Getting it Right; Drew Girton and CrossFit Pendulum
Note: If you want to skip to the interview in the audio portion, it’s around the 12-minute mark. Enjoy.
Recently I had the good fortune to sit down with an old friend and former comrade, Drew Girton, while on a long weekend in Los Angeles.
Only a month prior I’d audited the email marketing efforts Drew’s business, which is located in Pasadena, California.
Not to spoil the ending, but Drew and his partners are doing great work. So I had to get behind the scenes with the man at the helm.
The recording of this interview is not awful, but it’s not gonna win any sound quality awards. You can hear the sounds of an active brunch scene in downtown Los Angeles (DTLA); mostly because we recorded it on my iPhone after brunch at a restaurant in DTLA.
That said, it’s worth a listen. We dig into some interesting corners of Drew’s life and discover how he climbed to the top of my list of gym marketers you should try to copy.
If you want to duplicate a winning email strategy you could try to hire Drew as a consultant. Failing that, I know another marketer who can do a bang-up job with emails, especially for gyms.
While I’d planned to write a lengthy intro for Drew here, he does a swell job in the interview so I’ll spare you.
The short version is this: Athletic competitor becomes a trainer in a national fitness chain. That trainer becomes a department head with aspirations of doing his own thing, then he actually does it: his own thing.
I think you’re going to identify with and enjoy Drew’s story.
How did we get here?
When I launched this blog, I’d intended to review a good smattering of gyms, big and small, and across as many practices as I could manage. That is still the plan, but the fruit is hanging so low that it’s rotting on the ground for every gym I’ve investigated so far.
There is a pattern of marketing behavior which is nearly the same from gym to gym, across brands, and regions. I have yet to find one shining example of a fitness organization that gets email marketing.
When I enroll in a gym’s free pass via their online portal, here’s what I’m finding 98% of the time:
- They have no online enrollment option.
- That portal gathers my email and phone number.
- I receive an email for my pass.
- My phone starts ringing.
- My texts go off the chain.
- This goes on for a month, maybe more.
- They can’t effectively leverage my email for nurturing.
- Few offer a double opt-in for email.
- Never is there a double opt-in for my cell phone.
That last one wasn’t fair. I’ll come back to this idea.
The dissonance is so loud between what I expect and what happens, I’ve started to doubt what I know about lead nurturing.
Is there is something I’ve been missing?
Then I peered into the email efforts of CrossFit Pendulum, a sizable “box,” as they call them in the world of CrossFit. For efficiency, I’ll refer to it as Pendulum going forward.
Full transparency: I’ve audited Pendulum’s emails before. It was about a year ago.
In that year I’ve dedicated countless hours of my life to gurus, incubators, and other educational outlets in an effort to master email strategy. Thus, I needed a fresh look.
Also — in case you’ve been skimming — I know two of the founders, Drew and Christina.
Here’s what happened
On May 6, 2019, I put my name in for more information from Pendulum. What came to my inbox was a personal letter, albeit it automated, which mentioned my name, and was signed by one of the founders: Drew Girton.
Although it’s tempting, I won’t share the whole letter here. It’s not award-winning copy, but for a jock, it’s not half bad.
His words in this message are genuine. They’re encouraging. They come from a single person, an authority. I already feel like I know him, which I do, but I’m playing along.
In his first message to me, Drew shares a 14-day meal plan PDF. He doesn’t tell me to ask him for what I need. How do I know about what I need? That’s what I’m going to him for. He just provides something.
Also important, he tells me what’s gonna happen next: “Over the next few days, we're going to share our story and introduce some of the people that make this place so special.”
Mind blown. No gym has nailed this first email. Not even kinda.
That same day I received a text from Drew. This violated my personal preferences about business texting their leads, but that’s me. And, as you will learn in the interview with Drew, Pendulum sees good results from this work.
I’m open to being wrong.
That’s when it got personal
Drew recognized my name when it popped up in his lead management system so he pulled me from the funnel and texted me a truly personal message:
After a little back and forth, I convinced him to let the story play out. He agreed to let it roll.
One thing he did not do, something he copped to in the interview, was he did NOT call me. Normally, he would have called.
I can’t say from firsthand experience how aggressive that calling would have been, but my guess is it would match the aggressiveness of Pendulum’s other marketing efforts. [Read: measured and appropriate.]
But the fun didn’t stop there
Over the course of the month, I received four texts and nine emails from Pendulum. I responded to none of them.
