We were scratching our heads at Punchpass, wondering where in the world we could turn for the best, proven business success strategies for surviving – and even thriving – during the COVID crisis. It seems even the “experts” have no easy answers.
Then the obvious dawned on us: we would turn to you, the extraordinary fitness business owners of Punchpass, the troopers who persevere through uncertainty of all kinds, determined to keep your communities and studios going strong.
We reached out to a group of trusted Punchpass ambassadors in the U.S., U.K. Australia and New Zealand and we were inspired! Finally, some specific, actionable ways to weather these challenging times.
Here it is, their Top 10 Proven Strategies to Keep Your Fitness Studio Going Strong During COVID:
No matter how many free workouts continue to proliferate online, you are irreplaceable to your loyal students. It’s you who have seen them through the ups and downs of their lives. It’s you who know their dog’s name and the anniversary of their divorce, or hip replacement, or college graduation. It’s you they trust to tell them to eat more vegetables and lay off the chips. It’s with you that they celebrated their first “wheel” pose, or 400 lb deadlift, or mile-long open water swim.
So, keep your chin, and your prices, up, advise experienced Punchpass business owners.
“We kept pricing the same for all return classes - the pools didn't charge so swimmers saved there. We believed in our offering, like the advice on Punchpass a while back!” Charlotte O’Beirne, owner of Swimming Women in Margaret River, Australia.
You can always back off a high price later if sales get stagnant, but once you’ve devalued your services, it’s a tough climb back, said experienced studio owners.
“I didn't change my pricing when I went online,” said Jane Robinson, owner of Urban Grace in New South Wales, Australia. “I added a 'Freelancers Pass' for students who had lost income. Maybe I should have, but I worried about how to get out of a discount hole…’no-one wins a price war,’ said Dad.”
One silver lining to restricted capacity is that suddenly spots in your in-person classes have become a coveted commodity. With demand outstripping supply, and your email communications clearly stating that advance registration is the only way to go, you could see waitlists blossoming.
This gives you the opportunity to make everyone in class feel super special, to keep your prices elevated, and even to give your auto-pay members VIP priority access – driving up membership sales.
“(We offered) discounted 6 and 12 month passes, $600 for six months and $1,200 for 12 months. This was a birthday promotion and we only released five of each pass. They sold out within 1.5 hours. Students were ecstatic to receive a discounted pass and the promotion helped boost our cash,” said Odette Beswick, owner of Yoga Corner in Perth, Australia.
“We did what we could as soon as we could,” said O’Beirne. “Opening up for a limited time was better than nothing. We optimized the online booking system, and waitlist and it was perfect for contract tracing requirements as well.”
“Our classes are now booked out more than ever with waitlists, something we hadn't done before and that element of scarcity has made getting into a class a sought after thing,” she added.
Familiarity breeds comfortability and your customers are craving stability right now. One brilliant tip we got from studio owners is to keep your schedule as regular as you can, no matter what. If you can’t keep up the in-person classes, make sure you’re hosting online classes at all your students’ favorite times.
“(We) kept the pre-COVID timetable running throughout, even if some class numbers are low. We haven’t missed a beat (dropped even one class) through the phases of the pandemic. Once you start changing times around students lose their rhythm and it can take a long time to rebuild a class that is reintroduced to the schedule,” said James Hasemer at Central Yoga in New South Wales, Australia.
Archer Talbot, owner of Clifton Hill Yoga Studio in Melbourne, Australia, said his studio “reduced prices for online only classes to approx 70% of in studio classes while (we) tried to keep as many online classes at the usual studio time.”
The only caveat? Remember to allow for extra time between classes to air and deep clean your room and props.
It’s sometimes scary to be open with your customers about your finances and business, but vulnerability builds connection, trust and support, said seasoned studio owners.
This is a time to practice compassion and put yourself in your students’ shoes.
One of the biggest steps that Girl Fight Fitness, took was to open up and “ask members for support and help in sticking with us and keeping us afloat, listening to their feedback and surveying their comfort level with returning to classes, and communicating with them openly about our situation (financially and otherwise) so they understand where we are as a business,” said Amanda Gonzales-Barone, owner of the boxing gyms in Glenville and Latham, NY, U.S.
