There’s a huge marketing opportunity for gyms that is largely being underutilized. It’s low cost, relatively easy to set up and is guaranteed to drive traffic through your doors. I’m talking about hosting or sponsoring local events. 

I’ve been in the gym business for 35 years and have been involved in dozens of local community events, both as a host and a sponsor. Every single time, my gym’s efforts have been rewarded with a membership boost that far outweighed the effort that went in. 

For many gym owners, though, getting involved with local events can seem pretty daunting, especially when they’re consumed with the day-to-day operations of keeping the business ticking over. In this article, I intend to show you that hosting local events is well within the grasp of any gym proprietor. I’ll lay out the steps to doing so and spell out why it’s well worth the effort.

Why Host a Local Event

A problem that I see with the marketing mindset of many gyms is that it is 100 percent internally focused. The gym markets to its existing members, relies on foot traffic from passers-by and does social media marketing. Each of those things is important, but they are not the whole story.

If you’re not engaging with your community, you are missing out on a massive opportunity. One of the beauties of the gym business is that you are offering a service that everybody needs. So, every member of the community is a potential member. The more involved you become in the community, the greater exposure you will get. At the same time, you will be establishing your gym as the local fitness expert. 

Hosting a local event can get a lot of people coming through your front door. The event may be held inside the gym or directly in front of it. If the event is a running race or something similar, you can set up the starting areas in the gym parking lot and have warm-up and massage areas inside the gym. It’s a proven fact that the more members of the public who enter your gym, the more members you will end up with. 

A local event is a great way to generate leads for your sales crew to follow up on. An easy way to do this is to hold a competition to coincide with the event. My stand-by was to give away a 6-month membership. 

Throughout the day, people would fill out an entry form, on which they would include their email address and phone number. The form would also ask them to tick what their fitness priority was (i.e. fat loss, muscle gain, strength, cardio, etc). Once the event was complete, we’d make a big show of drawing the winning entry form from a revolving barrel.

For the next month, my sales crew would be kept busy following up with all the prospects that were generated from the competition. The average strike rate was 22 percent. That is much higher than if they were cold calling and averaged 19 new members for every event that my gym hosted. 

Fitness events are especially good because they are aspirational. They appeal to people’s innate desire to better themselves. Combine this desire with a challenge component and you’ve got a combination that is nearly unbeatable. 

Make Use of Social Media Engagement Tools

Hooking into community groups is a lot easier than it used to be. Mobile platforms such as www.meetup.com and Eventbrite will put you in touch with fitness and health-minded groups right in your area.  Either attend a few meet-ups yourself or have a staff member do so. Get a feel for each group and then discuss with your team how your gym can fit in.

One thing that benefited my gym was to identify times when areas of the gym were quiet and then offering them as a venue for groups. For example, my spin class room was empty between 11 am and 4 pm every day. I then did a brainstorm with my team to identify local groups that would want to use it for an hour a week between those times. 

We were able to find 4 groups who were thrilled to use our facilities. These included a group of pregnant moms, and a seniors group. I didn’t charge these groups any money to use the spin room. However, I gave them the option of having guest seminar speakers from my staff at a nominal per member cost. 

The traffic flow created by having these groups coming in resulted in quite a few new members. 

With other groups, I offered to deliver free talks on different aspects of fitness. At the end of the talk, I’d open up to a question and answer section and then give everyone a free week’s membership voucher. I would typically get 4 or 5 people taking up the free week’s membership, with 1 or 2 who then go on to purchase a membership. 

Local Event Ideas

When it comes to gym-sponsored local events, most people tend to think of a 10K race or a Powerlifting competition. While both of those ideas can be developed into very successful events, there are a lot more ideas out there than that. Let’s consider ten other areas that can be tapped into. 

Idea #1: Training For a Local Event

You don’t have to actually be the event organizer to enjoy a spill-over benefit. Let’s say that there’s an annual marathon coming up. Why not launch a  program, especially for people who never dreamed that they could complete a marathon. You should be able to leverage air time on local radio and in print media to break down how anyone can meet this major life goal so long as they put in the preparation. 

Have your instructors create special training programs geared toward specific running events. These could include a run a 5K in 5 Weeks program for beginners, a Break Your Record 10K for serious runners and a first half marathon challenge prep program for those reaching out for a longer challenge.

Offer a special deal for people who sign up to the program. You should also offer a reward to those who successfully complete the marathon. This could be a one-month membership, a gym t-shirt or a couple of personal trainer sessions. 

