Virtual classes
Proof in numbers

Les Mills has opened a club in Auckland, New Zealand, which proves the powerful impact virtual classes can have on attendance and bottom line. Manager Carrie Kepple talks to Kath Hudson

By Kath Hudson | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 6


Ninety-three per cent member retention, 4,200 group exercise attendances a week, and smashing its annual target just six months after opening: the new Les Mills Newmarket club, which opened on 2 November 2015, appears to have found the perfect model. And what’s driving its success? Group exercise, says manager Carrie Kepple, with virtual classes a vital component to build usage during off-peak hours.

Putting GX first
The club spans 1,900sq m and 70 per cent of the exercise space is given over to group exercise. There are two studios: one with capacity for 110, and the other for around 70, as well as an immersive cycle studio with 28 bikes. “Group exercise is our bread and butter, so we decided to try a different model, putting group exercise first and the gym floor second,” says Kepple.
This model wouldn’t be viable without a virtual offering, which allow classes to be scheduled throughout the day without creating a huge wage bill.

“Most club timetables are designed around catering for the peaks in usage, but we knew we needed to manage capacity throughout the day to make the club work,” says Kepple.

“What we’ve tried to do is pull people away from the peak times and create an even spread throughout the day. Virtual has empowered us to sell memberships to an audience we couldn’t reach before, because their personal timetables didn’t fit with our classes.”

To achieve its goals, Les Mills has come up with a concept of capacity management called ‘spread and churn’. “Spread is about attracting customers more evenly throughout the day, which means we can service them better, so they get a better experience and retention is improved,” says Kepple.

“Churn is an efficient turnaround of classes, like turning tables in a restaurant.”

Smashing targets
Incorporating virtual technology has allowed the club to offer an extra 500 classes a month, with no further set-up or staffing costs. All of the virtual classes are scheduled and promoted on the programme, rather than allowing people to choose their own exercise class, as this can limit the appeal and drive down participation numbers.

The annual target for visits was originally set at 100,000, but after just six months the club had already reached 150,000 visits and 2,340 members. Group fitness – live and virtual combined – accounted for 99,000 of these visits. Of the 66 per cent of all daily attendances accounted for by group fitness, 19 per cent have been for virtual classes.

“During the month of March, virtual accounted for 3,379 extra attendances. Annualised that equates to a lot of money,” adds Kepple.

Although live instructors are retained for the peak classes, virtual technology means the class programme starts at 5.30am and runs until 10.00pm.

“I went into the small studio at 9.40 this morning and there were 15 people doing Virtual Pump. Given there aren’t many overheads for that class, it’s awesome,” says Kepple. “It’s good to have a club that has a nice energy all day long.”

Most of the virtual classes have somewhere between 10 and 20 participants (see ‘Compare & contrast’, left), but the 7.30pm virtual BodyPump class was regularly pulling between 40 and 50 exercisers, so Kepple decided to install an instructor.

Meanwhile the virtual RPM classes are often busier than the live classes, as a NZ$5 booking fee is charged for the live classes, while virtual is free.

Social night out
As well as boosting the bottom line and driving higher usage of the club throughout the day, virtual classes also provide a marketing hook. “We’re promoting the fact that we’re running more classes, more often,” says Kepple.

“It’s also another lever to pull in the referral game. We’ve run a social media campaign where you tag a friend to come for free to try virtual – we’re trying to make it like going to a fitness movie with friends.”

COMPARE & CONTRAST: Live vs Virtual

 



Live vs Virtual


Robert Louw Commercial director ClubVirtual International

 

Robert Louw
 

• Create a real experience by using a darkened room with the biggest screen possible, and matching sound and lighting 

• Remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to virtual content

• Manage your virtual fitness classes in the same way you manage live classes: set goals and monitor activity. Organise a launch event to give your members a formal introduction to the system, inviting them to try it out and ask questions

• Think of virtual as another selling point and include it in all membership tours and as part of the induction

• Use online/offline marketing strategies to create a buzz within the club




Andrew Evenson Brand manager Fitness on Demand

 