There are funnel pathways that may have unfolded had I replied, but I wanted to see how Pendulum treated its coldest leads.
Over that month, I received an introduction to the team, an invite to book a tour, some visionary questions about where I saw myself in the next 30 days, six months, that sort of thing.
It was all in the name of being helpful as possible, trying to get me closer to the gym, its team and the culture of the place.
Any efforts I would make to improve the copy in these emails would be hair-splitting. After all, he’s converting his online leads at nearly 20% as of this last 90 days.
That said, there were some opportunities I would like to see the Pendulum roll out with these onboarding emails.
Here’s what Pendulum could do better
This is a short list, trust me. I’m into the details because their efforts are generally good. They’ve forced me to look harder.
︎ CAN-Spam laws, the laws that govern email in the USA, don’t require double opt-ins. I would do it anyway.
It cuts out non-serious leads and makes the arrangement clear: We’re gonna email you.
︎ The CAN-Spam laws do require an unsubscribe link in emails.
It’s not only a fair law, but it’s also a lot better than getting the one-click spam designation, which hurts your domain reputation.
Not providing an easy out can land your emails in the spam bin, a tough place to get out of if your domain gets blacklisted.
︎ Introduce the other two partners, and have them talk about their roles.
They could send “their own” emails, rolled into the sequence, the earlier the better. I would compose them both separately because people don’t write emails. Individuals do.
︎ A little more media would go a long way.
CrossFit Pendulum has a nice log of digital captures from inside the gym, videos, and photos. The lead nurture series introduces one video, but it could include more. If I’m an online investigator, curious but scared, I'd like to get as much of a feel for it as I can before going further.
︎ Socialize with your leads.
Speaking of content, Pendulum runs a fantastic Instagram account. One email should invite me to follow that feed.
︎ Don’t forget to say “bye.”
The series ends without a formal goodbye. Recipients should know Pendulum is still there for them, but that they respectful acknowledge the message their lead is sending.
That email could read something like this:
You and I have been around as much of the Pendulum world as I can show you from the internet.
I have to tell you, I’d really hoped to convince you to come to see it in person. There’s nothing else like it, not in the CrossFit world, and not in Pasadena.
As an internet user myself, I know it feels like I can see the world from my laptop. Heck, I can circle the Eiffel Tower on Google Earth without leaving Pasadena. But I know it’s not like really being there.
It really is a BIG WORLD
But, I don’t wanna be that guy. I get it. You want to think about it, and you should.
I'd lobby on your behalf that you’ve done enough thinking, but that’s not my call.
Anyway, I’m here if you need me. If you don’t want to hear from me, you can unsubscribe [︎link] right now.
If not, great. I will check in from time to time to see if you have decided to come to meet the team.
I know for a fact they’re gonna like you, and I have a feeling you will like them too, but you’ve gotta come to me on this one. There’s simply no other way.
I hope you change your mind. You never have to explain yourself to me. When I say “no excuses,” I mean it. No time for that. Just keep moving forward.
May you move forward through this world in all the ways you want to. Thanks for giving us a look-see on your pathway to health.
Drew (But, also my partners Christina, Dario & the whole Pendulum team)
One last thought
Something I would be curious to test with Pendulum or any gym, frankly, is an opt-in feature for calls. Some people, this guy, just don’t wanna be called on the phone.
A gym like Pendulum might be the proving ground on my theory that it would produce cleaner leads. It reads like madness, I know, but I have two rationales.
Point 1: Someone who says, “yes,” to cell contact will respond better to incoming calls. In the world of email marketing, this was being done with emails by savvy marketers long before CAN-SPAM and GDPR regulations forced the issue.
Point 2: Who wants to market to the unwilling?
It’s fair to point out, many will opt out as a reflex. But, those who opt in will have told you a ton about how they want you to reach them.
Even with those leads, I would use a voicemail script that acknowledges, “we won’t keep calling you like other gyms so if you really have an interest, you’ll need to call us back.”
It’s bold, even risky, but when it comes to brand perception in the wild, you have to consider how you want the community to perceive you. Gyms are already starting from a low point of expectations. Leads assume gyms will harass them.
The bar may be low, and the world may be big, but CrossFit Pendulum is striding all of it with some of the smartest marketing this strategist has seen yet. This is the new bar.
You've really gotta listen to the interview.
Thanks for reading.