Idea #2: A Tasting Event

I don’t know many people who don’t enjoy attending a new product-testing event. This is a great opportunity to team up with suppliers of health and fitness-related foods and supplements. You’re likely to get a batch of free products to offer as tasters. 

I have found success with combining a free tasting session with a 30-45 minute nutrition seminar. My most successful event was a tasting of a protein chip!

Market the event through your existing members as well as social media and groups like Meet-Up. 

You can take the tasting event idea to the next level by organizing a fitness food fair. If you sell supplements, contact all of your suppliers and encourage them to have a booth. You can charge them a small booth fee or have them sponsor the event in return for booth space. 

Idea #3: Post-Training Event

Got a HIIT class scheduled on a Friday evening? Why not follow it up with dinner at a local restaurant? 

This is a great way to build relationships, both between members and between members and the gym staff. Advertise the class as a social event, making sure that it is open to all gym members; the last thing you want is to give the impression that the after-workout dinner is only open to the gym’s ‘in-crowd’. 

Idea #4: Seminars

Your gym deserves to be recognized as the local authority on all things to do with fitness, nutrition, and health. Once it does, community members will view it as a no-brainer to come to you when they need to solve their fitness-related problems. 

However, you don’t just become the local fitness expert by default. You need to earn the distinction. One way to do that is by holding public seminars to share your knowledge. Subjects could range from building muscle mass to losing baby weight post pregnancy. Offer these services for free but make sure that you collect registration details that you can follow up on. 

Seminars can be held in the gym. However, you should also go out to other locations to speak. Local schools, factory floors, retirement homes, and office buildings should all be on your radar. 

Idea # 5: Support a Charity

Show your support for a charity by sponsoring a local event that channels all proceeds to that cause. You could hold a fitness challenge where members have to complete a series of challenges similar to a CrossFit HERO WOD workout. Each member gets sponsorship from friends and family.

On challenge day, run a membership give-away similar to the one I mentioned earlier. This will allow you to collect contact details from all the people who come to support the participants. 

You could also offer everyone who participates in the event a week-long free pass to the gym. During that week your staff should be primed to treat those people like VIPs whenever they come in. Do this well, and you will find that as many as 50 percent of those people will take up a monthly membership once their complimentary week is up.

When it comes to your choice of event to sponsor, choose a cause that aligns with your values and that is a natural fit for your business. I found that cancer-related causes worked well for my gym. 

I strongly recommend staying away from any causes that have a political connotation or that people hold strong moral views towards. If you want your business to thrive, stay away from controversial issues. Remember the sage advice that Michael Jordan gave when he was asked why he didn’t get involved in politics …

Republicans buy shoes too!

Idea #6: Weekend Retreats

Wellness tourism is big business. You can get in on the action by organizing a weekend retreat at a lodge in the woods. Set up a schedule that includes fitness and nutrition seminars, a range of workouts, kayaking, archery, and other outdoor activities. On Saturday night gather everyone around a campfire, roast marshmallows, and tell scary stories.

Idea #7: Pros vs Bros

Pros vs Bros is a concept that originated with professional bodybuilders competing against regular gym goers in key lifts like the bench press, squats, and deadlifts. You might not have pro bodybuilders at your gym (or maybe you do!) but you can adapt the concept so that your personal trainers and gym staff compete against gym members. Don’t confine the challenges to strength lifts: include the rowing machine, sled push, and treadmill run. 

Create a weekend event out of your Bros vs Pros challenge. Promote it to the local community and run the obligatory free membership prize draw. Be sure to hype the event up with plenty of lead-in time. This will allow the competitors to build up their following and make sure they come along to support them. 

Don’t limit this sort of competition to your gym’s top-level athletes. Have categories for novices, teens, women, and others so that all members can find a place to participate. Create an atmosphere of encouragement where everyone who participates is celebrated.

This type of challenge has proven to be very popular in my gym. 

Idea #8: Have a Launch Party

Launch parties are extremely effective at bringing in new business. Throw one if you are starting a new training program, refurbishing the gym, or introducing new gym staff. Send out press releases and contact the local media. Invite journalists to come through and try out the new things you’ve got on offer.

Promote the launch party on social media and be sure to have plenty of yummy food on offer!

Idea #9: Guest Instructors

Can you contact a famous fitness personality to run a fitness class as a special event? Bringing in a celeb trainer can massively boost your gym’s profile. You are likely to get press coverage for the event. 

