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. Neither have I regretted for a moment 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.
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.︎
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…
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.
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.
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 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 the 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.
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:
- 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.