When it comes to establishing yourself within a fitness community, there are a couple of routes that you can take. One is to find your niche and stick to it, like we saw with Throwback Fitness, while other clubs choose to aim for a catch-all approach, offering the widest possible range of products and services. However, there is a specific fitness community that takes a little from each of these tactics and uses them in combination to create an exceptional customer experience. They are known as The Alaska Club.
In this week’s Fitness Club Spotlight, we will take a look at the premier gym franchise of our largest and coldest state, Alaska. Given their unique situation and relatively small target market, the Alaska Club shows that with a focus on customer engagement and value added you can reduce customer churn and make a name for yourself. Without further ado, let’s take a look at this club’s unusual and insightful history.
History of The Alaska Club
Back in 1986, Andrew Eker, Tom Behan, and a group of fifty investors came together to begin what is now known as The Alaska Club. Although the business is now thriving, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, within 2 days of closing the sale, the price of oil took a plunge, severely effecting the club’s investors and the greater Alaskan public. Not to be discouraged, Eker and Behan soldiered on and made it through the tough times.
Now, the business has grown to include 16 clubs in Alaska with close to a thousand employees serving tens of thousands of members, according to club President Robert Brewster. He went on to say that “catering to the varied and individual needs of members is part of what has made the company a success.” It was this focus on the needs of their members that brought them to our attention and why we believe them to be worthy of praise for their work in customer retention.
As the club has grown over the last 32 years, the offerings presented by the club have followed suit. While back in the 80s, the Alaska Club was simply one large gym space, their website advertises that they now have two express workout facilities, a women-only club, and even a high-end facility with spa amenities. Each of these different clubs has its own twist, which allows customers to choose the best option for them.
While some would be skeptical of cannibalization in such a small market like Alaska (and they wouldn’t be alone), Brewster says that user engagement metrics tell a different story. Instead of limiting customer engagement, having a wide selection of clubs for members allows them to go to a different gym based on their schedule, with some favoring one facility for every-day workouts while visiting others occasionally for something new.
In fact, this diversification of offerings is just one example of how the Alaska Club has their finger on the pulse and truly understands the needs of their clientele. While it isn’t always possible for other clubs to have multiple locations like Alaska does, including something for everyone is definitely within reach. On top of that, each location has a rigorous course schedule so that no matter what type of work out you are looking for, you will likely be able to find it.
Making the most of a unique situation
Now, operating in Alaska is a unique situation that comes with its own difficulties and challenges. That being said, the Alaska Club is a good example of working with the cards you are dealt to make the most out of any situation. Considering the fact that many members don’t have as many options as most Americans when it comes to fitness, Alaska’s dedication to customer engagement is something worthy of praise.
For other clubs, there will be particular challenges that will be specific to your business. Addressing them, you can either choose to see them as a problem or a threat. Our recommendation is to follow Alaska’s lead and make the most of the situation you are in, focus on the core values of your customers, and meet their needs whenever possible.
Quality over quantity
This all goes back to a simple business model that has work for decades: focus on quality over quantity. While it is true that the Alaska Club has a wide range of offerings like any medium-large club, none of them are there to fill space. Each of them is designed with certain groups of members in mind. Where others might make a shoddy one-size-fits-all product or service, Alaska uses customer segmentation correctly and better serves their entire audience in the process.
Again, no one of these customer retention tactics are mind-blowing or make a big splash, but they can be incredibly effective when done correctly. The Alaska Club is showing others in their area and around the country that a focus on customer needs, delivering a quality experience, and excellent service are a winning combo in a member-first market.
Tools for success
Along with putting these tactics into practice, the Alaska Club also uses tools at their disposal for success. For instance, they have their own mobile app for members to book classes, track their progress, and stay up to date with the club. Their website is easy to navigate, find class information, and sign up. And on top of all that, they keep the latest gym technology at each of their locations so that users never have to want for more when it comes time to exercise.
As tools like SMS marketing continue to take off and show true potential for improving customer engagement and retention, more businesses like the Alaska Club will need to take advantage of them for greater success. Again, these strategies aren’t complex, but they can make a world of difference when you take the time to understand their uses and approach them properly.
What we can learn
After reviewing the Alaska Club and walking through what makes them different, let’s take a look at what can be learned from their success and applied to others. For instance, such best practices as:
Focus on the customer experience: The Alaska Club delivers value to their customers by listening to their needs and doing their best to meet them, thus offering an exceptional experience members will think twice about abandoning.
Use tools at your disposal: Unless you are using all of the tools at your disposal to make a better experience for your customers, why would your customers believe you have their best interests in mind? Use the tools at your disposal whenever applicable!
Quality over quantity: Customers don’t care if you offer every class in the book if none of those classes are what they are looking for. Focus on delivering quality classes that your customers actually want if you hope to keep the coming back.
Now as you begin to assess your own customer engagement campaign and better serve your customers, you will be building off proven and successful techniques. Best of luck!
Co-Founder, Gleantap & Mastera