While the lockdowns hit independent gyms and clubs particularly hard, they are now often outperforming their big chain and public sector rivals in terms of business recovery. As Guy Griffiths, Founder of GGFit wrote in a blog for ukactive, many independents are “being incredibly agile, pivoting to new hybrid models, unrestricted by the shackles of bureaucracy, and business is better than ever”.

As the focus of independent operators has switched from “survive” to “thrive”, it is more important than ever for them to be able to stand out from the crowd to attract members.

Here are three ways they can do just that:

  1. Introduce innovative and trailblazing equipment

To attract and retain members, independent facilities need to offer exercise opportunities that break the mould and generate a buzz. One of the best ways to engage members is to provide them with fresh, innovative ways of doing something they already love or are engaged in.

Take rowing, a full-body workout which is perfect for people of all abilities. Its benefits are easy to sell – each individual rowing movement (or stroke) consists of around 65 to 75 per cent leg work and 25 to 35 per cent upper body work. It’s low-impact and effective.

Yet, if a club can only offer a line of ageing, tired and uninspiring rowing machines, the sell becomes much harder.

Enter Hydrow, a rower which is several boat lengths ahead of the rest of the fleet. Its sleek, futuristic design is the result of a re-engineering process, while its patented, electromagnetic and computer-controlled drag system creates such a smooth workout that making each stroke feels like the user is actually out on the water. What’s more, Hydrow’s brilliant 22” touchscreen display provides users with an interactive, captivating experience.

  1. Being bold and clear with brand communications

The way a brand delivers its core message can be just as important as the message itself. Being generic and bland won’t offend, but also won’t get an operator recognised in a busy marketplace. However, being too audacious can have the opposite effect. Instant recognition, sure – but not for the right reasons. Take the infamous “Fat and Ugly” Fit4Less adverts of 2016 for example.

The style and wording of marketing and communications can be used to:

  • speak to a specific audience you want to attract
  • strengthen and differentiate your brand message

In other words, the way an independent gym communicates can help it stand out from the rest of the field and appeal directly to its target audience. Being bold with your message is key, but so is being clear with it.

  1. Offer unique services that aren’t available elsewhere

By offering products and services that are unavailable to gym members elsewhere, an independent operator can really differentiate itself from the competition. Investing in technologies which provide members with new ways of tracking their progress, for example, is a great way to engage members. And so is offering data- and/or science-based solutions which provide a framework for those looking for a more holistic approach to fitness.

Take 3D body scanners such as Styku, which uses artificial intelligence to measure body fat.

Styku can show people the risks of obesity-related disease and how those risks are changing. Thanks to its advanced capabilities, it can also provide reports on visceral fat and bone mass, which will help customers understand their body better and identify areas of improvement.

Facilities that are “just gyms” will always have static weight scales and obscure wall charts showing “ideal BMIs” and other obscure graphs. But those who want to go beyond that can offer a much more immersive and engaging experience, when it comes to monitoring results.

Want to know more about innovative equipment that can change your fitness business? Get in touch: info@react-fitness.com