So, now that Christmas is a fading memory, I’m sure that you are back into the swing of things, all guns blazing, tires firmly on the tar and (hopefully) sticking to whatever goals and targets you set yourself both personally and professionally whilst welcoming in 2019 with open arms.

I’m sure you’re holding on tight to the fitness rollercoaster that’s trailblazing in so many different directions right now from budget to boutique, indoor to outdoor, not to mention the extremely exciting and dynamic digital space.

But before we look to the future I’d like to reflect a little.

The past nine years my family and I have resided in South Africa, so our annual trip back ‘home’ every December is one that we as a family really look forward to.

Of course, it’s all about reconnecting with family and friends but it’s the little things that trigger that emotional connection that quite simply tell us we’re home!

As fitness professionals, we all know the special place music plays in the exercise experience, but quite honestly, no words can describe that feeling when ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ (Thanks Chris Rea) comes on the radio during our transfer from the airport to my parents’ house. You can’t help but immediately be transported back to 1999. Talking of which, another classic and one of my all-time favourites that resonates on so many levels (not forgetting my school Christmas Disco – but that’s a whole different story) is the classic Frankie Goes to Hollywood track ‘The Power of Love’.

Now apart from immediately being thrown back to 1984, I can’t help but relate the emotion of love directly to the Health & Fitness industry.

In the true words of the film Love Actually: “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

So, what’s all this emotional ‘stuff’ got to do with anything fitness related?

Well never a better time to discuss I guess?

This month, tens of thousands will have embarked on a fitness journey to ‘a better them...!’ You know, “New Year, New You?” #fitness goals and all that!

But let’s look at this relationship. Let’s be brutally honest as an industry and hold the mirror up against ourselves.

Let’s get our customers to fall in love with us and maybe, just maybe, we could learn from this crazy little thing called love.

Falling in love…

You know that feeling, the butterflies, the anticipation, the unknown. Well guess what, that’s exactly what those new members are feeling right now. So just like any new relationship, are you making that extra-special effort on your customers’ first few dates? Are you going the extra mile? Is the consumer falling in love with you?

To try and give a little structure and context to the above I’m going to use a tried and tested marketing model.

These are the ‘Ps’ in The Power of Love


What does your exercise experience offer in comparison to the next club or facility? Are your programmes unique? What do the class names mean to the new member that joins tomorrow? Does the timetable offer a good mix, enabling the member to get a balanced workout? Do you offer, “niche” programmes – back clinics, youth specific, mature market, sports specific, pre & post-natal etc? Does your timetable reflect your target market? What is your unique selling point? Are you in line with trends (ACSM 2019 trend report) And more to the point are you and your staff qualified to deal with the everchanging trends. Will this be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, an awkward blind date or maybe just an uncomfortable break-up?

ACSM's Top 10 Fitness Trends for 2019 are:


Have you got the best instructors within your area working for you? Do they keep up to date with the latest trends and research and more importantly is this filtered into their classes? Are they interested in “The Back Row”? Are your instructors looked after? Do they get paid what they deserve? Are they evaluated and coached on a regular basis? How do you reward them if they’ve gone above and beyond? When’s the last time senior management, for example, showed their appreciation by looking into a class and congratulating the instructor personally for sharing the love to so many members (especially at this crucial time).


Do you manage what you measure? Do you even measure? If you’re not monitoring your studio usage figures you’re not measuring, if you’re not measuring you can’t manage. Simple!

Aim to look at three Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)

  1. Cost Per Head (Instructor costs divided by class usage)
  2. Occupancy % of class (% members that attended the class against the capacity of the studio)
  3. Studio utilisation against total facility usage (% of facility users that use the studio).

Using these KPI’s will help you analyse trends, as well as strong or weak areas of your program enabling you to do something about it.


If I was lost in your town and asked a stranger for directions to your facility, would they know where you were? More to the point, would they know who you were? Are you the accessible expert in your area? Advertising doesn’t need to cost you anything. This day and age there is no excuse to not have a brand presence on social media platforms.

Do you have any “news worthy” classes at the moment that might be of interest? How about a youth specific class? You should be the local expert that is helping to fight the obesity epidemic across the UK! Contact your local newspaper on the latest class/event/activity you and your club are doing. Link in with a local charity and get involved in local community outreach opportunities. Have you got any success stories in one of your classes? Newspapers are always on the lookout for local pieces of editorial. Why not contact the editor at your local paper and show them the research on exercise adherence? Offer them a free 6 week “Fly On The Wall” membership to your classes/club. I dare you.


Will the customer fall in love with your environment? How does it look? Does the colour make you want to work out? Could it do with a lick of paint? Are the mirrors in good order? Is the space adaptable and ready for the next trend? Could you fit a dimmer switch enabling a different ambience for a different class? Does it smell? Does the air handling system work? Has it been serviced? …I’m sure on your first date you ensured that not only did you look good, but you smelt good! How does it feel? Is it too cold for Pilates? Or too hot for HIIT? Does the air-conditioning work and can you instantly switch from hot to cold? How does it sound? Is the sound system suitable for the size of the room?

So, there you have it. Your relationship with your customers is like any solid relationship, once you’ve fallen in love, you need to keep working at it, keep it fresh, keep the passion alive and keep moving forward.

Ceri Hannan

Head of Programme Design and Innovation, Virgin Active South Africa