All fitness personalities will have their own sizable social media following. They will naturally post about your event to their legion of followers, providing you with a whole lot of free publicity for the event.

The flow-on should be significant, so long as you are diligent about collecting contact details for the people who turn up.

Attracting local sports personalities to your gym is another attraction that you can build a local event around. People are fascinated by how professional sports players train. A lot of guys wonder about how their favorite NFL player matches up to them in terms of strength and power on the gym floor. Imagine if you could get your local franchise to have a training session at your gym. You would have people lining up around the corner to watch them work out.

Idea #10: Holiday Themed Events

The holidays and seasons offer opportunities to build events to coincide with a particular theme. You could hold a 12 Days of Christmas challenge event where the challenges get cumulatively harder each day. 

In January, kick-start the year with workshops on goal setting, nutrition, and how to establish fitness habits that you’ll stick to. This is the time of the year when media outlets will be looking for New Year’s resolution type stories, so be prepared to capitalize. 

Promoting your Local Event

It’s all good and well to devise a great event. But if hardly anyone turns up, it’s going to be a bomb. So, how do you get people to come?

Well, you could spend money on TV and radio posts as well as print media. But, in my experience, you are far better putting your focus on social media marketing.

Consider what your social media marketing currently consists of. The key to success with social media marketing is consistency, so hopefully, you have established a regular schedule of posting on Instagram and Facebook. 

Create a Facebook Live Stream

You should be making use of Facebook ads. This can be a very cost-effective way to promote your local event. The first step to maximizing Facebook ads is to host a Facebook Live. During this live stream, be as descriptive as possible on the benefits that people will receive from attending the event. Tell them to bring a friend and to share the event details with anybody that they know.

It always helps to offer some small bribe in your Facebook Live stream. Food is always a good one, so you might offer free protein drinks. Be sure, too, to mention your free membership draw. 

Your Facebook live stream should be between 5 and 10 minutes long. 

When you’re live you are able to engage with other people who are on the page at the time. This is a good opportunity to answer any questions they might have. Once the live stream is done, it will remain on your Facebook page as a static post and a static video.

Not sure about how to create an impacting Facebook live stream? 

Here are some helpful tips …

  • Have your goal in mind; what is the main message you want the listener to walk away with?
  • Draft a script.
  • Create a headline that will get people’s attention.
  • Set up good lighting and audio.
  • Create your live stream at the time when most people are on your facebook page.
  • Make it fun for the viewer.
  • Don’t waffle.
  • Introduce yourself and tell the viewer what your level of expertise is.
  • Ask people to share the post and tag friends in the comments.
  • Share the Facebook Live post with as many people as you can.
  • Send an email to all your members alerting them to the Facebook Live post.
  • End with a call to action.

Pin Your Facebook Live to the top of Your Page

Having created your Facebook live post, you should then pin the post to the top of your Facebook page. Keep it there until the event is done. 

Include the Event Details in the Post

When you create your Facebook Live, add all of the details of the event in the caption that accompanies the video. Include the time, place and other important information, as well as the encouragement to share those details with others. 

Boost the Post with a Facebook Ad

Get more eyes on your Facebook Live video with a Facebook ad that specifically targets the local community members you want to attend the event. Run the ad for the 5 days prior to the event. If you do it any further out than that, people are likely to forget or lose interest. 

The total cost of your Facebook ads should be less than $50.

The All-Important Follow-Through

Holding a successful event that gets plenty of foot traffic is extremely gratifying. But it’s not the end of the task. Sure, you will probably get quite a few membership sign-ups on the day. But, your real goal should be to generate leads.

As I’ve been stressing throughout this article, your event needs to have a way to capture the contact details of the people who attend your event. These are your prospects. It is then up to you and your staff members to make contact with those people and draw them in. 

I strongly recommend making the initial contact by phone.  Be upbeat and positive, telling the person that you’re following up to get feedback on how people found the event. Ask what they liked and if they have any suggestions for improvement. Then, to thank them for their time, tell them you’re offering a complimentary fitness assessment and offer to book a time for them to come in. 

Summary

Hosting or sponsoring local events is a proven way to increase your gym’s foot traffic and generate ongoing leads that can be converted into gym members. In this article, I’ve presented you with ten tried and true local event ideas that you can develop to make your gym an integral part of your local community. 

Use the Facebook Live and Facebook ads strategy presented to get the word out about your event. Provide a fun, engaging atmosphere, throw in a bit of professional fitness education and a free prize draw, and you’ll have an event that will delight the locals and improve your bottom line.

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