Automation: The Missing link for Fitness Operators?

Discover how automation can revolutionize your fitness business, boost member engagement, and streamline operations. Learn why it's time to prioritize automation and leverage cutting-edge tools to enhance your gym's performance and increase ROI.
February 7th, 2023
Automation: The Missing link for Fitness Operators?

Every year we all attend industry events like IHRSA, SIBEC, and Club Industry. We get to hear the thoughts, successes and advice from some of the most successful and important professionals in the industry. We shuttle from keynotes to brainstorming sessions and trainings, all of which provide dozens of strategies and approaches for everything from managing towels to selling personal training. 

While there’s no debating the value of the information shared, something really interesting happens when we check out of our hotels, get on the plane, fly home, and start work on Monday morning. We realize we’d need 72 hours in a day to do half the things we learned. The end result, we do nothing.  

Why do we do this to ourselves?  

Most discussions focused on improving a club’s performance center around client experience, retention, increasing their value, and sharing your value proposition. If you were on the outside looking in, you’d expect that every club has a coordinated strategy for connecting with and marketing to their clients. 

At Keepme I work with and get to see the data, usage, and activity of dozens of organizations. I have the pleasure of speaking with hundreds more on a regular basis. When you live on my side of the table, you get to see what clubs do and don’t choose to prioritize, how effective they are, and what issues plague them. And out of the 100s of clubs, less than 10% have more than 5 regular contact points with their clients.  

Despite all the discussion, the articles, and the lip service, very little is ever done about marketing automation. 

So why is a service industry, with members who have a demonstrated interest in improving their health and with opportunities to sell relevant services across both digital and face-to-face, doing so little?

We are using the wrong tool to do the job. 

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight 

While there are innumerable strategies to improve your operations, the issue with executing is we use human beings to perform tasks that they are particularly bad at. If you think about the work you do, it’s a set of linked activities requiring manual labor, strategy, creativity, communication, and empathy. We are as good as it gets at empathy, creativity, and communication, but where are we actually spending human resources? We spend the majority of our time where we are absolutely the least effective, manual labor. 

So let’s look at an example and use something I hear every day. Monitoring club attendance and connecting with members who aren’t using the club regularly to see if you can encourage them to come back. How is that actually executed? Here’s how we see folks doing this and maybe this will resonate with you. And let’s use an email campaign for the sake of clarity.

  1. Every week someone has to go into your membership management system (MMS) and run a report for all your members. 

  2. When that report is run, they then have to filter for all the members based on attendance. 

  3. That report is downloaded and then cleaned so they can either upload it into an email service and/or reviewed for accuracy by your team. 

  4. Once you clean it, it’s then manually uploaded into the email service

  5. There, you have to create and upload the content or if you’re particularly unlucky, use their email builder. 

  6. Then when you’re done, you schedule the email, monitor the results and start over next week. 

In that string of actions, how much of that requires empathy? How much of this requires creativity? Not a lot. 

The bulk of the work you do and why it is so hard to implement any new process, is because the way you choose to operationalize is the least efficient, least effective, most time-consuming, and least rewarding process possible. Not to mention that every time you create one of these it’s a 1:1 increase in the amount of work you have to do. To say it another way; there’s no economy of scale. At all. If I have one process that takes 4 hours and I create another similar process, I’m not spending 8 hours, and if I do another it takes 12, and so on and so on. It’s a losing battle. 

It’s Automation Dummy… 

The next question is obvious, “if we are doing it wrong, how should we be doing it?” The answer is obvious. It’s automation. 

We live in a world of automation. Every day, new tools are being created that take the stuff we stink at and do it for us.  We have self-driving cars, factories where the shipping and receiving is run entirely by robots, 3d printed houses that can be printed in 24 hours, and deep learning algorithms can currently outperform board-certified radiologists at identifying certain classes of tumors. 

So automating the process of segmenting club members based on attendance and scheduling communication to go out whenever the attendance drops below 2.4 times per week in the first 90 days, should take about 2.4 milliseconds to set up. And once I set that up, I shouldn’t ever have to go back and make sure it’s happening, it just should. 

To be honest, this is literally the only industry where that isn’t the expectation. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me if Keepme can do that in a hushed tone like they are asking if I can pick them up at the airport or help them move. There are a ton of tools that can help, some better, some worse, but the key is that automation must be an absolute priority in every organization. It’s more important than upgrading your towels, doing fancy locks for lockers no one uses, or updating staff T-shirts. 