Connect with Pendulum at these fine URLs:
Your Biggest Email Oversight Isn’t What You Think
There are a handful of concerns that arise for savvy business operators when it comes to their email marketing efforts.
- They know they need to segment their leads.
- They know this action will help with sales.
- They also absolutely know they need more persuasive emails.
That’s about the time they talk to me and are gobsmacked about what I have to say should come next.
None of this is what they really need. These are all just tactics.
Oh, sure, they may need those tactics in the same way someone might win the lottery, but you can’t be sure of either. You might have a better chance of winning the lottery.
Here’s why: Until you know what your customers ACTUALLY want, you can’t give it to them.
Alright, I know, I know. Tell me something I didn’t know, Damon. Nobody read that nugget of wisdom and disagreed. Every business operator believes they know best what their customers want.
They couldn’t sleep at night otherwise.
Getting to the heart of what your actual customers REALLY want is the most important step you can take. Skipping it is the biggest oversight you can make.
What do your customer want… REALLY
Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about what you think they want. And, I’m not talking about how they responded to that survey you tweeted out.
But, I’m also not talking about that survey you emailed to their inboxes, asking questions like, “What do you think of my [product]?” and “How likely are you to recommend my [product] to someone else?”
These are not questions that serve your customers first. Sorry.
These questions serve you and your business, first. I’m not trying to say you don’t deserve to know the answers to those questions, but I am here to advocate for your customers.
That’s who you want me to represent. In fact, I’m thinking of changing my title: Chief Customer Advocate, CCA for short. Anyhew…
When it comes to knowing the pain points of your customers, there is only one good way to get to the bottom of the matter. You have to ask them. Or, you have to hire someone else to ask them. The hard part is you can’t just ask, “hey, man… what do you want?”
This has to be a conversation, and you (said operator) might not be the ideal person to ask. In fact, I’ll come right out and say it.
Sorry again, but...
You’re the worst person for the job
The problem with you asking the questions around here is that you have a vested interest in the outcome. As cool as you might be, and let’s assume you’re cooler than two penguins, you’re not impartial.
For your customer or potential customer, it’s natural for them to tell you what they think you wanna hear. That’s a feelgood conversation. Those are easy.
Tough feedback? Confrontation? No, that’s what customers use social media for. That’s the outrage outlet: Twitter, Facebook, Yelp…
As much as you might like to think that you’re approachable, most people will avoid confrontation at any cost. In fact, one research team in the UK recently found that 66% of customers avoid confrontation in person, opting for? Wait for it… Social media.
Big, huge, massive surprise there, right?
[Cue: unbiased party asking all the right questions.]
Introducing: video chat
The best thing you can do send out a survey. In a pinch, a well-considered survey can be effective, somewhat, but it’s no match for real talk.
Millenial aside: There was a time in history when people would talk on this thing called the telephone.
Phones were great because they allowed each person to hear vocal tonality, a massive component of communication.
Don’t think tone matters much?
Read this sentence out loud as if someone you care about just won an impressive award:
You deserve it.
Now, re-read those same three words as if someone you despised was finally getting what’s coming to them.
You deserve it.
How do you feel about tone now? Surveys can, at best, ask multiple choice questions. Another upside is that they allow you to control the answers, but then you might miss a few answers you didn’t consider.
If you allow respondents to give long-form answers, you could get endless paragraphs or worse, short one-word answers. “Everything is great,” is not helpful feedback.
There is too much nuance to human communication to capture it in text. The phone is a step up from forms, but the even better platform is one you probably use every weekend.
Who doesn’t love video-chatting with the parents?
Imagine that scenario, but in a more professional setting, completed by someone who is competent with a MacBook Pro and the right video recording software.
Then, imagine that recorded chat going to a stenographer so you can read or search the transcript until the cows come home? Imagine the responses neatly correlated in a spreadsheet, with key takeaways outlined by someone else. [read: me]
Most importantly, imagine not having to make the time for all that work, and having it actually make a difference in your business.
Imagine all that, and ask yourself again if you think you can get it done yourself.
Voice of Customer (VoC) research is gold
The most powerful move you can make to improve your marketing efforts is not by creating buyer personas, not unless you base them on real-life customers.
Even in that case I would ask, why bother?
Getting to the heart of your actual customers through VoC work is the most valuable step you can take before trying to sell them anything.
Have you seen the show Westworld? It’s a good series if you like your science fiction mashed up with Westerns. Here’s my home-crafted logline:
Somewhere in the future, a very powerful investor designs a park where people can interact with very realistic robots to act out their every fantasy. Everything you can imagine takes place, murder, pillaging, you name it.