Andrew Evenson
 

• Let the system advertise itself: in addition to offering pre-scheduled classes, make sure the user interface kiosk is prominently placed for members to see

• Hold popular, pre-scheduled classes and fill them to capacity with your staff and your most active, influential members to generate a buzz about the new offering  

• Continue to promote and tailor the programme to your audience over time, regularly refreshing and promoting it

• Monitor the built-in reports to identify trends at your facility. If certain classes are popular with on-demand use, consider putting them on the schedule

• Don’t think of virtual as a replacement for your live, instructor-led classes: it is the perfect complement




Paul Bowman CEO Wexer

 

Paul Bowman
 

• Plan your virtual schedule around the members in the club at that time. If there are a lot of male members using the gym at a specific time, put on a virtual class that caters to them – eg a HIIT class – and avoid choreographed classes

• Allow on-demand timeslots for members to choose their own classes, as this gives control over the studio space and allows members to have flexibility

• Get your team on-board with a workshop and by taking part in a virtual class. Then get the whole team to do a virtual work out – one of the latest releases – each quarter

• Appoint trainers, or key health club members, as your social media ambassadors to report on their thoughts, experiences and feedback on the virtual offering

• Hold themed events: this could be when new content has been released, or a #trainvirtual where five different classes must be attended within a given timeframe




Ian Donley MD Wellbeats

 

Ian Donley
 

• Get your supplier to provide product familiarity training, to ensure your whole team understands virtual’s potential and gets behind the concept

• Design a launch plan and dedicate a member of your staff to project manage the both launch and the ongoing operation of the virtual class system

• Market the system extensively as part of the launch plan, including promotion from all members of staff at every customer touch point

• Set targets, measure performance and keep designing new strategies to drive participation

• Use the customer engagement tools provided by the supplier to ensure members become familiar with the system and develop a habit of using it without constant staff interaction

• Relaunch the system at least three times a year, using fresh content from your provider


Virtual attendance can rival, if not exceed, that of live classes
Sell virtual as part of your membership tours
Sell virtual as part of your membership tours
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2016 issue 6

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Proof in numbers

Virtual classes

Proof in numbers


Les Mills has opened a club in Auckland, New Zealand, which proves the powerful impact virtual classes can have on attendance and bottom line. Manager Carrie Kepple talks to Kath Hudson

Kath Hudson
Virtual attendance can rival, if not exceed, that of live classes
Virtual attendance can rival, if not exceed, that of live classes
Sell virtual as part of your membership tours
Sell virtual as part of your membership tours

Ninety-three per cent member retention, 4,200 group exercise attendances a week, and smashing its annual target just six months after opening: the new Les Mills Newmarket club, which opened on 2 November 2015, appears to have found the perfect model. And what’s driving its success? Group exercise, says manager Carrie Kepple, with virtual classes a vital component to build usage during off-peak hours.

Putting GX first
The club spans 1,900sq m and 70 per cent of the exercise space is given over to group exercise. There are two studios: one with capacity for 110, and the other for around 70, as well as an immersive cycle studio with 28 bikes. “Group exercise is our bread and butter, so we decided to try a different model, putting group exercise first and the gym floor second,” says Kepple.
This model wouldn’t be viable without a virtual offering, which allow classes to be scheduled throughout the day without creating a huge wage bill.

“Most club timetables are designed around catering for the peaks in usage, but we knew we needed to manage capacity throughout the day to make the club work,” says Kepple.

“What we’ve tried to do is pull people away from the peak times and create an even spread throughout the day. Virtual has empowered us to sell memberships to an audience we couldn’t reach before, because their personal timetables didn’t fit with our classes.”

To achieve its goals, Les Mills has come up with a concept of capacity management called ‘spread and churn’. “Spread is about attracting customers more evenly throughout the day, which means we can service them better, so they get a better experience and retention is improved,” says Kepple.

“Churn is an efficient turnaround of classes, like turning tables in a restaurant.”

Smashing targets
Incorporating virtual technology has allowed the club to offer an extra 500 classes a month, with no further set-up or staffing costs. All of the virtual classes are scheduled and promoted on the programme, rather than allowing people to choose their own exercise class, as this can limit the appeal and drive down participation numbers.

