Results from the first rebranded site have been overwhelming,” says Tom Galvin, head of corporate fitness at Barnsley Premier Leisure (BPL). “Our Net Promoter Score went from 65 into the 80s and, commercially, the site went from 1,700 members to nearly 3,000 in the space of a year.”
Galvin is describing the results achieved at Pontefract Leisure Centre, the first location to benefit from a rebranding exercise, which BPL embarked on in 2017.
The social enterprise, which operates 11 sites on behalf of local authorities, set out on the rebranding journey partly due to customer feedback, which suggested its ’Fitness Flex’ brand was no longer hitting the spot. The early results it has achieved with its new brand – Your Space – have been transformational.
Revitalise and reposition
Galvin says BPL began to sense in early 2017 that the Fitness Flex name didn’t position its gym offer strongly enough in the market or portray BPL’s core values around being a local operator. In addition, the brand image was generic and had connotations of being a bodybuilding gym.
BPL decided revitalisation and repositioning was in order, with the plan being to move away from the value gym marketplace and focus on the trust’s purpose – to enrich people’s lives within their community, through fitness.
“Fitness Flex didn’t resonate with our members in the local areas in which we operate,” says Galvin. “And this was reflected in customer surveys.”
The original brand had not really landed, says Galvin: “Our members are proud of their towns and instead of using Fitness Flex, people were still calling our sites by their ‘old’ names – such as Worksop Leisure Centre.”
BPL brought in Leeds-based brand design agency WPA Pinfold, which took a holistic look at the brand and gym operations.
“We defined the target audience and developed a new brand proposition and positioning,” says creative director Richard Hurst. “We wanted to emphasise the focus on BPL’s local communities, their members and their personal fitness goals, and their not-for-profit nature.
“From there, we created a ‘big thought’ at the centre of the brand, to guide creative thinking and give people a reason to believe in the brand’s message. This thinking communicated the good that the not-for-profit operation does for the community, the good that it does for its employees and, ultimately, the good that exercise and fitness does for your body and mind.”
The brand guidelines have also helped reduce design time for BPL’s internal studio, as they have clear templates and guidance. The guidelines have also delivered a clear scheme specification for future venue fit-outs, allowing BPL to procure and tender signage contracts, uniform and merchandise requirements. This has allowed them to get the best value on agreed specifications, quantities, and warranties.
The resulting Your Space brand has a more vibrant identity, designed to place members at the heart of the operation. The message is simple – making facilities “your space to do what you want, and your space to feel good”.
The brand was unveiled in mid-2018 and BPL chose Fitness Flex in Pontefract to be the first to get a makeover. As well as a new brand identity, Pontefract was given a new gym floor layout, new equipment and a refreshed programme of classes.
“We went on-site at Pontefract in December 2018,” says Galvin. “We held brand training days for the staff and replaced all the brand architecture to reflect the new name.
“Converting the site took 14 days – out of which the gym was closed for two, as we wanted to have minimal impact on members. We communicated the process fully with customers, replaced posters with digital screens, launched gym challenges and came up with a rallying call of ‘make someone feel good today’,” says Galvin.
“The results were immediate,” he says. “As well as a 30 per cent increase in members, the improvement in the value of the offer led to a boost in staff morale.
That isn’t to say that everything went without teething problems, as Galvin explains: “Fitting a refurbishment into that timeframe will always bring complications.
“Also, there were some members of staff who didn’t buy into the changes and didn’t see the value in them. For us, that highlighted the members of the team who didn’t see their future with us.
“On the flip side, once we revealed the new brand, all our other GMs wanted their site to be done! I’m not exaggerating when I say it created a bit of a frenzy.”
In total, BPL invested around £140k to create the new-look Your Space Pontefract. In addition, more than £230k was spent on innovative, ultra-modern fitness equipment – which includes an extensive range of kit from equipment partner, Technogym, and a selection of IFI machines, tailored to support disabled members.
Although the intention was all along to introduce the brand across the BPL estate, the success of Pontefract confirmed the project’s importance and in 2019, detailed plans were laid to roll out the brand across the portfolio during 2020. But then the pandemic hit.
While COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns and closures have certainly had a huge effect on BPL, it has kept on-course with its rollout plans – even though it meant significant investment at a time when revenues are under unprecedented pressure.
“Once the pandemic hit, we decided to keep the original timeline we’d identified for sites to be refurbished,” Galvin says. “Some sites received more investment than others and this was dictated by the level of return and yield predicted from each site.”
“So far, we’ve refurbished and rebranded seven out of 10 of our sites. We’ll finish the rest now we’ve got a better steer on reopening dates, which will enable us to forecast.”
As well as ploughing on with its facility rollout plans, BPL utilised its new Your Space brand when launching a digital service during the pandemic.
Your Space at Home was launched in July 2020 and was designed entirely in-house – apart from a support help from a local website developer. The original purpose was to create a digital service which would both keep members engaged and introduce them to the new brand.
“During the lockdowns we’ve offered members the chance to use Your Space at Home for free, as we felt that if we could create some brand loyalty while we’re shut, we’d reap the benefits in the medium- to long-term,” Galvin reveals.
“During the three lockdowns, we’ve offered discounted codes for the two local authorities we work with (Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Bassetlaw District Council), as well as other partners. In addition to the subsidised partnership approach, there’s a commercial element – we actively market Your Space at Home to non-members too.”
Your Space at Home offers a live streaming timetable of 30 live classes per week and has more than 80 hours of on-demand content. The selection of exercise options, presented by local instructors who have a personal touch, has proven hugely popular – Your Space at Home currently has 2,500 paying members.
“The affinity the users have with our instructors resonates a lot better than if we’d use a generic platform – with instructors from the US or elsewhere,” Galvin says. “A recent survey we sent out to 3,000 users of the system resulted in 250 returns and the average NPS score was 90.”
Galvin adds that what started out as a way to introduce the brand to existing customers while facilities were shut, has now become a permanent fixture of BPL’s offer. “Home working and at-home fitness is here to stay, so we feel this really has legs,” he says, adding that plans are already underway to further develop the platform.
“We’re looking at speaking to partners to create a legacy for this, working closely with Public Health England and the NHS to potentially get into hard-to-reach communities,” Galvin reveals. “We have already offered it for free to all NHS employees for 12 months.
“A customer survey also showed that the digital offer is something that our members want as part of their membership.”
BPL is planning to complete the rebrand project across its entire estate by the end of 2021 and is aiming for the new identity to help it bounce back from the effects of the pandemic. Galvin says the brand – paired with the way it’s utilised its digital platform to keep members engaged – will be crucial to the recovery.
“We’ve lost around 14 per cent of our members during lockdown, but we feel bullish that when consumer confidence begins to grow again these will return,” he says.
He adds that the new ‘hybrid model’ will play a key role. “Embracing digital is something all operators need to do, or they risk being left behind.”
“For us, there have been huge levels of improvement in the way we communicate with our members digitally. The perceived value of the brand – and us offering the digital platform for free for nearly six months – will help when it comes to reopening.”
Galvin says that, as a result, BPL is hugely buoyant about not only its own prospects, but the sector’s future as a whole. “We’re firm believers that the future of fitness is going to be brighter than ever, once we’re open and get back to business,” he says.
“People have reassessed how much their own health means to them during this pandemic and the flexibility of a hybrid approach makes total sense for people’s busy lifestyles.”
That also means looking for further opportunities for the Your Space brand.
“We’re now actively looking at growth opportunities,” Galvin reveals. “We feel extremely confident to parachute this brand into a new club or local authority contract and make a success out of it.”