[My Hollywood writing opportunities just flushed down the can with that logline, I know.]
The whole goal of that wealthy investor is to find out what people really want so he can use it to make money off their unspoken desires. The people who enter the park are free to do whatever they want without consequence, revealing their deepest, darkest desires.
Setting aside the plausibility of your funding such a place, the low-rent, super effective way to get that information is to ask them outright.
Again, not so direct, but through a series of open-ended questions about their experiences, either with your product or in life.
The hopper of potential questions varies from business to business, but the best questions are always open-ended. The conversation feels like, well... a real conversation.
The people on the other end of the call know what you’re up to, but they’re so happy to chat about themselves, when it’s done correctly they drop their guard. Way down.
No worries if you’re still not convinced I have the secret sauce you need. I’ll earn your trust in time, but if you have the slightest inclination that I’m on to something, don’t give up on me.
There’s a whole lot more under the hood after this.
Thanks for reading.
Anytime Fitness Email Teardown
On April 3, I downloaded a pass from Anytime Fitness. Since then, they have emailed me once and called me not twice, but thrice.
After my last teardown, 24 Hour Fitness, I’d intended to tackle Crunch Fitness as my next act of FREE advice.
But, Anytime Fitness has been throwing elbows to make it to the top of my pile. And by throwing elbows, I mean blowing up my cell.
Serves me right. I gave them my real cell number. But, I did NOT call them. Ever.
Something tells me I will go to my grave belaboring this point: online leads are sending clear messages about how they prefer to communicate.
Hint: It’s not on the phone.
If I had to use my imagination, when pressed about why gyms call leads generated through online portals, they would tell me that those calls lead to sales.
At a glance, this argument holds water. Here’s a similar strategy…
Stand at the end of the bar around closing time. Ask every prospect if they would like to join you for a nightcap back at your place. You will eventually get a taker.
Conclusion: Asking every drunk who's walking out of the bar is the best way to find company.
I have another theory...
The #1 reason folks join one gym over another? Location. Actually, it’s not a theory. It’s a fact. It’s all about what’s easiest, even if it’s painful.
They join the gym that is closest to home, no matter how they’re treated. This might not be true 100% of the time, but like hanging onto the end of the bar with a smile, it works often enough.
When I was in the industry the feedback we were receiving at the time was that, in the long run, new members were happy to have their memberships, even if they didn’t appreciate what they had to go through to get them.
It’s been roughly five years and six months since I’ve sat in the captain’s seat of a 65,000 square foot facility with a P&L in one hand, and a grossing pen in the other… but it doesn’t seem much has changed.
In fairness to fitness — a young industry, not as venerable as coal or steel — it’s run by considerably conservative folks who don’t swerve much.
Hey, I can dig conservative.
Making changes for the sake of making changes is silly… but email has been around since the invention of the internet.
In fact, it’s not much older than the fitness industry, but it’s definitely been around longer than Anytime Fitness.
The Anytime model
Worthy of mention before I dig in: I like Anytime Fitness.
It’s a great business, grown quickly on affordable, small franchises, covering acres of real estate in a short period of time.
Anytime keeps their spend low by running super lean on payroll, with little more than a operator on site. They may staff a couple of sales people and an instructor or two at most.
In some locations, a contracted cleaning crew may blow through from time to time.
That’s about it.
Here’s what else I like about Anytime…
Except where local laws or landlords prevent it, locations are accessible 24/7 with a key card or fob of some sort.
Thus, the brand: Any-time.
The great thing about this is there’s no one to hassle you for ancillary sales every time you workout. The facilities are usually clean and full of newer, well-maintained equipment.
For someone who knows what he is doing in the gym, this is a great place to workout in peace.
If there are any issues, you can usually find a manager on duty during normal business hours. There is an email you can use too. Brilliant.
Response times via these channels are notoriously fast.
Because Anytime locations are often owner-operated, there is an intimate and personal value for customer service.
This culture of leave me alone until I need something is why the blowing up my phone strategy comes as such a surprise.
What I did… and what happened next
Just like with 24 Hour Fitness, I found my local Anytime Fitness’s online portal and signed up for a pass.
The temporary enrollment process asked for the usual info, my first and last name, my contact number, and my email.
I spent a little time on the site too.