The annual target for visits was originally set at 100,000, but after just six months the club had already reached 150,000 visits and 2,340 members. Group fitness – live and virtual combined – accounted for 99,000 of these visits. Of the 66 per cent of all daily attendances accounted for by group fitness, 19 per cent have been for virtual classes.

“During the month of March, virtual accounted for 3,379 extra attendances. Annualised that equates to a lot of money,” adds Kepple.

Although live instructors are retained for the peak classes, virtual technology means the class programme starts at 5.30am and runs until 10.00pm.

“I went into the small studio at 9.40 this morning and there were 15 people doing Virtual Pump. Given there aren’t many overheads for that class, it’s awesome,” says Kepple. “It’s good to have a club that has a nice energy all day long.”

Most of the virtual classes have somewhere between 10 and 20 participants (see ‘Compare & contrast’, left), but the 7.30pm virtual BodyPump class was regularly pulling between 40 and 50 exercisers, so Kepple decided to install an instructor.

Meanwhile the virtual RPM classes are often busier than the live classes, as a NZ$5 booking fee is charged for the live classes, while virtual is free.

Social night out
As well as boosting the bottom line and driving higher usage of the club throughout the day, virtual classes also provide a marketing hook. “We’re promoting the fact that we’re running more classes, more often,” says Kepple.

“It’s also another lever to pull in the referral game. We’ve run a social media campaign where you tag a friend to come for free to try virtual – we’re trying to make it like going to a fitness movie with friends.”

COMPARE & CONTRAST: Live vs Virtual

 



Live vs Virtual


Robert Louw Commercial director ClubVirtual International

 

Robert Louw
 

• Create a real experience by using a darkened room with the biggest screen possible, and matching sound and lighting 

• Remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to virtual content

• Manage your virtual fitness classes in the same way you manage live classes: set goals and monitor activity. Organise a launch event to give your members a formal introduction to the system, inviting them to try it out and ask questions

• Think of virtual as another selling point and include it in all membership tours and as part of the induction

• Use online/offline marketing strategies to create a buzz within the club




Andrew Evenson Brand manager Fitness on Demand

 

Andrew Evenson
 

• Let the system advertise itself: in addition to offering pre-scheduled classes, make sure the user interface kiosk is prominently placed for members to see

• Hold popular, pre-scheduled classes and fill them to capacity with your staff and your most active, influential members to generate a buzz about the new offering  

• Continue to promote and tailor the programme to your audience over time, regularly refreshing and promoting it

• Monitor the built-in reports to identify trends at your facility. If certain classes are popular with on-demand use, consider putting them on the schedule

• Don’t think of virtual as a replacement for your live, instructor-led classes: it is the perfect complement




Paul Bowman CEO Wexer

 

Paul Bowman
 

• Plan your virtual schedule around the members in the club at that time. If there are a lot of male members using the gym at a specific time, put on a virtual class that caters to them – eg a HIIT class – and avoid choreographed classes

• Allow on-demand timeslots for members to choose their own classes, as this gives control over the studio space and allows members to have flexibility

• Get your team on-board with a workshop and by taking part in a virtual class. Then get the whole team to do a virtual work out – one of the latest releases – each quarter

• Appoint trainers, or key health club members, as your social media ambassadors to report on their thoughts, experiences and feedback on the virtual offering

• Hold themed events: this could be when new content has been released, or a #trainvirtual where five different classes must be attended within a given timeframe




Ian Donley MD Wellbeats

 

Ian Donley
 

• Get your supplier to provide product familiarity training, to ensure your whole team understands virtual’s potential and gets behind the concept

• Design a launch plan and dedicate a member of your staff to project manage the both launch and the ongoing operation of the virtual class system

• Market the system extensively as part of the launch plan, including promotion from all members of staff at every customer touch point

• Set targets, measure performance and keep designing new strategies to drive participation

• Use the customer engagement tools provided by the supplier to ensure members become familiar with the system and develop a habit of using it without constant staff interaction

• Relaunch the system at least three times a year, using fresh content from your provider



Originally published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 6

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd