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Part 2: How to differentiate your virtual studio offering in a changed fitness landscape

In Part 2 of this series on welcoming your clients back to the studio after COVID-19, we spoke to Josh Leve, Founder and CEO of the Association of Fitness Studios, about how studio owners can differentiate their virtual offering and build their client base in a changed fitness landscape.

Watch the video for the full interview or read the key takeaways below.

How studio owners can differentiate their online offering

The virtual fitness business is booming, especially now— but it’s also highly competitive. In order to set your online offering apart from the competition, you need to focus on the unique experience and personal touches you provide, Josh says.

During this period, if you’ve established a community online, consider other ways of engaging them, such as through educational Q&A coffee chats, workshops and social challenges.

While people will return to in-studio classes in time, Josh recommends maintaining your online training as a way of reaching and retaining clients. It will also help you generate much-needed revenue while you ramp up operations at your studio.

“You get client retention because of the experience that people have when they walk into your facility. That hasn’t changed now that things have gone virtual. You still have the opportunity to send individualized follow-up texts, or even handwritten thank-you notes, or to reach out to them on their birthdays. You can still create programming that’s specifically for them.”

Those elements create brand loyalty, he says. “If you create that relationship and that experience with people, it doesn't matter who the competitor is, those people are going to stay with you.”

How to embrace the changes in the boutique studio and fitness industry

The industry has already changed drastically in Josh’s view and many small studios will be hit hard. But the good news is: clients will be back.

“At the end of the day, people crave socialization and people crave that in-person experience, the feeling of camaraderie and competition,” he says.

In the meantime, try to reach that untapped population— the estimated 80% of people who currently aren’t working out— via your online offering.

“It’s all about creating additional revenue streams. The more you have, the better, so this is a great one. Reach those people who are stuck at home and need an outlet.”

Studio case study: The Movement Lab

Lisa Palmer

If you’ve been doing any Pilates workouts or Merrithew® training online, you might have come across The Movement Lab’s bright and cheery Instagram profile. From Instagram Lives, to account takeovers and collaborations, fundraisers and anatomy refreshers, this South African studio’s online offering is top-rate, attracting clients from all over the world.

Merrithew Lead Instructor Trainer and studio owner Lisa Palmer tells us how she does it.

1. What type of programming have you found most successful online?

Lisa: In terms of programming, we've found it most successful to keep the schedule as simple and straightforward as possible so as not to overwhelm people. We have kept our classes minimal in terms of props to make them widely accessible. We teach Mat, Barre and Mobility Flow classes. Each of these class repertoires change daily to keep things fresh and interesting for participants.

2. How do you teach for different levels and modification needs online?

Lisa: When you don't have a lot of instructors available to teach different classes, it's easiest to offer mixed level classes and then offer extensive modifications and additions for extra challenge. We build most of our sequences up from the prep level, so that people can revert back to the previous prep options if they can't manage the progression.

3. How do you keep your virtual programming unique, dynamic and exciting?

Lisa: We put a lot of extra effort into ensuring each class is unique, including constantly updating our playlists. We also really try to cultivate a positive, warm and welcoming energy in every class. We chat to clients before class commences and in a lot of ways, it has brought us closer to them – bringing us into their homes, sometimes meeting their children and fur-kids, which we love.

4. How have you adapted your virtual training for your clients’ home environment?

Lisa: We have been using household items as props to create sequences that we would never usually be able to do in studio. This has challenged our creativity as instructors as well as our clients’ neuromuscular patterns. Some props we've used include a chair, broom, dish cloths, scarves and wine bottles!

5. What new skills are you honing or learning from virtual training?

Lisa: Tech! We have learnt so much about microphones, lighting, cameras and video editing. Virtual classes also require a different set of interpersonal and communication skills. It takes a while to get used to reading clients and adapting accordingly.

6. Any tips on cueing virtually?

Lisa: Be as clear and concise as possible. Audio is probably the most important factor of an online class. Clients have to be able to hear you properly. Investing in a great microphone was a game changer for us. We are also very careful of falling into the trap of using generic cues that may not be applicable to client's postural types.

7. Lastly, what’s been the best thing about teaching virtually?

Lisa: We are so grateful that we're still able to maintain a connection with clients while in lockdown. It gives us (and them) hope and something to look forward to in the day. It has also enabled us to reach a much wider audience from all over the world. We now have clients joining from multiple different countries in every class which is really exciting and something we will work to maintain post Covid-19.

ICYMI: Read Part 1 of this series here >

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