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Biz Tips

Four Ideas for Advertising by Investing in Your Gym
Feb. 23, 2015

What follows are four ideas for advertising without breaking the bank. They all cost money, but use funds which invest in your mission, your staff, your community, and your current clients. None of the following suggestions involve blindly paying for a print ad or a coupon without a clear estimation of the return.

The first idea is to communicate your mission with every interaction. Give constant attention to how your staff speaks with your clients. Take the time to train your employees, both coaches and front desk staff, to always be on message. If your mission states that your gym addresses character development, or promotes love of motion, or high level competition, then be diligent in keeping everyone who talks to the clients, both the parents and the students, consistent about who you are as a club. Word of mouth is your best advertising and if one of your clients can explain to their friends that your club is fantastic because it is so family friendly (which happens to be a huge part of your mission statement), then your message is being relayed.

The same philosophy extends to your contract employees, such as the cleaning crew, plumbers and electricians. Everyone who does work in the building should understand what your company is striving to achieve. Hundreds of children each week come through your doors, you need to keep them safe which begins with a clean facility and well-functioning utilities. The janitorial staff should pay attention to the details, such as chalk accumulating on the trophies, and the carpet smelling of bare feet. Your contractors must be able to respond quickly when the lights are failing and the toilets need to be snaked. It is important that the clients feel that the building and the equipment are cared for and are in good working order. Relay your mission through your facility, your staff, and your commitment to their children.

A second suggestion is to create camaraderie in your employees and dedication to your company. Create an environment in which your staff is happy to come to work and proud of the job they perform. Provide opportunities for staff bonding through quarterly meetings, annual holiday parties, or even just bagels for the Saturday staff. The most content employees are the ones who have a moment during the day to joke with their fellow coaches or share a story. Allow those interactions, in fact encourage them.

One of the biggest challenges with any teaching position is the threat of “burn out”. Keep your staff enthusiastic by giving them opportunities to continue learning. Encourage teachers to shadow other coaches in your gym who work with different levels or in other programs. Offer in-house clinics taught by your senior staff to brainstorm progressions and drills, practice spotting techniques, and communicate your curriculum. Send staff members to Regional and National Congresses to learn all aspects of the sport and socialize with other gym professionals. And of course, compensate them for their time. If you value their commitment to improving their craft, pay them for the time they spend shadowing, have them clock in for in-house clinics, buy their entrance fees to conventions. A committed and educated staff will keep customers in the gym.

Of course any and all benefits are appreciated by your employees. Insurance, holiday pay, retirement funds, are all important; but one easy perk that will build staff morale and advertise your business is to give your employees their required uniform. Your gym may not be able to provide every student a T-shirt, but hopefully you can afford to hand a new employee the number of shirts equivalent to the days each week they work. Each major change in weather can bring a new round of shirts, and everyone receives one (tanks for the summer, new colors of T-shirts for the fall). If you are financially able, consider gifting everyone a sweatshirt each winter. With this “uniform provided” policy not only will you insure that everyone has a staff shirt, but the coaches will appreciate not being charged for a required piece of equipment when they first begin working for you. Every year employees will welcome a new staff shirt. In the end, this small act will increase their loyalty to your company. As the years progress, long-time staff members often find themselves wearing staff attire everywhere. And voilà – mobile advertising that travels to the local coffee shop and the grocery store. When people ask about your gym, who better to sell your program than the employee who has been taught to be on message and is happy with their job because of the little extras you provide?

A third idea focuses on building your reputation in the community. Local schools ask all year long if you can give to their silent auctions. Consider donating a birthday party (a basic party for a minimum number of guests) instead of a month of free classes. Chances are the winning family will increase the number of guests, or add whatever other packages you offer, which will offset the birthday coaches’ salaries. Even though this donation is monetarily much larger than one month of gymnastics, it brings in ten times as many children to your gym. Most birthday parties accommodate 20 guests, the majority of whom have never been to your facility. Not only did the kids have a great time and are hopefully asking to return, but the parent saw firsthand how kid-friendly and safety conscious your teachers are, how clean and impressive your facility is, but just as importantly, they also know how to find you. Never underestimate the value of this information, when a sleep-deprived parent is confronted with an ornery toddler who announces he wants to go back to “nastics”. The family who attended that donated party now knows how to navigate from their house to your location, and therefore, you will be their first call.

Be forewarned that you will be inundated with requests for donations every year, so set in place some guidelines for which institutions and how many schools you can afford to contribute. Perhaps your gym has a huge preschool and recreational program, then possibly limit donations to preschools and elementary schools, and only within a 15 mile radius. Make sure not to discriminate based on public or private, religious or secular, location or economic status (unless these parameters fit with your mission). What results is that your business is perceived as a great contributor to the local schools. Gymnastics innately promotes wellness in youth, so these contributions have both furthered your mission and built good will in the community.

My fourth suggestion is to focus your advertising budget on keeping the clients currently enrolled. They will in turn recommend you to their friends, and your business will grow. When the client is dissatisfied, have a conversation but do not hesitate to credit them for the class. Make contact, listen to their concerns, address them professionally, follow through, and then give back the money for the class that did not meet their expectations. This refund proves to the client that you stand by the quality of your classes, and that you do not want them to pay for a lesson that did not live up to your standards. Please understand, I am not suggesting that every client with a concern or complaint receives a refund, or that any one family is credited multiple times. However, the gesture is especially well received when unexpected. When a client emails to tell you that their child left crying because of an incident with another child in class, or a misunderstanding with a coach. Write back to thank them for their input, explain how you will rectify the situation, and then add, by the way, “we have put a credit on your account for that class which will apply to next month’s tuition. Thank you so much for taking the time to inform us of your concern. It is because of people like you that we are able to improve.” It is much less expensive to keep the clients you have, then find new ones. The parents who take the time to tell you why they are unhappy instead of simply leaving, are your most valuable clients. They challenge you to improve, and are committed enough to your program to want to stay. These are the parents who not only talk to you, they talk to their friends about how professionally this situation was handled, and how caring the staff is at your gym. Make sure you do not spend all of your advertising trying to attract new clients at the expense of the ones who are already in your program.

Injuries are especially laden with emotion and ripe with opportunities for misunderstandings. Show your compassion with any injury in the gym. If possible set up a system where every child who receives an ice pack, or releases bodily fluids (bloody nose, vomiting), or is involved in a negative interaction with a child, are called the following day. The conversation starts as simply as, “just calling to see how Johnny is feeling”. If your mission involves caring for the child, this phone call delivers your message in a single action. When a major injury occurs, make decisions that show you care about families and not just the bottom line.

  • Credit the class in which the child was injured.
  • Hold the child’s spot in class regardless of the wait list (set a limit of a couple of months).
  • Apply the rest of the session’s tuition to the next session (or give a refund).
  • Send a get well gift (“we hope you feel better soon” with balloon bouquet).
  • If you are able offer to pay for any medical expenses not covered by their insurance.

For over 13 years we have offered to pay any medical expenses for major injuries that occurred in our gym, knowing that we could put a claim on our insurance. This last policy has averaged a few hundred dollars an injury, versus the possibility of litigation. In the end, a small check has resulted in the immeasurable increase in client satisfaction and the building of a positive image in our community.

The common component for all of these suggestions is to concentrate on the systems already in place. Communicate your mission, create a positive environment which encourages staff camaraderie and professional growth, support your local schools, and focus your energy on keeping the current clients happy and wanting to return.