The starting point is a corporate entry point. You get to your local gym by performing a search. The location page has more information on the specific amenities, hours, staffing and other critical info.
But there was no enrollment option. I had intended to load a cart with a membership to see what abandoned cart emails I might receive.
Hey, I’m an email nerd. Don’t judge me.
You can even tour the club in a virtual view, which is pretty innovative. My location was just pictures, but I imagine the clubs can spring for the fully interactive walking tour if that’s in their budget.
But, and I assume because Anytime wants to meet you to give you a card or fob for entry, you cannot give them money via the internet.
Now, I’m only an email strategist, but this seems like a HUGE missed opportunity.
The only way for me to give Anytime money is to submit to a call from the club.
Man. I loathe phone calls. If I wanted to chat, I would have knocked on their door. This turns my stomach.
So, I signed up for a pass. And they emailed it to me right away.
The email was pretty utilitarian, text-only, no images, no offers, just what I needed to try out the gym. It was fine, but it was their whole email effort.
That was the last email I received from Anytime Fitness. But it wasn’t the last I heard from them.
Since that day, including one this morning, I’ve received three attempts to reach me via phone. Each message is polite, friendly, and IMO a sincere attempt to help me get into the gym.
In our the end of the bar scenario, these folks are not... Taking. A. Hint.
What they could have done differently
That is a screen shot of my email records from Anytime Fitness. Not to be too short, but they could have emailed me more.
It’s doubtful I’ll ever convince any CEO of Big Fitness or any proprietor of Little Fitness to stop calling those toasty warm leads coming through their online portal. Not anytime soon.
The school of leads is that you have mere minutes to catch people in the heat of their emotions. Call too late, and they’ve moved on.
This is the wind blowing the sails of sales-ships everywhere, fitness included.
There is a smarter way they could approach those leads. It starts with wiser and more robust email efforts and has much less to do with Ma Bell.
︎edit: I’m not saying, “don’t call online leads,” I’m saying call them a whole lot less. Email them more.
The one and only email I received from Anytime was my pass. It’s the only email I have to grade for this teardown.
As an email, it was nothing fancy. Up front, the preview text failed to leverage key real estate.
“trial at Anytime Fitness. To arrange a visit during staffed hours, ple... “ and then nothing.
It hardly mattered. I’d only asked for a pass at that point. There was a strong chance I’d open that email, but going on what I have... they could write more persuasive copy.
What came next was a call, but it could have been a short series of emails nurturing my introduction to the facility.
Here’s some FREE swipe copy for the folks at Anytime Fitness to use in a hypothetical second email.
I’d send it the day after the pass at the latest. It could also come on the heels of the pass since time is of the essence.
This is [name], the owner of Port Orange Anytime Fitness.
First, please allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for even considering us. This facility is locally owned and staffed so we take every consideration personally.
You should know that we will make at least one attempt to call you via the number you gave us, probably in the next few minutes if not by the end of the day depending on what time it is.
Our outreach efforts are to help get you situated so you feel comfortable and confident, but we understand if you’re not the chatty sort. If you don’t answer or call us back, we’ll take that as a hint you’d prefer not to speak on the phone.
No matter what, I want to make sure you have everything you need to make the right next move for you.
You can call us at [telephone] if you want to shortcut the process or you can stop by during normal business hours. I would be happy to give you a tour and answer any questions you have.
Also, I’ll send you a few emails after this one with helpful information about the club, about Anytime Fitness in general, your enrollment options, and even some fitness tips.
As always, you can unsubscribe to our emails at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of any email.
Being such a small business, I like to stay close to my members so you can also email me [︎link] directly.
Again, thank you for considering our humble Anytime Fitness location, Damon.
I look forward to meeting you soon.
[name] | Owner of Port Orange Anytime Fitness
︎Note: This email could be easily automated, personalized, and duplicated across many locations with most any email service provider (like Mailchimp).
As far as what emails come next, most of that is indicated in the above copy, but I have some other ideas.
At the top of my list? An offer.
Making an offer specific to email leads would serve multiple purposes. It makes a nice way to segment new members depending on the offer, but it would also function as a FOMO lever you could pull later by making the offer time-bound.
Online leads may be somewhat different than referrals and walk-ins, but EVERYONE likes a deal.
Different markets, different customers, different needs
With a brand like Anytime Fitness, I get a little more excited than national and regional fitness chains. Club-by-club, there is greater opportunity to dig deep into the unique desires of the market.
I’m talking Voice of Customer (VoC) research.
