For some, attending a new gym or a class they haven’t tried before can be a daunting prospect, especially if they are going to it alone. So, how can gym owners and managers work to encourage new — and potentially nervous — customers through the door?
“Starting a new class can evoke similar emotions as the first day of school. All of those old insecurities about fitting in or not making a fool of one’s self can make a newbie feel anxious, and questions like ‘will I fit in?’ or ‘will people be friendly?’ can quickly crop up,” says Sally Baker, a writer and therapist.
There are easy steps that gyms and studios can take to make that all important first impression the right one, and quickly turn new customers into advocates. Working with experts in psychology and self-confidence, we have compiled five things for studios to consider, to appeal to fitness enthusiasts who may be lacking in confidence:
Offer the option to book a place.
Don’t underestimate the impact that booking a spot in a class can have on someone who is attending for the first time (or even for regular attendees).
“The 'book-a-spot' feature makes the class experience more approachable to studio newcomers and specifically those who are a bit shy when it comes to group fitness,” said Josh Lloyd of FitMetrix. "Picking a spot before class lets them not only select which machine they feel most comfortable using, but also removes the hesitancy they may feel when signing up for a group fitness class. The feature allows friends to sit together during a class and gives solo attendees the comfort of knowing exactly where they will be positioned in the room.”
The power of bringing a friend.
Our own conducted research has revealed that half (50%) of people are more likely to work out or attend a class with someone else, as opposed to going it alone. Self-confidence coach, Ben Edwards, said: “If people attend a fitness class on their own, they may feel nervous because they don’t know anybody else; they may worry that regular attendees have already established friendships, or that they’ll somehow embarrass themselves. Similarly, if this is their first time attending a fitness class alone, they may not feel comfortable exercising without moral support; fitness can be incredibly social, with a partner acting as a safety blanket.”
Further insight from this research showed that 15% of people said it was the social element of fitness that motivated them most, so consider using introductory refer-a-friend offers and discounts and engage with new customers.
Service with a smile.
It can seem small to some, but the right staff can make all the difference to customer retention. Recent MINDBODY data highlighted that one in five people (20%) say instructors are the single most important factor when it comes to sticking to a fitness routine. Sally Baker explains: “A smiling person is gold dust for anyone anxious about attending a new class or gym, and nothing dispels nerves faster than a warm welcome. The first point of contact should not be with your most forbidding or moodiest looking employee. This is a job for someone with a ready smile and open body language, which leads with a friendly and approachable manner.
Elena Sosa Tejerina from Flow to Perform, Sport Psychology and High-Performance Coaching, recommends always giving new customers a tour: “People tend to get nervous or anxious in an unknown environment or when they are learning a skill and they are still not sure about what they are doing. The best way to alleviate this could be to invite customers to the gym beforehand, for a dedicated tour - to familiarise them with the surroundings and instructors from the offset.”
Group workouts versus solo.
The type of workout that people are most confident with will naturally differ from person to person, so it’s important to try and gain an understanding of the customer’s preferences from day one, to best work out how to appeal to them. Elena explains that group exercise classes are often about more than just exercise and quickly become a social occasion for those involved, so consider introducing group sessions, or even socials, to develop a sense of community.
1. IBIS World Industry Report March 2018
2. Survey of 2,000 UK adults for MINDBODY 2018 Trainer Power Campaign
3. Survey of 2,000 UK adults and analysis of 70,000 businesses for MINDBODY 2018 Insights Report (full report available on request).