Helpful Tips for Transferring Leisure Services
Over the past 2 years, TA6 have supported a number of leisure operators transfer their services back to the Council or moved into a community interest company. Our support has ranged from being an integral part of this process in managing certain aspects of the transfer, through to continuing to deliver our marketing and training services alongside the operators focusing on the transfer of their service. In this short article we share some ‘golden nuggets’ we have picked up along this journey and how these can help other leisure operators embarking on a similar process. Whilst our support has been varied, here we discuss a number of benefits related to sales and marketing.
Objectives and Planning
As with any project that may be last-minute and/or urgent, the temptation is to rush in and start doing the doing. But step 1 needs to be to take a step back and evaluate what the objectives are and what the end goal looks like. Creating a transfer plan may be a little time consuming but will ensure all stakeholders and outcomes are considered. Allowing sufficient time to address the scale of the project shouldn’t be underestimated and having the correct resource and experience to advise and action the plan is imperative to delivering a proposition that is ready for launch. At the end of this article we share details of how you can access a free checklist tool that may help.
Who takes back control may be clear to the operator, staff and council, but the public are often confused about who runs their local leisure service. How many operators still get frustrated after a decade of running a leisure centre only for a member of the public to say, “I thought the council still ran it”! Therefore, a clear brand vision is needed which can be communicated to the public at launch. Understanding the objectives and the reason why facilities are coming back in-house is integral to how this new brand will be built. This will shape the value-for-money proposition that we create through working with the client and their project team. These then need to be show-cased to all stakeholders via tools such as a playbook, launch events, regular comms and signage.
The creative really does need to reflect the personality of the brand and what it stands for – there needs to be a story behind the design that reflects the new brand. The transition for all stakeholders is a journey and communication is key to making the transfer successful and a positive experience.
CLIENT EXAMPLE: A new leisure brand for Plymouth
In April 2022 Plymouth Active, a council-owned company, took control of the leisure facilities across Plymouth from the previous operator Everyone Active. A new brand was created to represent an environment where health and wellbeing is at the heart of Plymouth in order to improve making physical activity accessible for everybody who lives in the city.
The digital shop window. In most stages of the consumer buying process, your website has an important role to play, from brand recognition and awareness, through research and consideration, to purchase and advocacy. As with the overall transfer plan, an understanding of the requirements of the website is needed to begin with. Showcasing your products and services in a vibrant format is one outcome, but helping the community understand the new brand’s purpose and vision is also crucial. Good functionality that provides a high-level customer experience is a high priority, and this must work and connect with the infrastructure of the existing Leisure Management System (LMS). Ease of navigation is also essential so constant reviews of various customer journeys should be at the forefront when the site is built and tested.
Finally, the personality of the brand needs to be reflected in the content of the website. We recommend investing in a photoshoot to update the stock images and video to be used across the sites – real customers, real situations, in your leisure facilities.
It is important when the new brand launches that a plan is in place to raise awareness, promote new initiatives and proactively sell products and services. You never get a second chance to launch a new brand like this. The message and strap lines used within a launch campaign needs to reflect change, understanding of the reasons for the change and how the change will be a positive and improved experience for customers and staff. A full programme of customer communication alongside a marketing strategy should be mapped out well in advance of the launch. A range of digital, offline, Out of Home (OOH), partners and stakeholder channels should be factored into this plan.
CLIENT EXAMPLE: Launching Lampton Leisure
Lampton Leisure, part of Lampton 360, a trading company wholly owned by the Council, took over the management of the leisure services in Hounslow from Fusion Lifestyle in November 2020. A 3-phased launch was planned and executed with Get Ready, We’re Open, Welcome Back messaging.
Putting the customer at the heart of the new and improved approach will be fundamental. A cultural change may be needed, which will take time, but having clear expectations, vision and service commitments will support the journey. A training programme to look at a new and improved ways of delivering customer service is also needed. Key areas of the customer journey should be focused on which include the acquisition, onboarding, dropout and feedback stages, as well as exploring cross-marketing opportunities to maximise the value customers receive from using the facilities, and the benefits of additional income generation. These training considerations should be factored into the whole organisation’s systems and not just around memberships, which is often the case.
The final area to consider is the use of data to look at current delivery and also new opportunities. When was the last time any demographic analysis was conducted on existing customers and members? When was the last user and non-user research carried out? Are dashboards in place to measure the objectives and KPIs set out at the start of this transfer process? This invaluable work enables a level of understanding which can influence new initiatives, services, delivery models, staff recruitment and pricing.