“I think many people feel "they're a business, they will be ok" unless you tell them "no, we really won't if everyone cancels,” she said.
Before Swimming Women was allowed to reopen at the pool, owner O’Beirne “allowed people to sign up to receive swim sessions they could do in open water, e-mailed to them each week, placed explaining videos down at the beach with a copy of the sessions laminated and stuck up there.”
“This reached new people who had not been part of our program before and being opt in helped people avoid the bombardment. Some simply liked watching the videos to feel like they were being coached by us,” she said.
The studios that are surviving and thriving during COVID are deploying the three-pronged approach of live, online classes, a robust on-demand video class library and in-person sessions. By covering all the bases you are sure to have a class at a time and in a format that words for just about all your students.
“Establishing a content library and uploading all classes offered students the opportunity to practice at their convenience,” said Gaby Beston Edwards, owner of Akasha Yoga Studio in Trinidad. “Many were struggling with making time to practice while juggling "home" schooling, working from home and dealing with adjusting to being locked down.”
Keep the online classes going as your studio opens up in-person options to maximize participation, said studio owners.
“We are very lucky in Western Australia. We are currently able to reopen but must maintain 1.5 metre social distancing. We have in-person only classes limited to 18 people, so booking is essential. We also have a content library membership for people who still prefer to practice from home,” said Beswick of Yoga Corner.
“We are open once again. Our class sizes are smaller due to social distancing but we are offering in person classes. We also offer a live online class daily and have built up a very extensive content library for our clients who choose to continue the at home workout option,” said Dan Kanney, owner of Elevate Fitness in Coldwater, OH in the U.S.
Offer open time to chat before and after class during live online sessions to generate connection and community, said owners.
Even though your students are mostly online, you can still come together to motivate each other with a challenge, fun event or program.
“One fun community building event we ran was an Online Burpee Mile or 1000 Burpee Challenge,” said one studio owner. “We created individual, individual scaled, as well as team divisions. We offered a private group class on zoom or live in the studio to the winners of each division and in order to qualify to win everyone had to post their team and name with their division and photos of them doing their burpees (could be a college or zoom screenshot) as well we gave prizes to the most inspiring story of doing the challenge through adversity.”
Teaching to the screen is here to stay, so it pays to invest in one where you can see all that’s going on in your classes.
“I guess my technical setup during lockdown was a (winning) strategy,” said Robinson from Urban Grace. “I am an alignment based teacher and I rely on 'seeing' what my students are doing. So I borrowed a decent camera and a large screen so I could see the students. As one student said ‘You haven't seen me since I moved to Canberra seven years ago, and 5 minutes into the first online class, you suggest an adjustment that has changed everything!’”
When Elevate Fitness and Wellness moved its HIIT-style workouts from in-studio to online, they used screen technology to create a way for the team to interact with students during class, said Kanney.
“We had it set up where our main owner/trainer Kelly Hoying was filmed from an iPad and we had a laptop hooked into a big tv screen so we could clearly see and communicate with all of our clients during the live Zoom workouts. It was a great way to keep up relationships and social interaction with one another despite everything being closed.”
“All of this worked because of how easy it was to get set up and execute,” he said. “Punchpass made the online option a no-brainer, and as time passed it just got easier and easier. We gained clients from all over the state and even someone who was in Kuwait! We have kept those clients as online members.”
It can be challenging not to hug, high-five or reach out to assist a student during check in or classtime. So look for ways to reach out hands-free. Here a few tips from Punchpass ambassadors:
Now is the time to reach out like you’re opening for the first time.
“(I) searched through old email lists to contact old - I mean 15 years old - students,” said Robinson of Urban Grace.
When you feel the urge to procrastinate, or get hesitant about whether your call will be welcomed or not, remember, you are reaching out with an invitation to someone, and we all love to know that we were thought of during the day. Consider going down your call list as your good deed for the day. You are being of service to others by checking in on their health and wellbeing, and letting them know that you care.
Our mind is blown by the creativity and resilience of these business owners at such a trying time as this! Just remember that they are no different from you... and YOU can do it too. 💛