How a more customer-focused approach can help gyms get more new members

Neil Harmsworth and Jamie Ward are the co-founders of PayasUgym, an online aggregator which currently features over 2300 gyms across the UK. PayasUgym customers can view reviews and other information about these gyms on the PayasUgym website, and use these gyms on a basis which works for them. The site currently has over 400,000 registered users and caters for c.3 million search requests per month.

Given the service you offer, do you think gym memberships are a bad thing?

Not at all. We’re big fans of gym membership but we think that is one proposition in the marketplace where to get the participation rates up, you need to be a bit broader in your thinking. Everyone talks about 12-13% participation rates in the UK versus 20% in America. The reason for that in our opinion is that gym membership is just one component of what the market needs to offer.

Where a customer uses PayasUgym to try a gym 2 or 3 times then becomes a full-time gym member, that’s a success story for us. Equally if someone plays football for 9 months of the year and trains for 3 months and uses PayasUgym in those 3 months, that’s also a success. It’s about getting more people into health and fitness and reaching the people that the gyms can’t necessarily reach. Quite often those customers will go on to find a gym they want to join, which is great for the gyms.


Why don’t people go to the gym or studio directly?

The biggest reason is that people want to feel in control of their decision making and buying process. If you take a free pass at a club, the expectation is that you are going to be sold to, so people leave false details and clubs can spend a lot of time following up on enquiries that are just not genuine.

What PayasUgym gives them is the ability to use those clubs in a way that works for them. We don’t share the customer data with the gym so customer is protected in that respect. Then it’s up to the gym to offer a great experience, so that the customer wants to give them the data and become a high value user for them. It’s not around anything other than giving them control of what they’re doing.

Plus, we’re independent. If you look at other markets, like holidays or takeaways, you can look at all options in one place and make a considered purchase without the pressure of a sales conversation; so if you want a takeaway you go to Just Eat, or if you want to book a holiday you go to Expedia. Those marketplaces are out there and PayasUgym is that marketplace for health and fitness.


So people have started buying ‘health and fitness’ in a very different way?

People are certainly becoming more discerning buyers because there is more information available to them. They are doing their homework before making a commitment. Gym membership could be £400 – £600 per year. If you’re spending that amount on a gadget, you’ll go and do research first. People are applying the same decision making to health and fitness. If we can help them do that, then the clubs are the ones that will win.

With all the choice out there, its not just about Gym A or Gym B, it’s a choice about what you want from fitness. What we try and do is pull all that data together and say, “Here are all the options in the area”, then customise the experience as much as possible for the user.

As the market aggregator we obviously see data like transactions, price points, frequency of usage, and where people are visiting clubs. We can use that data to help them navigate health and fitness, and find things they like, like on Amazon when it says, “If you liked this you might like this.”


Do you think gyms are currently doing a good job of marketing themselves?

It’s completely mixed; there are people who do it really well and people who do it really badly, but that’s the same of any industry. If clubs get it right at the moment they have the market to themselves in some respects because the majority don’t do it as well as they could. That’s not for lack of trying, it’s just that the focus has to be on the customer and the club rather than the way the gym promotes themselves.

Another good example is in the restaurant market, with Top Table and Open Table. A long time ago if someone used those services, the experience that customer got was often less than what a normal customer would have got. However, once the restaurants figured out that Top Table and Open Table were big sources of new customers and really understood that the feedback those customers leave influences the next generation of customers, that industry changed.

In health and fitness we’re a little bit behind, but PayasUgym is the equivalent when it comes to third party independent feedback, and helping people make a decision based on what’s presented to them. It’s up to the individual club whether they want to participate in that, but I know there are customers out there who want to buy in that way. If clubs want to maximise their audience, they should consider using aggregators like PayasUgym. Because we work with over 2000 venues we can use large scale marketing such as national TV campaigns, something that is very difficult for an independent gym or gym chain to justify.


How do you think technology will impact the gym market over the next five years?

The whole idea of customization and data has to be utilised by the industry. It’s an industry where people want results and the best way of showing results, and showing the right products and services, is through data. Technology enables you to capture more data than ever before. In terms of technology benefiting the industry that’s the biggest impact that I can see.

A lot of people talk about wearables, but to me that is another source of gathering data, and its one of many. It all needs to be pulled together so you have a holistic view of what the customer needs from health and fitness and as an industry we need to provide for that.

I feel like the service we provide is pretty unique in what it does at the moment, Ultimately gyms and health clubs are businesses with bricks and mortar properties where their focus has to be on customer service in-club, giving great advice on personal training and nutrition and making sure their facilities are up to standard. That takes a huge amount of focus and effort to get it right, so thinking about things like digital marketing strategy is always going to be secondary to making sure the operation flows properly.

We live and breathe this stuff, it’s our job to be good online, and to find facilities for customers. It’s a case of being really open to the ways in which customers want to consume health and fitness. PayasUgym is one channel for that, and it should be part of a club’s integrated marketing strategy. On top of that you have market aggregators like ourselves who can help you get customers that you can’t get, but every club has to make a decision about how we fit into their overall marketing strategy.


What advice would you have for new businesses that want to operate in this competitive and technology-driven industry?

Tech doesn’t make or break business; you need a product or service that people want to use. The important thing is knowing how you’re going to tell people about that service, and reaching people can be really expensive.

What I do think the industry is guilty of is that you see lots of ideas and innovations that, within the industry sound great, but with no plans on how to reach customers, they’re going to fail. A prime example was of that was Spogo from ukactive. It’s a well-meaning service, and they built a website to do that, but in my eyes they never really had a plan for how they would have reached customers. It’s not the idea, it’s the execution of the marketing; so know how you’re going to reach customers.


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