gym events

“What a Mess”: A Lesson from a Well-Intended Gym Community Event

A creative gym community event can help get new people into your gym! Here's one coach's tale about how it didn't quite go as she had planned.

Emily Beers
March 28, 2024
“What a Mess”: A Lesson from a Well-Intended Gym Community Event
A creative gym community event can help get new people into your gym! Here's one coach's tale about how it didn't quite go as she had planned.

Stepping foot into a new gym for the first time can be intimidating. So if you’re like many gym owners, you constantly try to find new ways to overcome that overwhelm. How can you welcome people to your gym community outside of the typical free class?

That’s exactly what the CrossFit Vancouver (now MadLab School of Fitness) staff was attempting to figure out.

The year was 2012 and Emily Beers was sitting in a coaches meeting. Her team was brainstorming creative ways to build the gym community, with a focus on lower-intimidation events.

Emily Beers, gym event organizer
Emily Beers, Instructor Coach at Madlab School of Fitness. (Photo credit: Madlab School of Fitness)

Beers came up with the idea to host a clothing sale. She envisioned people setting up tables throughout the gym, selling gently-used clothes they no longer wanted. And that’s where it all started...

A Creative, Fun Gym Event, in Theory.

When Beers announced the event, the women in her gym community seemed excited about it. She recalls about 20 people committing to participate as vendors.

She developed a social media strategy to start promoting the event. Then, since the gym was located next to a residential area, she went door-to-door to hand out flyers.

“So far, so good,” said Beers.

When the day of the event arrived, she was proud of how they set up the gym to give off a thrift-store vibe.

“The pull-up bars were especially handy to hang dresses and jackets,” she said. “The place looked great, and women were eager to sell.”

The Unexpected Turning Point.

In preparation for the clothing sale, Beers was sure she had prepared for everything. And then came what she refers to as the fatal mistake.

“I wanted to make a bit of money from the event, as I figured my time was worth something,” she said. “So I decided to charge five dollars at the door as an entry fee.”

Madlab gym space
The gym space, which was turned into a shop for the event. (Photo credit: Madlab School of Fitness)

She figured it was a small amount, and if she got 150 people through the doors, it would raise a quick $750. Her plan was to split the profits with the business in the same way they do for all specialty gym programs and gym events. She would get 60 percent and the gym would get 40 percent.

This small decision proved disastrous. People in her gym community were so confused about why there was a fee to “essentially enter a used clothing store.”

Some didn’t mind the fee and paid Beers without a second thought. But others were downright mad. One couple just turned around and walked out.

“After pissing off about ten to fifteen people, I realized this wasn’t going so well,” she laughed. “We had more than twenty vendors eager to sell clothes but not a whole lot of buyers. And those that were there were a little irked.”

Beers decided to abandon the entry fee plan. Unfortunately, this only exacerbated the problem, as a handful of angry customers then requested a refund.

Fixing the Issue for Future Gym Community Events.

Looking back, Beers says she learned her lesson at that fateful clothing sale more than a decade ago. Since then, they’ve never charged an entry fee for a gym community event again.

For other gym owners, Beers offered some advice. First, events like a clothing swap or Christmas craft sale are great ways to bring prospective members to the gym. So come up with some creative ideas and promote them outside your gym community.

Second, if you’re looking to make a profit from these events - or at least cover your basic costs - stay away from an entry fee. Instead, charge 10 percent of the profits from event sellers. Or you could charge vendors a flat rate to sell at your event.

Madlab gym community
Current Madlab members at a gym community event. (Photo credit: Madlab School of Fitness)

“We’ve learned that a percentage-of-revenue system is the way to go,” said Beers. “It eliminates any risk for the vendor, as they only pay the house if they’re selling their products.”

She also recommended a ticket system. Similar to drink tickets in a beer garden, buyers purchase tickets from the house (your gym). They can then use those tickets to purchase clothes or crafts from vendors. At the end of the day, vendors cash in tickets and receive 90 percent of their profits.

This option also makes it easier to process payments. If vendors are unable to accept credit cards, you can use the payment options in your gym management software to handle the transactions.

In Summary: Build Your Gym Community with a Creative Event.

Emily Beers came up with a creative idea to get prospective members through the gym’s doors. In preparation for that fateful clothing sale 12 years ago, she thought $5 was a small amount to charge.

“I didn’t think about how charging five dollars would be perceived to customers,” she said. “How it would rub people the wrong way and ruffle feathers. And it ultimately led to people being very turned off, rather than feeling welcomed by this cool gym in the neighborhood that they had been curious about.”

Her advice is to share your ideas with others and ask for opinions. Consider the pros and cons before implementing the plan. And a final rule of thumb: Always consider how any business decision will affect the client, the coach and the business. Ideally, it’s only a good decision if all three parties will benefit.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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