It is the most important and highest ROI purchase you’re going to make. 

But don’t listen to me, let’s look at some history. 

ATMs – A Love Story

Let’s take a look at another industry that was hit by automation, the banking industry and the advent of ATMs. 

In the 45 years after the introduction of the automated teller machine, the number of human bank tellers employed in the United States roughly doubled from about a quarter of a million to half a million. This raises a really interesting question, what were all those tellers doing? And why didn’t automation eliminate their employment by now? 

ATM had two countervailing effects on bank teller unemployment, as you’d expect;

  1. they replaced a lot of teller tasks, 

  2. the number of tellers per branch fell by about a third.

However, there were other, more significant elements that impacted jobs. For one, due to the reduction in labor, it was much cheaper to open new branches, resulting in a 40% increase in bank branches over the same period. The net/net was more tellers, but the work being done by those tellers was very different. As their routine cash handling tasks receded, they became less like checkout clerks and more like salespeople. They forged relationships with customers, solving problems and introducing them to new products like credit cards, loans, and investments. They were more tellers doing a more cognitively demanding job.

So the outcome was very clear, their core staff were able to transition from menial tasks to more valuable and rewarding ones (btw also led to less staff turnover). They could focus on what people are built to do. 

Cheery O-Rings

While there’s an undeniable upside to automation, it’s critical to understand the cost of not doing it.

There’s a groundbreaking economic theory posed by Harvard economist Michael Kramer that illustrates this, and if you take one thing away from this article, it’s this.  

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. The spacecraft disintegrated 46,000 feet (14 km) above the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. The cause of that crash was an inexpensive rubber O-ring in the booster rocket that had frozen on the launch pad the night before and failed catastrophically moments after takeoff. That simple rubber O-ring made the difference between mission success and the failure that resulted in tragedy. 

This also gave birth to the O-ring theory. The O-ring theory looks at work as a series of interlocking steps, links in a chain. Every one of those links must hold for the mission to succeed if any of them fails the mission, the product or the service comes crashing down. In this setting, the seemingly precarious situation has a surprising implication. Improvements in the reliability of any one link in the chain increase the value of improving the other links. So, if most of the links are brittle and prone to breakage, it’s not that important. Probably something else will break anyway. The reason the O ring was critical to the space shuttle Challenger is because everything else worked perfectly.

Why does this matter to you? Well, in reality, the inefficiencies in your operations and lack of automation where it’s sorely needed, diminishes the value of every other action. This means when you upgrade your facility, hire new trainers, and invest in better check-in tools, you’re getting only a small portion of the ROI you could achieve if the rest of your systems were working as they should be. In this instance, if you do all that and have no way to communicate it to the members, why or how is it going to matter to them? 

Conversely, when you optimize and automate the way you communicate, how you trigger and build reporting, data analysis, and the rest, you make the value of the personal contact that builds stronger relationships and sells your most profitable services exponentially more valuable. Automation won’t make your team expendable, it will increase the importance of their problem-solving skills and their relationships with members. Technology costs, but ultimately it magnifies your leverage and increases the importance of your expertise, judgment, and creativity.

Your folks didn’t join to run reports, upload lists, manage lists, deal with old disintegrated technology, or spend their time doing grunt work. They joined to come up with ideas, connect with members, share knowledge, improve people’s health, and follow their passion. 

Wrap it Up…

Automation, specifically fitness automation software, is the key to improving your club’s business. Imagine being able to take an idea you hear at the next IHRSA and turn it into an automated process that happens in the background automatically. And imagine if it took you an hour to set up. Then imagine you could do 10 of those without adding a single hour to your staff’s day. Incredible right?

It is incredible but it’s also attainable. 

So after your next show, when you check out of your hotel, get in your Uber, board the plane and drive home, instead of thinking about all the great things you heard and can’t possibly imagine tackling, ask yourself one really simple question…

Where do I really need people? Then set the task to automate everything else. You’ll be better for it and your team will be as well. 

So there you have it, automation really is the missing ingredient for a club operator’s success. If you want to learn more about it and how we’re using it in Keepme to boost performance in gyms across 16 countries globally, book a demo and let’s chat!

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