Transferring an entire leisure service to a new operating model is never easy or straight-forward, but support is available from various sources. If you would like a copy of a free checklist we developed whilst working with our clients then please contact Neil Harrison, TA6 Head of Operations – Neil@allianceTA6.co.uk
Useful documents from the LGA:
In our recent article “What Brings You in Today?” we presented the idea that Thick Data might be the missing link in understanding customer behaviour.
There has been much discussion in recent years about the importance of data, but data is only valuable if it is the right data, at the right time and used effectively for business insights that inform strategy and action.
Generally data is gathered as numerical and performance information such as sales, visits, bookings, and revenue. These are obviously essential to understand a level of success and outcome however they do less to help us understand who our customers are, what they need from us or how they feel about the experience to help shape our future strategy or immediate actions. Quite simply, because we are in the business of helping people, it just makes sense that we should be aiming to humanise our customer experience to do that effectively.
What is Thick Data?
In its basic form it is defined as “…qualitative information (such as observations, feelings and reactions) that offers insight into consumers daily, emotional life. True customer experience comes from a place of empathy; understanding what a customer or potential customer needs in order to meet them where they are, so Thick Data must form part of our approach.
There are some established ways to gather Thick Data during marketing and acquisition campaigns, the idea of personas for example is something we have been focused on at TA6 for some time, but where and how do we use this after people become customers?
This is a great opportunity to better understand the “why” behind people’s choice to join or use our services, however most needs analysis is limited to what services you want to use, how often and what is your main goal. While these are important to establish the best membership type and initial exercise plan it does not help us understand how they are feeling about exercise and therefore what support they need to prevent them dropping out.
As our previous article on thick data suggested, simply asking “What brought you in today” allows the person to tell you what is important to them rather than simply answering a list of enquiry questions which may miss the key motivations that help us to connect.
Onboarding and “Induction”
Traditionally the induction focuses on the “what,” more specifically on the “what” of the gym. What equipment you have, what programme they will follow, what SMART goals you put in place etc.
By including simple questions such as “why is this important to you?,” “how confident do you feel about starting an exercise plan?” or “tell me about your previous experiences with exercise” we can start to shape a picture of their likelihood to stick with their plan and offer the right level of support to help.
Simple changes in how we approach conversation makes a dramatic difference. “Do you need any help today” inevitably leads to a “no thanks, I’m fine” response, even if this is far from the case.
Asking “How are you feeling about your programme/membership?” or “What are planning to get from today’s workout?” can evoke a vastly different, and more honest reply which can be followed up to help keep people on track and feeling good about their exercise sessions.
All this requires confidence and skill from your team but providing some simple clarity on including these questions in the process, why they are important and how to react to the answers will help instill this.
For example, during needs analysis, online or in person processes, consider including statements for new customers to select as which best describes them.
I am new to exercise or do not feel confident, and would benefit from some guidance on what is best for me
I have some exercise experience but struggle to stick to a regular routine
Exercise is part of my routine; I am regularly active and am confident to exercise independently
This can then determine which support pathway would be best for them but also gives you big data on what proportion of your customers need slick, easy to start processes or are potentially higher drop out risk in need of more focused support. This insight drives strategy and process decisions and can create clear impact outcomes. We explore this further in our blog “10 People Joined Yesterday, What Happened to Them?“.
So, take some time to re-look at your own processes and consider where the introduction of Thick Data can benefit your customers and their expected outcomes.
Is the nation more active than ever?
With the recent release of the State of the UK Fitness Industry Report all eyes turn to see how the sector has managed over the past 2 years of disruption. The report shows that there has been a slight decline in members from 2019 to 2022 by 4.7%. This loss of 500k members has affected the market value to the tune of £300m and resulted in a penetration rate currently standing at 14.6% (down from 15.6% in 2019).
However, if our industry reported on ‘Active’ members and not just paying members could we being seeing positive movement over the last 3 years? Looking outside our industry we can see this type of reporting on active users elsewhere. Take Facebook for instance which reports roughly 3 billion monthly active users or YouTube with 2.1 billion monthly active users. They have many more users but the focus is on those that are actively engaged with their platforms on a monthly basis.
Especially in an industry that has physical activity at its core, reporting on active users surely makes more sense.
Back in 2019 some leisure operators had up to 45% of their membership base dormant or ‘sleeping’ – yes, we couldn’t believe it ourselves either. Accepting that this is a fairly extreme figure, we looked back on our records and estimated that 20-30% of most clubs’ membership were not active within the last 30 days. Therefore the 15.6% penetration rate representing 10.4 million members back in 2019 was actually more like 8 million active users. Following the repeated closure of facilities during the pandemic the industry experienced a boom in cancellations as sleeping members (some decades old) were woken up and subsequently ceased their payments. So current sleeping member percentages are likely to be around 5-10%, meaning the actual active users in 2022 is likely to be around 9 million and therefore an actual increase on 2019.
