From one bootcamp to four locations
While Fitness Playground is one of Australia’s biggest fitness brands, it first started as a small bootcamp in Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills. As the bootcamp grew, CEO and co-founder, Justin Ashley realized that the people who came to his class came for two reasons: one, they wanted to be part of a community, and two, get a good workout that didn’t require hours on a treadmill. When the bootcamp grew to hundreds of regular students in multiple locations, Ashley realized that it was time to open a gym—and Fitness Playground as born.
“We wanted to open our first gym, and our goal was to have around 800 members,” Ashley said. “Now we’ve got five gyms and are close to around 15,000 members. We’ve got a couple of hundred staff as well.”
Managing a business of that scale can be challenging on any given day—but the COVID-19 pandemic presented an immense hurdle: Fitness Playground needed to figure out how to keep thousands of members engaged when they could no longer come to the gym. Ashley knew that having the right mindset was critical for long-term success, so he and his team went into the shutdown anticipating a six-month closure.
“We wanted to make sure that our staff could keep working and our members could keep training” Ashley said. “So, with our offerings, we went all in. It was underpinned by assuming that this was going to be long term. And I think that helped to drive decisions.”
To make this work, Ashley and his team focused on what they did best—training and communicating—to make sure that members could keep physical and mentally healthy while staying at home. Trainers began programming workouts that didn’t require equipment, and the headquarters staff brainstormed ideas on keeping customers engaged from a distance.
The result of this work was Fitness Playground’s significant investments in its online fitness training, including the launch Virtual Playground, an on-demand class library with over 100 videos in just 10 days. But even in the virtual world, Fitness Playground focused on making working out fun. One example was Lift Your Mood, a virtual costumed workout. The event had 500 attendees, with more than 100 of them sweating in costumes.
Prepared for what comes next
The whole time that Fitness Playground was closed, Ashley and his team were multi-tasking. They were engaging with customers while they were at home, but also planning for how they would adjust the business and welcome members back when the time came.
For example, Fitness Playground paused all memberships when the gyms shut down in March. However, they also gave their members two other choices; one, to support Fitness Playground by continuing to pay their membership, and two was ‘FP Support’ which gave members struggling financially free access to Virtual Playground.
By changing their approach and diverting what could have been a financial decision into something about supporting the community Fitness Playground was able to retain revenue from around 25% of its members.
“We reopened to almost full operations right away,” Ashley said. “I don’t think that would have been possible if we focused purely on the financial aspects of the shutdown or the reopening. I think by giving back to our staff and our members as much as we can afford, and we can do, then when we need it, they’ll support us.”
Now that the gyms are open, classes booked on Mindbody are full, but Ashley is thinking about how Fitness Playground will approach a second shutdown.
“I think the second shutdown is going to affect people more than the first,” he said. “It’s time to sit down and create a plan about what to do if things shut down again. That’ll help you to get through this period.”
Because of its focus on community, Fitness Playground balanced keeping members engaged during a shutdown, reopening back to a full gym, and planning for an uncertain future with confidence.