The Sawzall in my marketing toolbox is getting in touch with the actual customers of a given gym.
Why do I want to talk to your customers so badly? Because only they can tell us everything, darn near everything, we need to know to sell to them.
We could ask them questions like this:
What was the biggest factor in your decision to join a gym?
What was #2 on that list?
How many calls did you receive from the club?
How did those calls impact your decision to enroll or not?
- Other than price, what would have made your decision easier?
Of course, we can ask them whatever we want to get to the bottom of the matter, but I’m dead curious to know how folks feel about these calls and if they REALLY help close the deal.
The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) maintains that the number one consideration when joining a gym is the location.
Monthly dues ride shotgun, and equipment crams into the back seat, but the location takes the steering wheel of new member decision making almost every time.
Which really begs the question: where do calls from the club fit in?
Only the recipients of those calls can enlighten us best.
Like our hero standing at the edge of the bar believes, the data supports that calling leads gets them to enroll.
But, perhaps they would have enrolled anyway?
Perhaps… and this is only perhaps… they would have enrolled at a greater rate of return if better nurtured into the brand. They might have become stronger members, less likely to churn later.
According to online marketing expert,
Hubspot, you’ll “see more qualified leads, shorter sales cycles, and larger purchase amounts made by nurtured leads when compared with non-nurtured leads.”
What can Anytime Fitness do?
Without dipping into the specific needs of their market, a few emails come to mind that would be on my shortlist for this business.
1) Tell the owner backstory.
Since these are usually more intimate facilities, tell me about yourself. Have you always been in fitness? Why did you open a gym? When are you there? What matters to you?
2) Network me.
What sort of community is this? If the club does any local outreach, it would be cool to know about it. Do groups exist within the club who get together for charity events, childcare support, addiction or other communal reasons? This would be some HUGE information for the right recipient.
3) Introduce me.
This is huge. Are there any other team members I can meet? Tell me that person’s story. Share an image of them.
4) Socialize me.
If your facility is on social media, an email inviting me to join your favorite platform is good for both of us.
5) Segment me.
An email geared at identifying my goals and needs would make future emails specific to those needs much easier to send with laser-point efficiency. That might keep me from churning later. That would save you from replacing my monthly dues in the future.
6) Give me ideas.
Send me a basic workout outline. Reference equipment in your club. Include links to instructional videos. Cut down my fear of looking dumb.
I could go on, but these ideas are all speculative. The gold they’re missing: VoC research, which digs into answering the unasked question:
What do these prospetive members need most to get started?
Here are a three more questions that might come to mind for a small gym owner:
What will keep my prospective members engaged over the long haul?
What will help me as a business owner from having to constantly replace members who churn?
What would reducing churn by 5% do for my monthly dues tap? What about 10%? 20%?
Now I’m talking crazy, I know, but what’s crazier? Spending your time and energy getting new customers or keeping the ones you have?
Is holding up the end of the bar until someone finally caves an argument that it’s a successful strategy?
Call me conservative, but I’d like to get to know you beforehand.
You don’t have to take me to a fancy restaurant, but abate my insecurities. Tell me your name. Tell me what you’re into. Tell me where you come from.
Let’s start with a few simple things.
Then we can get all crazy.
24 Hour Fitness Email Teardown
Recently I signed up for a guest pass with 24 Hour Fitness in Lake Mary, Florida. I had no intention of walking into the actual facility. What I wanted to see was how they treated me as an online lead.
What happened surprised me quite a bit. But, first, some background...
When my wife and I left the US in 2012, we left two successful careers. She’d been in finance. I’d been with the national chain of gyms known as 24 Hour Fitness for ten years. The same one, yes.
Although I’ve found my stride in online marketing since then, I’ve never stopped being a fitness guy.
It’s also true that I have never regretted what I learned working for 24 Hour Fitness. It remains an irreplaceable aspect of my human development.
But poor is the student who does not surpass the teacher... Meh, I'm still working on that one.
Anyway, it seemed only fitting that I write a teardown of the brand that left such an impression on me. This is the first of many to follow; my attempt to help gyms navigate email as a means to nurture their leads into memberships.
Fitness and email
The online space remains an ocean of opportunity for fitness, one not well charted, and likely the reason my first attempts to find a gym doing it well have left me… wanting more.
And 24 Hour Fitness is doing it better than the rest.
