by Angela Reed-Fox
How to build your indoor cycling customer base like a ninja
Considering how much was initially invested in your indoor cycling studio, do you think it's provided a good return on your investment? In most gyms it doesn't. The cycling studio tends to be there because customers expect it; but aside from the one-off investment in bikes, the studio is just expected to carry on and look after itself.
There will be companies claiming that what you really need is a set of new bikes. But if you're not in the market for this - and you want a more holistic and effective return on your initial investment, rather than writing it off and just buying more bikes, what do you do?
The good news is, there are ways that you can update and improve your studio cycling - some of them are free, but all of them cost (considerably) less than a new set of bikes.
Learn who your customers are – not as a homogenous group (which they certainly aren’t) but by name. You will be blessed by regulars - just using their name will make them feel valued, whether that's when they reach reception or during a class. Personal interaction and encouragement is very motivating - and a lack of motivation is likely to be the reason you don't see them again.
Up to date training
Times change and although you might not guess by seeing some cycling classes out there – we’re not in the 1990s any more. Make sure instructors are up to date. This is not just important for a safety perspective, but also you need to ensure that instructors are inspired to give excellent customer service, as well as delivering modern, engaging, and effective classes.
Maybe it’s the Olympics, maybe it’s the Tour de France, maybe it’s something entirely unconnected with cycling. Whatever the reason, or the excuse, publicise an event. Get people joining in, pedalling, and winning. Charity events are always popular - and what better way to kick one off than to ask your customers to nominate a charity to benefit from it? Many people have a charity that is dear to their heart, and asking for your customers' opinions will help them feel valued and involved. You might have a local cause which is popular, and this might mean that the organisation of it can largely be done by customers rather than staff! You don't know until you ask!
Use social media - it's free! Don't use it in a shouty way, but make friends with your customers and offer them extra value. Social networks are great for letting your customers know if there are special events going on, promoting a new class, asking opinions (guaranteed to initiate a nice friendly feeling towards you as people then feel valued!) and also posting content. The most popular content tends to be funny, thought-provoking or informative. You can also use special offers to encourage customers to connect with you - for example a Facebook-only deal will help to get more likes, shares, and follows. Check that your social presence is up to date, information is correct, and remember to stay current.
Variations on a theme of ‘two turns up’ should never be heard in a cycling class. Pure RPM is just as bad. You can’t measure how fit you’re getting with either of these. Bikes should have power/watts as a minimum. The better bikes have got numbered gears as well. Those riders who aren’t comfortable with watts can see their gears increasing as they get fitter – so perhaps they started out on a flat road in gear 5, but a few weeks later, they may increase that to a 6 or even a 7. That’s a measurable sign the rider is getting fitter – particularly when you take RPM into account as well (that’s where rpm is useful). Bikes which enable the rider to take an average power output for the duration of the class are great – riders can take this number and divide by their weight in kg which gives them their power:weight ratio. Sounds a bit geeky, but this is a way of recording real results that’s likely to get them motivated and coming back for more.
If more metrics aren't available, your instructors will need to be trained and confident in delivering classes using rate of perceived exertion (RPE). This is important because a cycling session should provide an effective body workout. Riders should know how different intensities should feel, and as every rider will be different physiologically, they will need to be told also what the resistance should feel like, so that they are able to have a workout that gets results - and also stay safe. Some courses your instructors may have done may have briefly mentioned RPE, but instructors need to be confident in delivering classes in this way, because all riders have different fitness levels and abilities, and without metrics, they'll need the extra insight to ensure their workout time is well-spent.
All instructors should be familiar with heartrate zones, but there is more to it than that. Cardiotraining is growing hugely in popularity as it provides not only an engaging in-session experience, but it also provides the rider with good quality data on how their workout went and how their fitness is improving - not only that but systems such as MyZone and iQniter will also provide you with a) a reason for customers to stay loyal to you and b) a secondary income stream for you as you sell heartrate straps and watches and c) a safer workout.
Naturally to get the best out of it, you need to ensure instructors are comfortable with the physiology behind cardiotraining as well as confident with using the software itself. It's not hard, but getting instructors on board can make all the difference. Cardiotraining is only as good as the instructor using it. Don't waste the investment - ensure that instructors know what they're doing and why they're doing what they're doing.
Every town has a glut of places to get fit – but there is a shortage of expertise. Rise above by becoming an expert in your field, and you'll give customers a reason to try you out - and then they'll stay with you when they realise that you are their best chance for meeting their fitness and health goals.
Educate your instructors so they in turn can educate customers. Well-informed customers who know what they're doing are more likely to get results - and those who get results are more likely to stay with you in the long-run.
Don't forget to share your expertise wider by posting on social media. This helps potential customers trust you if they can see that you know what you're talking about. The know/like/trust factor is not to be underestimated!
Choose instructors wisely
Not all great people make great instructors, but all great instructors started out as great people. It's not just about the piece of paper they need in order to be insured to instruct classes, you need instructors who are engaging, motivating, caring, and who get a kick out of helping riders get results. You need instructors who are going to stay up to date with their techniques, instructors who will be supportive of the changes you'll want to introduce from time to time; if they just want to plug their iPod in, deliver a class and get out as quickly as possible to collect their dough, they’re not going to be an asset. Keep your eye out for people who understand the significance of value and will be a great ambassador for your brand.
Service, repair and maintain the bikes you already have. It will prolong their life, and maximise the use you can get from them. Each 'out of order' bike not only fails to provide a return on your initial investment, but also sends a message that your riders' cycling experience is not your top priority. Find a reputable company to service the bikes - but set up a service schedule so that they will be regularly checked over as well as repaired when needed. Don't rely on your customers telling you there's a problem - you need to fix it before they even notice!
Your customers are not a homogenous bunch. You might be surprised at the different reasons riders choose to attend your classes. Make sure you have something to offer each of them. This might mean making classes available dedicated to different levels of fitness or ability, or perhaps you could provide a creche for classes held at a time that is tempting for mums who want to get back in shape. Or perhaps hold a special summer holiday class where youngsters can ride along with their parents.
Run a series over a few weeks - you'll need an aim or a feature such as a music theme, or perhaps improving power:weight ratio, this not only gives you an excuse to promote something on social media as well as elsewhere, but also as it takes place over several weeks, it will encourage riders to keep coming back.
And there we have it - some of these are free, but all of them cost less than replacing your bikes. It's all about maximising the value of the resources you already have - maintain your equipment, invest in and motivate your instructors, and don't forget to promote your efforts wider in your area, and you'll be attracting new customers and retaining them as your place will be the place to be.
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