Originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue of American Fitness Magazine
Making your bottom line a top priority is more important than ever in today’s competitive fitness landscape. As clubs, studios and boutiques strive to recover from the effects of COVID-19, you will really need to own the business side of group fitness to stay relevant and in the game. And when it comes to leading a winning group fitness program, understanding the metrics that drive success—and how to use them to build value in your program—is key. In fact, it’s the first step in running your department like a business (Rezabek 2018).
The thing is, our members, our instructors and our company owners all have pressing needs: The people in each category play a critical role in our business success, and we ultimately want to do our best for all of them.
The good news?
When you have a strong grasp on what the numbers show—from club traffic to cost per head—you can make decisions that effectively support all these key players. You’ll provide the programming that matters most to the members; you’ll be a better coach and manager (a true leader who’s driving value, participation, retention, culture, engagement and more); and you’ll be able to produce measurable, trackable and growth-focused results for the company.
Here, let’s unpack the key performance indicators (KPIs) that every group fitness manager should track—because, when you run your department and the technology that supports it like a well-oiled machine, the data won’t lie, and you’ll all win big.
The 4 KPIs to measure for grow Your group fitness business are:
1. Club Traffic
Once things settle back into a normal groove, knowing how many people are entering your business on a daily basis is critical. Chances are, your facility already uses a software program to track member check-ins, likely with an app or a key tag to identify who’s coming in the door.
It’s important to understand how many people are in your location and when they’re arriving so you can explore trends and patterns. Are there spikes of visitors checking in before the workday starts? Does your traffic pick up midmorning after kids go to school? Does it get busy again in the evenings—and, if so, at what time?
You can probably pinpoint these trends with your observations and gut instinct, but with actual data, you can really position value for your business. This gives you a foundation for delivering on other success metrics in group fitness. For example, you may see patterns that differ on certain days of the week. Knowing your traffic on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and year-over-year basis is critical to being able to craft a program that grows participation.
Pro leadership tip:
If you run traffic reports for your club and find there’s a certain day of the week or a particular time slot when check-ins drop, then talk to or survey your instructors and members to understand their needs and interests. You may discover areas where you can make small changes to your schedule that will affect class attendance and, ultimately, retention.
2. Class Attendance
Class attendance goes hand in hand with club traffic. However, the class metric goes further, showing not only how many people are in the club but what they’re doing there.
With today’s uptick in smartphone usage, using technology to input and analyze attendance is easier than ever. More and more club software programs are making it possible for instructors to pop their numbers into an app right after class and then quickly be on their way.
If this is not an investment you have made yet, think about how much time and effort you’ll save (and the efficiency you’ll drive for your department) when everyone can record key metrics “on the go.” Accuracy improves when instructors can input data in real time and you don’t have to transfer daily numbers manually from a paper tracking system into a spreadsheet. This reduces copying and calculation errors and saves you time for more value-added tasks, like engaging with participants and coaching your team.
Pro leadership tip:
Be mindful of making quick decisions based on these numbers. When you notice attendance is down in certain time slots, don’t immediately pull a class off the schedule. Work with your instructors to craft a plan based on variables they can control, such as intensity or type of music. (See “Bonus Points: Using Data to Grow Your Team,” above, for specific ideas.) Keep in mind that new classes and instructors need time to establish themselves, while more seasoned ones may need a refresher. For sustained results, pay attention to data and behavioral trends over time.
3. Percentage of Group Fitness Participation
This metric builds on the “class attendance” one, showing you how many of the people who come to your facility are taking group fitness classes. Some larger clubs offer a lot of amenities beyond group fitness—aquatics, free weights, machines, racquetball, saunas and more. So keep in mind that, in some scenarios, your members have a lot of options to choose from each day, which may influence this metric.
If you’re tracking club check-ins and class attendance digitally, most software programs will automatically calculate this statistic for you. If you need to do the math yourself, it’s simple: Take the number of people who attend your classes in a set time period, divide this figure by the number of people who checked into your club during that same time, and then multiply by 100 to see the percentage of your total members who are group exercise participants.
You can dig down as far as hourly on this metric to see how your classes perform at both peak and off-peak times of day. Whether you’re looking at year-over-year trends, monthly percentages or hourly penetration by time slot, this is a powerful indicator for class value and performance.
Pro leadership tip:
Once you know your facility’s baseline (current group exercise participation)—and how this percentage varies by the hour, day, month and year—you can make more intentional changes. For example, you might implement new marketing efforts or retention programs to attract more people into specific time slots and classes.
4. Cost per Head
Cost per head (CPH) measures how much you’re spending on payroll per participant, and it’s a simple formula: Take the dollar amount you’re paying your instructor to teach a particular class, and then divide that by the number of participants in the class. Determining CPH for each time slot—ideally on a month-over-month and year-over-year basis—can really help you identify which classes are performing well and where you need to make changes.
Depending on the size of your studio, CPH can vary greatly. Larger studios can hold more people, so you can significantly lower your CPH and payroll costs by bringing more participants into fewer classes. On the other hand, the more your instructor gets paid per class, the higher the CPH will rise. That said, compensating your instructors with a competitive rate, especially if they’re a real value-add to your team and your program, will help you attract and retain top talent, a huge benefit to driving class participation and bringing new members into your clubs.
Pro leadership tip:
Do your research to understand what instructors are making in your local area. If your compensation is competitive and you hire great talent, your membership and participation will grow, while your cost per head will stay in a profitable range.
It All Adds Up: Manage the Data Strategically
Walking a fine line between the people we serve and the data we track takes some skill. We all want to do our best for our trifecta of members, instructors and business owners, and using metrics to determine where to make changes is a great way to objectively position your team for success. Being fair, honest, open and objective when it comes to results will always lead you to do the right thing, especially for your team and your members.
Tracking metrics, analyzing trends and making decisions that incorporate quantitative and qualitative results will also help your department become more profitable than ever. When you position value in your program by growing the KPIs that drive membership, retention and more, you’ll win big, and your club will, too.
Business Tips for Using Big Data to Grow Your Group Fitness Classes
Data doesn’t lie, but interpreting club metrics and then learning from them is not always easy. It’s important for group fitness department leaders to help their instructors understand how they can positively influence future results through actions and behaviors the instructors can control.
Some tips for leaders to share with staff:
- Connect with participants before and after class so you can get to know each other.
- Promote class benefits on social media (if permitted by the business).
- Personally invite new members to class and help them get set up for success.
- Keep music fresh, upbeat and relevant.
- Vary exercises and class formats—don’t let your classes get stale.
- Show options and modifications for all fitness levels.
- Be prepared for every class with a plan you can mold and adapt as needed.
- Motivate, energize and stay positive each time you teach.
- Be genuine, authentic and relatable. In other words, be an inspiration to participants.
Adopt these tips, and you’ll see your culture and engagement grow, along with class participation. That’s good for morale—and good for business!
If you are an aspiring personal trainer, be sure to check out NASM's Business Acclerator. It is chockfull of similar concepts and strategies for achieving growth and starting your fitness business. Follow the link for more information!
Rezabek, K. 2018. A training plan for group fitness managers. American Fitness. Accessed Mar. 10, 2020: magazine.nasm