I asked Dave Minton, Founder of Leisure Database Company, for his thoughts on this perspective. “I believe that the industry and the brands within it need to be more open and transparent. We are now in discussion with the major brands to start collecting more data more often to provide the active monthly KPI. The leisure industry needs this data to evidence its impact on the health of the nation and reverse the Government’s view that we are non-essential.”
At Active Uprising on 28th June, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson presented the long-term strategy for ukactive and outlined Vision 2030 which plans to generate 5 million more users of facilities – which I strongly support. But shouldn’t we be talking about active users? More people, more active, more often. I know this can be implied by the fact that customers have joined with good intentions but we know from previous years’ sleeping member percentages, this isn’t always the case. Generating interest and gaining commitment to join a club or centre is only part of the journey. Creating exercise habits and lifelong change is the hard bit!
And for operators thinking about the commercial benefits, an active user is hugely more valuable than just a sleeping member. Active members refer more friends and family, add secondary spend income, are more likely to leave a positive review and contribute more to social value.
So my final thought turns to the 5 million more users. Our sector is more than just gyms, studios and pools. We have an abundance of physical activity spaces that might not generate a monthly subscription like a traditional gym membership but they offer something to communities that still has a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Let’s get 5 million more badminton players, 5 million more bowlers, 5 million more exercise referrals, 5 million more children swimming, 5 million more climbers – you get my point. Our industry should play a huge part in improving the health of the nation and 5 million more active members can just be the start.
Do you have a fitness challenge “brand” you use to support an on-going challenge calendar? Build this into the on-going member journey and engagement strategy.
Can you utilise your social media channels? Encourage members to share a photo of them completing the challenge.
What on site assets will you need? Maybe a branded tracking board so participants can see their name or contribution on the sheet or so teams can keep updated with their position.
Can the challenge be linked to options within your app? Adding as a workout of the day or pre-set workout or can your app send invites and updates on new challenges?
Do all your team across the facility know and understand the challenge, consider where it can be embedded into the member journey?
Be creative, relevant and have a clear objective when creating challenges and consider how, where, and when you promote them.
For help and advice on creating successful member challenges please get in touch with the team at TA6 – we will even share 3 free challenges that you can adopt for your facilities!
BLACK FRIDAY 2021: FRIDAY 26TH NOVEMBER
CYBER MONDAY 2021: MONDAY 29TH NOVEMBER
STRONG PERFORMER: ROEFIELD LEISURE
Offering a huge 50% discount on all annual memberships Roefield, based in Lancashire, generated 106 new sales for the period 25th-28th Nov. In previous years Roefield would average 25 sales in the whole month of November. This gives the centre a huge cash boost going into the quietest month of the year for the industry.
To summarise the performance of leisure centres across the UK over recent years it would be mixed. Prior to 2020 those sites that had a strong offer and allowed customers to pre-register in the lead up to the promotion performed strongest, whereas those with an offer that wasn’t necessarily unique to Black Friday struggled to boost sales beyond last year’s figures. However, in all cases sales for the Black Friday period were up for a similar period in any other month of the year. Some sites who had used flash sales or 24hr offers throughout the year struggled to make their intended impact compared to sites that had stayed away from short term deals (however regular flash sales throughout the year gave better overall sales than just doing the one in November!)
Here are some of the lessons learned from previous year’s campaign which are invaluable tips for most promotions throughout the year.
MAKE AN IMPACT
Against such strong competition from every retailer in the UK your message has to stand out from the crowd. Use videos or GIFs on social media to catch people’s attention with moving images. If your offer is strong then lead on the discount/saving/hook and leave the gimmicks and fancy taglines alone.
MAKE IT WORTHWHILE
Black Friday was always intended to be a short term sales period with exclusive offers so give your customers an offer they won’t forget. ½ price first month membership just won’t get the response you’re probably looking for! If you do go big then limit the number on offer or stick to a 24 hour sales period.
BREAKTHROUGH OFFERS TO GET NOTICED
- 3 months free – 12 for 9 on annuals
- Free junior membership with every new adult membership
- 2-4-1 on all PT packages (min. spend)
- £50 Amazon voucher with every new membership
- Refer a friend and get a free month – refer 3 friends and get a YEAR FREE!
GENERATE LEADS EARLY
Announcing a “crazy deal is coming” just a few days before the event can result in a few early leads being generated if prospects are directed to a data-capture landing page. Make these customers feel like they’ll be the first to know and create some urgency using “limited offer”, or “only 20 memberships available” messages.
