• 13 – 16 April 2023
  • Exhibition Centre Cologne

13. Dezember 2022, Anke Sörensen & Jürgen Wolff

Successful innovation management in fitness studios

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Innovations in companies are becoming increasingly important. Time for a comparison between companies' own aspirations and reality: What has changed in the range of services offered by fitness and health studios in the last two years? The following article shows how innovative studio operators are responding to digitalization, training technology, contract design and staff management and what members expect from their studios.

In the last two years, the corona pandemic has forced the fitness and health industry to develop digital training alternatives, including infrastructure, virtually overnight. To this end, it has used its opportunities extremely creatively and decisively – despite considerable losses in revenue and great uncertainty due to the constantly changing hygiene regulations.

Innovations have always been part of the industry's “DNA”. It is lifestyle- and trend-savvy and practised in regularly offering something new to its members. But that is exactly the point: success in introducing innovations is no coincidence, but is based on industry knowledge, customer proximity and experience. But how do fitness and health providers manage innovations successfully and put them into practice?

Members' expectations are rising

Customers' expectations of their studios have grown in the last two years. Digital offers are elementary, even after the studios have reopened. Flexibility in contract design, i.e. memberships that can be terminated at short notice, is equally important. Customers demand expert training support that is targeted and as individual as possible and that documents performance progress comprehensible. The number of challenges is increasing and is coming at the decision-makers in the sector at ever shorter intervals. 

Innovation management takes on a high priority

Innovation management occupies a significant space in the studios, even if the implementation varies depending on the size of the companies. While in large chains like Best Fit Group, entire project teams are responsible for innovation management, in medium-sized chains like Sports Club it is part of the “corporate DNA”. In smaller clubs like Enjoy Fitness, on the other hand, it is like a one-man show. Club manager Norman Heller provides the ideas and coordinates their feasibility with his experienced managing director Dr Hartmut Klose.

“Society lives in a constant state of change, standing still is quickly punished and can bring down highly successful companies in a very short time” is how Stephan Schulan, CEO BestFit Group, sums up the situation. “In contrast, we can continuously develop and adjust for the future through stringent innovation management.”

Innovation development includes all employees

Regardless of the size of the company, all four interviewees attach great importance to all employees contributing to the idea generation process. After all, everyone benefits from an open suggestion culture and flat hierarchies. Dr. Hartmut Klose emphasizes: “It is important to us that employees can come to us with their ideas at any time. Then a suggestion is analysed and discussed whether and how a project can be generated from it.” Alexander Sosa, owner of the Sports Clubs, also emphasizes: “Innovation must take place at all hierarchical levels. For this, friendly and fear-free interaction is significant. The promotion and development of employees is also important from this point of view.”

Innovation culture with processes and measures

Finally, it is the teams that are in close contact and exchange with the members and therefore provide valuable input. The employees are usually younger than the club operators and often more experienced in dealing with technology, digitalization and social media.

For Alexander Sosa, regular employee meetings and further training measures, as well as continuous exchange with the industry, are of central importance. Only in this way can process in the company and its equipment be regularly and purposefully checked. He pays special attention to feedback from his customers.

According to Stephan Schulan, successful and sustainable implementation in daily operations is much more difficult than developing innovation processes “on the drawing board”. Accordingly, fixed process and workflow tools have been installed at BestFit that enable the team to inform and pick up all levels of the company in uniform. Special teams supervise and implement the innovations together: “We live a very open suggestion culture and welcome every idea for optimization and innovation – regardless of which area it is for and from whom in our team it comes.”

 

Team as a success factor

At Enjoy Fitness, fixed meetings are scheduled every month as part of the suggestion culture. “Our employees can ask at any time if topics need to be communicated from their side. Ideas and projects that the employees have developed or that they have planned to implement are constantly discussed and analysed. The staff are very much involved because they are well-connected and, due to their age, closer to the pulse of the times than we are in management.”

In this context, returning to the core of fitness services is the most important step: “The customers and their wishes are our benchmark,” Alexander Sosa emphasizes. “To do that, we have to constantly evolve, have new ideas and try out new techniques.” 

Innovation thanks to member retention

“From my point of view, it is becoming increasingly significant to bind members emotionally to the clubs and to enable them to be addressed as individually and regularly as possible. We are currently building up our own CRM, Customer Relationship Management, and implementing a CRM tool to enable an even more intensive and targeted exchange with members,” says Stephan Schulan. In doing so, one insight is important for all studios: “We must not reduce the relationship with our customers to training visits only, but must become part of our members' daily lives.”

All business areas put to the test

Digitalization, automation, gamification and infotainment are just some of the topics that the Sports Club also has on its agenda in terms of innovation management. “Demands are increasing in all age groups. We have to listen even better to customers and their needs,” says Alexander Sosa. “It's about making things easier and more interesting for them, for example in equipment technology.”

