Jamie Owens has been busy this summer and with a unique perspective on the market, having worked for operators such as Nuffield Health and Virgin Active prior to his appointment as head of sales at Hussle, he’s experienced the aggregation model from both sides.
His brief on joining the company last year was to bring an operator mindset to the services provided and better align them to the needs of the industry.
The pandemic has turned the fitness industry on its head and Owens has spent the last few months hosting a series of virtual roundtables with gym operators from across the sector to get their views on what happens next.
With the insights gained from these conversations, he’s recently released a three-part blog series discussing the impact of lockdown on operator revenues and pioneered a new service from Hussle called MAP. More on that later.
The need to shift strategies
“Most operators I’ve spoken to hit their revised membership targets by the second week of August,” he says, “but the general consensus is that this pent-up demand is comparable to the mini-bubble being reported in the housing market.
“The sustainability of this demand is the bigger challenge for operators, with September results proving to be sobering for many. Operators I’ve spoken to are reporting losses of as many as 40 per cent of pre-lockdown members.”
Owens’ discussions reflect a consistent experience from fitness facilities across the sector. Everyone’s experiencing a chunk of members who have not yet renewed or returned.
As well as cancellations, operators are also reporting a big shift in usage patterns. While a proportion of customers have moved towards digital home workouts, there’s also a difference when it comes to which clubs are getting used and when they’re busy.
“Operators I’ve spoken to during our roundtables have reported that although overall member usage is creeping up to around 60 per cent of visits, compared to last year, this is dominated by suburban and residential sites,” says Owens. “City centre locations are being impacted the most, with usage down to as little as 5 per cent compared to pre-lockdown.
“If this becomes a longer-term trend, some operators will find their estate is now in the wrong location to attract members,” he says. “I suspect we’ll see increased demand for property deals for new gyms, especially in the budget sector, to reflect this shift towards residential locations.”
The focus now is on how to grow again, says Owens: “The real challenge is knowing how much to commit to marketing while customer demand remains relatively unknown. One operator we spoke to reported that a Facebook campaign that would previously have generated around 20 new members per club, only attracted one per club in August. At that level, the investment in that marketing channel is uneconomic.”
Handing over high value members
“It remains a turbulent and unpredictable time to be trading, says Owens. “Fitness facilities are going to need new strategies to regain momentum.
“One thing we can agree on is that the fitness industry is a flexible and resilient sector. The overall sentiment from the operators I’ve spoken with is that they’re willing to try new solutions even if that means changing the way they think about member acquisition.”
This brings us back to the Membership Acquisition Programme (MAP) that Owens has pioneered to support operators and help them rebuild their core membership revenue stream.
MAP from Hussle is an algorithm-driven service which segments customers using the Hussle marketplace and targets them with offers for an operator’s membership options.
The idea for the service came from findings produced by Aggregation in Fitness, the independently-audited Whitepaper from Fusion Analytics which was published in late 2019.
“The Whitepaper revealed two standout things about gym membership that – as a former head of membership sales – really got my attention,” says Owens.
“Firstly, 71 per cent of Hussle customers used a gym they wouldn’t otherwise have visited. These customers offer a new revenue stream that operators can access, without risking their own marketing money, as that cost and risk falls on Hussle.
“Secondly, 26 per cent of Hussle customers go on to join a gym directly. To date this has occurred completely organically, but in a trading environment where operators need to rebuild their membership base, Hussle can help significantly.
“We’re launching MAP on a pilot basis with selected operators and we believe that with the right collaboration, we can continue to provide valuable revenue for customers who require multi-club access, as well as identifying and upselling customers who would benefit more from a direct gym membership, so we help the sector grow again.”
• If you’re interested in your business participating in the MAP pilot, please contact: [email protected]