The summer is here, which is usually a means for excitement, however it’s also the toughest time of the year for the fitness industry. It was always difficult for me as a trainer and manager to hit even modest goals in these lean months. But difficult times were also a good time to experiment to try to mitigate these realities; from varying training packages, to group programs and different marketing initiatives, with varying degrees of success.
There are many reasons why this is a natural downtime for fitness:
People being active outside
Kids home from school
No built in ‘calendar incentive’ to train for, such as New Year’s resolutions or the start of summer
Natural falloff from winter rush
Procrastinators are waiting until September...or January
Ways to Mitigate
The reality is that you can not fight people’s natural inclinations for these months, so you have to try to work with them. There will be a dip in attendance and revenue, but you can try to minimize this by:
Planning for it in the long term
It should go without saying, but always selling the initial package based on the importance of a long term and properly phased program will help some clients seek the continuity of training over the summer. Beyond that, you should try to have a conversation about their summer plans when selling/renewing in the winter or spring, and plan for any of the above circumstances. Scaling the training back in the summer months with a plan to pick it up again in the fall is better than having them fall off in those weeks, or waiting until the fall to buy another package.
2. Offer varied packages, sell to get ahead in the fall
When selling training in the summer months it is also better to be realistic about potential client’s mentality at this time. Summer is for vacations, relaxing, getting outside and enjoying it all until September comes. Selling bi-weekly or monthly packages of sessions to complement scaling back up in the fall is a good way to deal with this, with an aim to give them a program that can be done wherever they may be spending their time or in support of whatever activity (golf, softball, etc) they may be doing. We used to spend July and August following up with our members and asking them if they had some time in the summer for an assessment and planning session to set them up for the fall. It was effective, as people would have some down time in the summer before or after vacations and knew they might not in the fall. We were able to get them engaged and in a routine, sometimes with one of these packages, meanwhile others who put it off may not get back until October if at all.
3. Group classes or programs
Traditional programming tends to take a corresponding attendance dip in the summer, from Yoga to bootcamps, especially paid weekly programs where people may miss weeks. Offering shorter programs (4-6 weeks) that are more targeted and with activities that can be easily done away from the gym on missed weeks tend to do better, and in some cases, better than the programs do themselves in busier months. Two such programs that I have run are a core strength/stability course and a meditation course, both of which had booklets with clear progressions of exercises and activities that could be done as ‘homework’ away from the course.
4. Get ahead of the summer months, market to it in the spring
This may go in the category of too little too late, but anticipating the summer ahead of time and marketing to it in the spring is a way to use it to your advantage. I always noticed an uptick in PT sales around the same time the first short sleeve weekend happened. The stark reminder that the summer is coming (and with it, bathing suits) is highly motivating. We used to put a flyer up in April that said ‘Bathing suit season is coming, do you have a plan?’ It was direct but effective.
5. Give free months
Lots of people take lazy summer afternoons or extended lunch breaks to kick the tires on the local fitness places and in some cases, do assessments, ahead of the fall. Giving free time for the summer months is a good way to get people signed up now instead of waiting for the fall. Most people figure that if they sign up now with free months, even if they don’t use them they will be set up for the fall.
Sell discounted packages
Though the temptation is always there to discount training packages in times that are tough, this very seldom leads to the result you want. What ends up happening is that current clients and other potential clients take advantage of the discounts to buy packages for the fall that they would have bought anyways, and very few new clients buy the discounted sessions to use in the summer.
2. Be strict with your cancellation policy
There is no point in fighting this one. There are going to be more session cancellations in the summer and charging people for them is not going to help in the long run. The more you can work with people at this time in a realistic way, the more likely you are to get some session usage in the summer and have them scale up in the fall.
3. Be unprepared
Do not treat it like there will not be changes to people’s behaviour or there is not a different buyers frame of mind in the summer. Anticipate these changes and try to use them to your advantage by showing your focus on the client’s long term success and not just selling the biggest package or making sure they use everything exactly as planned.
For our Trainer+ readers, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how our platform or other tools can help with some of the above:
Distance training and monthly programming
The nature of the platform is to be able to stay engaged with clients in between face to face meetings and be able to adapt their program to available equipment and schedule. The summer is a perfect time to use Trainer+ to adapt the program for vacation weeks for client’s to at least maintain progress, or scale back to a programming relationship where you meet up with clients monthly to demonstrate the new phase and use the app in between to keep them accountable and make changes to the program.
2. Use the reassessment date feature
The assessment feature provides a place for a ‘date of next assessment’ with every one you do. Use this to set up mid or end of summer reassessments to help them get started now for the fall.
3. Introduce new tools
The downtime in the summer is a good time to adapt new tools and processes, which gives you a good reason to reach out to your current and potential clients. With Trainer+, you can tell them you are moving to an electronic fitness recording tool and you want to do an initial assessment and give them their first program to get them started.
There is no denying that the summer will be the toughest time of the year for client engagement and new sales. The best thing to do is to be realistic about people’s mentality during these months and adapting processes that adjust to that. Try to use it to your advantage by selling to get ahead of it in the spring and setting up business for the fall. Trying things as usual, like committed weekly sessions or programs, or lazy tactics like discounting packages will work to your detriment, so be smart about your approach. It is also a good time to adapt new tools and processes, use the downtime to do just that and re-engage potential clients with new support ideas. Doing the things written about here will help you not only get through the summer months, but set up a successful fall season for your training business.