How Gyms Can Carve Out a Competitive Edge in Uncertain Times

If there was ever a time to have your gym and brand truly stand out, it’s now. These strategies will help you to carve out a competitive advantage in your market.

At a time when uncertainty rules—when reopenings remain difficult and member concerns regarding coming back are top-of-mind—reinforcing what makes you and your club the best choice is as critical as any message you might send.

In fact, competitive differentiation and leveraging the possibility to create new revenue streams are part of your keys to survival.

“In short, to maintain our financial strength—which is critical now and post-pandemic—we need to re-imagine our businesses,” says Bill McBride, founder, president, and CEO of Active Wellness and BMC3 Consulting. “Now is a time to truly understand what you are and what you are not. It is time to amplify what you are great at and known for.”

Bolstering Your Brand

How you’re perceived is a big part of supporting your brand and image. Managing your reputation—especially when members are seeking reassurance as they return—is a core part of that effort.

“I’m a big believer in digital marketing and working very hard to manage brand position and reputation,” says McBride. “The quality of the operation prior to the crisis is paramount to success going forward.”

Strategy and finance Polar Limited Use Ignite 5 man bicycle crunches outside Expires Jan_2022 column

Courtesy Polar Fitness

Areas to address include:

1. Reputation in the Marketplace

"Use a customer experience process or platform, like MXM’s Medallia solution, to understand the voice of the customer,” he says. “It is important to not only address member feedback and concerns but to operationalize the voice of the consumer in the solutions you create.

A component of reputation is following and controlling the online conversation about your club by staying on top of your reviews.

“I look at Google and Yelp, specifically,” says McBride. “People don’t go to restaurants below three stars, and the same can be said for health clubs, gyms, and studios. Monitor and authentically respond to all feedback and reviews.”

2. Messaging

Regardless of the channel, whether it’s your website, social media, texts, email, or any other communications, there are aspects of your messaging that need to be consistent across the board.

“Facilities should highlight the premium nature of their offerings,” advises McBride. “Right now, especially, quality, safety, and responsibility are all particularly important in messaging. In that respect, use your communications to share your commitment and performance with regard to safety, service, and excellence; share what you’ve done and are doing to make it as safe as possible, and highlight your culture.”

Other effective tactics include using member testimonials, both in written and video forms, and utilizing leadership communications to show commitment from the top.

Strategy and finance Polar Limited Use Ignite 5 Woman Gym June_2021 column

Courtesy Polar Fitness

New Revenue Opportunities

Competitive differentiation can bring with it the opportunity to augment existing, or create, new revenue streams.

“Among the biggest opportunities has been virtual or remote programming,” McBride notes. “We as an industry moved quickly and accelerated our ability in delivering content and services on a remote basis. Many savvy operators will continue to enhance this post COVID-19.”

Operators are optimizing the opportunity to build new pricing models based on “bundling.”

“There is an endless array of offerings,” he says. “You can do the traditional physical-only, virtual-only, a combination of the two, and build tiers around additional offerings, such as massage beds, body scans, guest privileges, personal training, diet and health consulting, and more. On-demand has opened up an entirely new pricing category.”

As you’re reinventing yourself, it might be time to explore new offerings to both stand out and increase profitability.

If you have the opportunity to create an outdoor fitness area on your property, it can help address future potential disruptions that might temporarily close your indoor facility while increasing revenues.

“You might also consider retail as a strategy,” says McBride. “If you’re not already doing it, consider adding online sales for supplements, apparel, and home equipment. Or add a small ‘grab & go’ food and beverage component.”

Another easy way to add revenue is through adding ancillary services, such as automated massage beds, body assessment, child and senior programming, smaller studio and private training classes at a higher fee, and events.

“The list goes on and on,” says McBride. “Start by asking, ‘What can and should we provide our community to meet unmet needs in a way that we can monetize?’ But no matter what, don’t fall into desperation by lowering dues and discounting. Now is a time to show value and our worth as an industry.”

Strategy and finance Polar Limited Use FIT Unite 16 Expires_July_2022 column

Courtesy Polar Fitness

Ensuring Members a Safe Entry

One key aspect of supporting your brand in the current environment is working to make members feel safe. Beyond distancing and hygiene, helping members safely build their fitness and workouts back up is of critical importance.

When people are coming back into your club in deconditioned states, it’s important to establish or re-establish baselines for exercise. One way to do that is through Polar’s V02 Max Fitness Testing.

“We get a baseline by using our heart rate monitors to test resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and other metrics,” explains Brett Lato, Polar’s manager of education and training. “Resting heart rate, for example, is a predictor of overall fitness in adults. Results can be compared to national averages for age, etc. This is a great baseline to build off to show growth and improvement.”

Training with heart rate information, he adds, supports the attainment of new goals by delivering instant and long-term feedback against those goals; accountability for both the trainer and trainee by providing a reliable and objective measure of effort; and through the ability to align the desired effect and goals with a training zone that will bring the most benefit.”

Certainly, Polar products and services can be used to help you differentiate yourself competitively by being positioned as great ways to help members safely restart regimens. But, Lato says, they’re also being utilized to create revenue streams.

“We see clubs using Polar Club, our software that records and displays live heart-rate data, as a value-add to group training programs and in their marketing,” he says. “Clubs can also sell Polar Club-compatible devices to clients for profit when they use our system for group training.”

In addition, he says, the Polar Coach online personal training tool, used by many personal trainers across the country, offers another opportunity.

“Many trainers utilize the Polar Affiliate program which grants them 10% commission on every Polar sale they make,” he says. “They sell devices to their clients and followers and then use the data gathered through Polar Coach to track and trend progress. This is a virtual tool for them as well, as all data can be recorded and accessed remotely, which has been instrumental for them during COVID-19.”

For more on the range of Polar heart rate products and services, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to