You can’t evaluate your campaign if you don’t set a target or have some expectations at the start. Look what your competition are likely to be doing, how did you perform last year, what budget are you willing to invest in the promotion, how strong is your offer.
Once the campaign starts ensure you have clear reporting channels and schedules in place so that amendments can be made to online adverts, budgets adjusted and Plan B actioned if necessary.
HAVE A PLAN B
What happens if you’re not going to hit target? Reacting on the Tuesday after Cyber Monday is too late! Especially with digital advertising which can be adapted in seconds there’s no excuse for not monitoring your performance throughout the campaign period. Emails and SMS broadcasts can be sent to databases, Facebook posts can be boosted, Google Ads campaigns tweaked, Instagram adverts budget increased, staff brought in to call hot leads, announcements made at the start of classes. Proactively be reactive!
A flash sale can create lots of enquiries which is great for sales but not for staff if there isn’t sufficient cover to cope with demand. Driving leads and enquiries online minimises this pressure and can deliver a greater customer service for many of your new members. Online advertising should steer customers to micro-sites that capture data, provide info and direct customers to online joining portals. Utilising promo codes to create urgency and track your sales is essential. Digital channels also offers the opportunity to automate some processes such as auto-responders thanking customers for their interest or directing them to a joining link.
Whilst digital adverting channels might work for many customers there is still a place in leisure for traditional offline outreach and lead generation. Brief your staff to be interacting with every potential new customer face-to-face, schedule some local leaflet drops to housing estates, retail parks and businesses, hit the phones and call ex-members and prospects, run a sweepstake competition to gather leads, the list goes on!
ARE YOUR STAFF UP FOR IT?
From the initial briefing sessions through to the individual incentives you may offer them for hitting target, your staff will be crucial in the success of the campaign. Incentives don’t have to be huge financial bonuses but a day in-lieu, box of chocolates or a bottle of wine can all motivate some staff. Make sure the promotion brief covers all T&Cs, FAQs and clear admin procedures so the staff are well informed.
4 A’s OF MARKETING
These will be your best friend as you plan and implement your campaign.
Aims – Set your targets and decide on what success will look like.
Audience – Who are you targeting? What advertising channels will they respond to?
Action – Plan carefully and carry out your strategy.
Assess – Monitor performance throughout the campaign and produce a report at the end.
Read more about the 4 A’s of Marketing here.
Black Friday will start earlier and run longer
Retailers will focus online
Advertising space will be very competitive and drive advertising prices up
Strong offers will win the day, but may not be beneficial long-term
If you'd like some support with your Black Friday campaign or would just like to chat through some ideas, please get in touch.Get In Touch
The interview started with Woody being asked, what sales and marketing challenges did he see gym operators facing during the next 12-months as the UK recovers post-pandemic?
Changing, developing, growing and moving your sales and marketing on will be crucial; operators who just go back to their pre-Covid acquisition strategies are going to struggle and even fail.
The fitness sales marketplace has changed dramatically; consumers have had more than a year to reflect on where they direct their spend, if indeed they direct it our way at all.
For too long our sector has focused on short term, price-led promotions to drive interest. It’s time to step up and develop brand-led, inspiring campaigns that focus on why your facility is the right fit for the target market you’re trying to attract.
Think of your brand as a person, with a clear personality and passion. Your brand values are like that person’s DNA – the commitments they live by. Your brand vision is what drives and defines that passion; use this vision to create the energy and clarity your team need to deliver.
For operators who wish to revisit their brand, where should they begin?
When we build/develop brands we focus on vision, mission, goals, values, commitments and messages. We use these triggers:
1. The Why – what’s your purpose? What impact do you want to have? Who are you aiming your offer at?
2. The What and the How – this is all about your venues and your products … what you offer, and your people and your pricing
3. Identity and Personality – what’s the essence of your brand? What are your core values? These needs to be relatable, believable and unique to you
4. Tone of voice – what emotions and passions are you looking to evoke in your customers with your messaging?
The key here is to ask: does your brand make a difference to customers’ wellbeing? Your facility is just one element of your product that contributes, but there is so much more you can offer. Customers need to feel they are part of something bigger than just a club.
The marketplace is noisy and marketing spend is lower than ever. Rather than the ‘outside to in’ marketing approach most take, focus on an ‘inside to out’ campaign, using real member stories to inspire new customers, using your community as a lure.
The interview continued with Woody being asked about how whether he felt the sector was damaged from 2020, as well as giving some advice on how operators can focus on getting back to normal. Read the full interview here.
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