Innovations in training offers and contract periods

 Innovations in training offers and contract terms BestFit has found from its surveys that training motivation has changed: “The health factor has moved a bit more to the fore.” At the same time, new members have become younger. Currently, it is mainly 16 to 28-year-olds who are registering with the BestFit clubs. Accordingly, the demand for functional training is growing, free weight areas are expanding and the number of users of the BestFit app and other digital products is increasing. As a result, BestFit is expanding and intensifying its marketing strategy to the younger target group. This concerns the way of addressing, the chosen advertising channels, as well as the adjustment of the contract periods to more flexibility.

Digital employees with “360° Coach”

Of the three parties surveyed, Enjoy Fitness is the smallest studio, but does not need to hide when it comes to innovation management. With two clubs, rigorous innovation management is desired but not possible. “But that doesn't stop us from looking for innovations or delivering them ourselves within the scope of our possibilities,” says Norman Heller. Together with Dr. Hartmut Klose, he is pursuing the goal of getting as many members as possible back into training. To do this, they need manpower above all. With the help of Sebastian Riehle, a specialist in messaging automation, they have therefore developed the “360° Coach”, which they also sell. The automated tool for customer retention and new customer acquisition works via WhatsApp API and saves human resources. This variant has nothing in common with the private use of WhatsApp and is completely DSVGO-compliant. Via the “360° Coach”, members can make appointments 24 hours a day, communicate with trainers as well as receive newsletters, information and surveys and give feedback. As an additional motivational incentive, they can collect points and rewards for each training session. And if a member has not shown up for training for three weeks, they automatically receive a reminder.

More time for personal support

“This tool is fascinating for all fitness studios. Everywhere in the industry we have the same needs in terms of customer care, motivation, retention and attracting new members,” says club manager Norman Heller, who came up with the idea for Coach. “All the important information that I as a gym want to pass on to my members is communicated by the digital coach. We have been using it for six months now and get positive feedback throughout. The message open rate is over 90 per cent. It's great to see how the tool is accepted regardless of age. The 70-year-old gets her protein shake as a reward just as much as the 20-year-old brags about his gold medal to his friend. Experiencing the success of these playful motivational stories is simply fun!”

The most important benefit for studios, however, is to reduce telephone time. Trainers thus have more time for actual member care and retention on the floor and in the course. After all, there is a broad consensus in the industry and in research that social contact is what customers missed most in their training experience during the pandemic.

Thinking outside the box

In addition to member surveys, the fitness and health industry offers a wide range of sources for creative input and novelties: Trade fairs, congresses, networking and industry meetings as well as trade magazines.

“All of the above are important,” says Alexander Sosa. “I get information about new devices or systems through trade magazines. I can then try them out at trade fairs. Industry meetings are significant for exchange. In the end, we all have the same goal and work on a common project: increasing customer value.”

Stephan Schulan sees greater chances of coming across profitable ideas the more inspiration he gets. “In addition to the intensive exchange with our teams as multipliers, we are in close contact with great colleagues from the industry, actively participate in association life and appreciate industry meetings such as MEET THE TOP. Trade magazines are also part of our daily reading. In addition, I think it's enormously important to look 'outside the box' of the fitness world by participating in cross-industry events, congresses and a constant bilateral exchange with our network.”

Club manager Norman Heller maintains an extensive network on social media platforms. “This way I am always up-to-date on perspective digitalization areas for operational and recommendation systems and marketing. If someone somewhere in the world has just thought of something great, I can establish contacts, find more information and build interfaces in no time.”

Where the journey is going

“A change is taking place, towards digitalization and innovative training machines that are more stylish and also appeal to a young audience,” Dr Hartmut Klose is convinced. “We believe that the mix of digitalization of training equipment and support in classic training will definitely continue in the future. This also applies to prevention and rehab.” Norman Heller adds, “With high-quality apps and training tools in the studio, outside the studio, in front of the sofa, on the sofa or outdoors, everything will be networked – that's where the journey is going. Soon you really will be able to combine all leisure activities with the gym.”

“We need to increase the incentive and reduce hurdles. Customers want everything to be simple, fast and without complications – ideally with a reward effect,” Alexander Sosa summarizes. “The training itself offers this, but we are also working on customer loyalty and recommendation programmes to make the reward even more visible. Member and staff surveys, implementing the results obtained through them and creating a culture of innovation are the key elements here.”

Conclusion

Those who fail to evolve run the risk of disappearing from the market. Today, companies are challenged to develop further with continuous innovation management and to adapt their services to the requirements of a constantly changing market. In doing so, it has proven useful for many entrepreneurs to also “think outside the box”, because the fitness industry can learn a lot from other service providers, such as system catering, about how to satisfy customer needs.

The most important factors for the changes of the future are the hybrid training world, digitalization, technologisation and models for flexible gym memberships.

This article first appeared in fitness Management.