During my 7-day pass, they sent me four emails. One was from the location manager. From day one to today, spanning two weeks,
I’ve received a total of six emails from them. That was the most emails I’ve received from the four big fitness chains I’ve tested so far.
Not bad. Not great, but not bad. Tons of upside, though.
Edit: I didn’t even dig into how much those preview texts are hurting their open rates.︎
Fitness biz 101
Over the ten years I was in fitness, I picked up a few things about the business.
One thing I know for certain: It’s fulfilling work, but it’s not for the weak. It’s hard enough for most folks to get to the gym for an hour a few times a week. Try 50 to 60 hours a week.
Gyms are huge revenue responsibilities, millions of dollars per year, with multiple departments offering services and retail.
Teams can be as big as 100 employees or more. Hours are long. Employee churn is awful, but so is membership churn.
It’s not just a matter of getting folks to join, but getting them to show up, and to keep showing up; to not quit. Members who don’t use the gym don’t spread the love.
Despite what many believe, inactive members are are not good for business. They’re a dead-end revenue stream.
One key to killing churn is positive interaction. Positive, because you can’t motivate people, but you can certainly de-motivate them.
Engaging members as often and genuinely as possible is the a critical defense tactic against churn.
Making sure they know what they’re doing, like by adding a personal training to their plan is also helpful. But the first hurdle is getting them in the door.
This is where most gyms get it wrong, IMO. They hassle and harass hard-working folks until a certain percentage sign up for memberships they’ll never use.
Gym salespeople get leads as walk-ins, referrals or they find them on the streets or at events. Then they work them over until the lead leaves or joins.
There is, however, another brand of lead: online shoppers. They’re still fairly new to the fitness industry, certainly newer than the industry itself.
As the fitness market has grown over the years, non-athletic folks have started to see the value in fitness. Sites like nerdfitness.com stand out as a branded testament to a different kind of lead.
It’s in the name: nerds.
The online shopper is the puzzle many gyms haven’t solved. A little known history from my experience with 24 Hour Fitness…
A little history of 24...
Around 2010, company leadership threw out the existing sales-focused playbook in favor of a service-oriented one.
They ran out their high-pressure sales stars by killing commissions. They promised better service to prospective gym joiners by telling leads they don’t work for commissions.
They also started investing in online sales for those who preferred to shop that way. It was, after all, already working.
Depending on who you ask, the 24 Hour Fitness dream of breaking the fitness grinder either worked or failed.
This much you can read elsewhere online: Most of the leadership team that made it happen got their walking papers when the company was purchased by investors in 2013.
Those investors had a different vision for the brand.
The commissions came back, and I see online they’ve even bought back 12-month contracted memberships, something 24 had killed before I started working with them in 2002.
Today, one can still get a membership online with 24 Hour Fitness, even a guest pass. This is what I did.
Here’s what happened
In exchange for my email address, my cell, and my name, I received an email with a code for a 7-day pass.
Here’s what’s crazy. What they had from me was email marketing gold; not only my email address but my actual and full name.
In the online sphere of marketing, this is huge. Most lead magnets — those pop-ups that collect email addresses — don’t ask for more than an email address to avoid scaring folks away.
A name? Heck! That means you can send much more powerful marketing, addressed to an individual, even from another individual if you’re smart.
It’s almost like you’re having a real conversation from an online perspective.
Which is what makes what happened next so jaw-dropping.
They called me
Image: thought co
Despite the fact that I’d signed up online, the club called me.
In case you missed it, they also collected my cell number. I could have lied, but I wanted to see what they would do.
A whole 11-minutes after I received my pass they left a message because no way I was answering that call.
Phones aren’t my jam. I’m an online dude.
And, yes to your question. I go to my gym (not a 24 Hour Fitness) six days a week, but I keep to myself.
“Hey, how you doing Damon? My name is [removed]. I'm calling with 24 Hour Fitness in Lake Mary. I'm reaching out to you cuz I saw that you expressed some interest in our club. I was calling to see exactly when you were thinking about stopping by that way. We can go ahead and give you a tour and get you situated on your fitness goals.”
Now, I can hardly blame the salesperson, probably the assistant sales manager or lead sales person for the shift. He was doing what he was told to do. They’re taught: You can’t close a deal over the phone, and you definitely can’t do it via email.
So they call.
The goal is to get me into a seat in the sales area. That’s where the magic happens. But it was never going to happen because… ahem [two-thumbs] online guy.
If I were a serious lead, and this is absolutely true of me as a person, I would buy my membership online. I’d buy it all online, the membership, the personal training, the athletic gear.
