13 mistakes to avoid when opening a new club

Lesley Aitken is one of the fitness industry’s leading experts in lead generation and conversion. With over 25 years experience in sales, Lesley now works internationally across many brands, including the likes of Matrix Fitness, and speaks at regular industry conferences.

We met with Lesley to learn about the most common mistakes gyms make when opening a new site and how these can be avoided to ensure the perfect launch.


When your new club opens its doors, a carefully planned and well executed pre-sale campaign could be the difference between success and failure, so why is it that almost all organisations continue to make the same mistakes over and over again?

Over the years these are the errors I’ve seen most frequently…

1. They recruit badly

Gyms assume that the best sales people are those that have been doing it for years. The reality, however, is that often these people have lost their energy, are stuck using outdated techniques and reluctant to embrace new technologies and ideas.

Experience is a great bonus but when you recruit a new sales person you need to focus on their natural skills and personality. Are they a great communicator? Can they think on their feet? Do they have a genuine passion for fitness? Do they have the will to learn and evolve? If they possess these raw attributes then I always know I can make a brilliant salesperson out of them.

2. They don’t give themselves enough time to plan

Pre-sale campaigns are a complex process. You need to:
– Create the pricing strategy
– Update the website sales pages
– Add new location pages for your SEO and give these pages time to index with Google
– Set up adwords and remarketing campaigns
– Create a location specific Facebook page and begin advertising
– Create a video of the inside of the location for use on the sales page and social media
– Have all offline media designed and printed
– Take prospects through a lead nurturing process, including SMS, email and social media

And all of this, clubs believe, can happen with a couple of months. Of course it can’t! And consequently mistakes are made and opportunities are missed. Clubs need to begin planning at least six months before launch.

3. They don’t respond to leads quickly enough

With the role of digital, most customers will enquire on several websites before making a decision. Consequently it’s a race to that all important phone call. The enquiry needs to get fired straight into the lead management system and placed at the top of the priority list. And yet instead many organisations depend on outdated 1 to 31 boxes and other slow, manual systems that take up too much time and place more emphasis on following process than making sales.

4. They depend on email

Amazingly, many clubs won’t even bother to pick up the phone but instead send the lead an email. This is a golden opportunity to build rapport and get the person excited about your club, and it needs to be handled over the phone!

5. They don’t have a dedicated pre-sale marketing budget

Pre-sales cost money. You need a budget for Facebook, Google adwords, billboards, sales people, flyers, etc… And yet when I ask most clubs what their budget is they either don’ have one or they just say “as little as possible”. They should know exactly what they’re planning to spend and what they expect for that money.

6. Their marketing and sales teams fail to work together

Communication is everything during a pre-sale campaign. There is no point the sales people communicating one thing if it’s not reflected on the website, and there’s no point having a shiny website that communicates all the USP’s of the gym if the sales person isn’t also briefed on these key sales messages.

A particularly nasty problem occurs when price changes aren’t communicated. If there is a pre-sale offer then the sales people need to stress the urgency and scarcity to prospects. And if this then moves onto 2nd stage pricing you need to ensure this is reflected on the website, flyers, FAQ page, autoresponders, etc…

There is a huge amount of project management and communication required to complete this sequence smoothly, and yet most clubs just act like it’s something they can stumble their way through.

7. They don’t understand their place in the market

Most clubs focus too much on the features – the swimming pool, latest kit, etc – not realising that these features are shared by half a dozen other clubs in the local area. What’s more, the customer often doesn’t care.

Before you engage in the pre-sale, your sales and marketing teams need to be crystal clear on what customers really want and the USP’s that truly define and distinguish your brand in the market.

8. They oversell certain memberships at a reduced rate

Whilst it’s important to get numbers through the door, it’s also important to consider the kind of members you actually want. For example, many gyms will oversell to students which then results in lower profit margins and high drop out rates when they all disappear home for the summer.

9. They neglect new members

The pre-sale team will often be so fixated on securing new memberships that they totally neglect members once they’ve joined. This can be disastrous to retention rates. After all, if someone joins a month before the club opens, and then receives no communication and completely loses their motivation by the time the club launches, they’ll likely cancel their membership at the earliest opportunity.

Even a simple newsletter can be really effective, just so the member is kept up to speed with any changes/developments and keeps the club at the front of their mind.

10. They don’t have answers to simple questions

Throughout both the pre-sale and then as a new member, people will have lots of small questions that are really important to their experience. Will they need a padlock? Will there be car parking? What’s the group fitness timetable? It’s absolutely essential that this information is kept constantly up to date on the FAQ page of the site and that sales people are always referring to it.

11. They depend too heavily on one channel

Everyone likes to receive information differently. Some like email, others sms. Often clubs will depend too heavily on the channel that suits them, not the customer. A common example is Facebook. Clubs post updates on Facebook and assume all members will see it. However, contrary to popular belief, not all members are on Facebook and even if they are they will only see the content if you are paying for it to be promoted!

12. They fail to create excitement on social media.

Members and potential members want to see progression, how the club is shaping up. A few pictures of updates every now and then of the outside of the building isn’t enough.
Being consistent and posting regular updates, such as pictures of quality fixtures and fittings, build updates, staff being trained on the new equipment, staff profiles can all build the buzz and the excitement of the new build and in-turn create fantastic word of mouth, comments and interaction with new members and potential members. Posting videos during different stages of the build always creates real interest and feedback.

13. Failing to transition between pre-sale and sales

Often clubs will recruit a sales team for the pre-sale, hit their pre-sale target and then all the other prospects are either forgotten about or clumsily handed over to the general management. The attitude is often, we have hit our sales target now, we don’t need to focus on getting new members anymore.This is a terrible experience for the prospects and has a hugely damaging impact on the conversion process. It’s also damaging for staff who were involved in the pre-sale, they are often left wondering why their good work isn’t carried forward into the opening.

A good pre-sale is critical, but it will only snowball into on-going sales if you ensure every moment of the customer experience is consistent and well managed. If you handle this right then the initial 1000 members you generate through the pre-sale should soon become 1000 excited brand ambassadors, all sharing their experience on social media and referring friend after friend.

It’s essential that management maintains the good work of the pre-sales team, continually following sales systems and process and ensuring staff deliver an excellent buying experience for potential members. Future proofing sales performance is the key to on-going success following the opening of a club.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, Most Popular Interviews, The Fitness Network.