The call to my phone came an assault on how I want to do business, evidenced by the fact that I didn’t come into the club to shop. I actually recoiled at my desk.
“They’re calling me?” I asked out loud, dropping my shoulders. “Of course they are.”
Somewhere, there’s a club manager repeating a war cry passed down from the ‘90s: “get those doors swinging and those phones ringing.”
Note the absence of get those emails zinging. They call because they don’t know what else to do.
They could have texted. That would have at least acknowledged my reclusiveness.
Texting is a popular means of reaching leads in fitness these days, but if someone enrolled with an email address, then I say message sent: email me.
The second email I received, after my pass which was from corporate, was from the manager of the location: Brittany. I was genuinely pleased to meet her.
This is what her message read:
“If getting motivated to work out feels like a struggle, take a moment to check in with yourself. What do you really want – not right now, in the moment – but by the end of the day, the week, the year? Keep your eyes on the end results, then grab that gym bag and get out the door.”
No disrespect to Brittany, but I immediately knew this messaged was canned. How else could a brand keep a consistent look and feel if they empowered their general managers to scribe their own emails?
Fitness folks aren’t all meatheads, but they’re not often wordsmiths.
Still, it was from her in the general sense, and that mattered to me. Could it have been a stronger message? Sure, but I’m a writer.
Here’s a quick thought. Include a headshot of Brittany in the email. Heck, put one with her and a few team members. Let me see her face so I know where my safe zone is when I finally work up the courage to go there.
Also, the message was from an unattended mailbox. As an email marketer I understand why, but include some contact info for my new, um, contact.
Try to make Brittany as three-dimensional as possible. She’s the only person I know over there at this point.
Rest of the sequence...
Sadly, the next two emails I received felt like ice boats, cold, floated to me by currents.
They used my name, which was smart, but the emails were clearly from corporate.
There was no closing at the end, despite using my name in the salutation. The body text just ends so they read like a decapitated email.
Who is this email from? Stick Brittany’s name on there. At least I know her.
Alternatively, since these emails are from corporate, why not introduce me to someone from the corporate team?
Who is the head of fitness? It’s an email about fitness services, personal and group so let me hear from the person at the helm of those programs. Make it from the CEO.
You’re a corporate gym and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are benefits to brass. If I had a problem with that, I would be shopping a Mom and Pop.
These emails did give me some additional information about available services. They weren’t bogged down with calls to action, only two per email, and they included some simple-to-read information.
Before my pass expired, I received two more emails from Brittany. They were identical; to the letter.
“Summer fitness starts in spring– which means this is the time to get moving. Plus, right now we’re offering $0 initiation fee on select All-Club Monthly Payment memberships*!Join today and spring into action to achieve the results you want.”
As I re-read my emails from 24 Hour Fitness to write this teardown, I considered what I opportunities they missed during my seven days.
Emails they could send
- An email about 24 Hour Fitness’ story. Too big?
- Then one about the history of my local club.
- How about an introduction to a personal trainer?
- Introduction to the leadership team at the club.
- Show me real member testimonies.
- Make me an offer exclusive to me as an email guy. Introduce it early. Put a timeline on it, and refer back to it as my pass deadline approaches. Make the last email from Brittany telling me I’m almost out of time.
- Get me connected to social media. The icons are at the bottom of your emails, sure… but these clubs are active on their social media feeds. You want me engaged so make one email an invite to connect.
- There’s a 24 Hour Fitness app. It’s mentioned in a few of the emails, but not featured. One whole email could focus on the benefits of this app.
- Segment me: emailing preferences, workout interests, interest in offers, birthday. You could send me a free pass on my birthday as a birthday gift if I haven’t yet enrolled. What a great excuse to connect.
To get people on a pass to enroll, 24 Hour Fitness needs to build more rapport (see above suggestions) before sending promotional emails.
Their copy is fine — a little too clever at times; like when it read "spring into action" [eye roll] — but it could be better.
It could dig deeper into the benefits over the features of their clubs.
It could be less cute; more direct.
Everyday, while I’m on my pass, I should receive an email about how joining could benefit me.
If there is a concern about overloading inboxes, the simple solution is to segment the recipients in the first email.
Ultimately, I did not join, but I was never going to. Still, I was more impressed with 24 Hour Fitness’ email efforts than the other gyms I’ve surveyed.
Stay tuned. Those are next.