Gym Story from PushPress

How We Became Australia's Most Awarded Boutique Gym

Another Gym Story From PushPress PushPress, the makers of your favorite gym management software, is working on a new series, Gym Stories. We’d like to feature gyms in the community (PushPress client or not). We would like to tell your story to the world. If you’re a gym who’d like to tell your story, let us know here! We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the team at CrossFit H-Town in Houston about their experience scaling their gym from a small garage into multiple locations. Let’s jump into the interview

Sq. Ft.
Year Est.
Ovingham, SA AU

Another Gym Story From PushPress

PushPress, the makers of your favorite gym management software, is working on a new series, Gym Stories. We’d like to feature gyms in the community (PushPress client or not).  We would like to tell your story to the world.  If you’re a gym who’d like to tell your story, let us know here!

We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Aaron, one of the owners of North Adelaide Fitness Centre, about his journey as a gym owner so far.

In today’s interview we’ll chat with Aaron about why he made the decision to live in his gym for a while, and how he got out of a tricky financial situation by using blue ocean gym growth strategies.

The Interview

Hello and thank you for taking time to chat with our blog readers today about your gym North Adelaide Fitness. Today you are Australia’s most awarded fitness centre. However,  where you are today, isn’t where you started. Let’s rewind and explore the early story of you and your gym. How did your story begin?

North Adelaide Fitness (NAFC) as a business started winning awards in the late 1990’s and this trend continued. I personally joined the NAFC team in 2005 straight out of high school as a Personal Trainer under the then owner Peter Conroy. During this time we always had a strong culture of service, excellence and passion for the fitness industry, this held us above our competitors as we were different.

I started working my way up from a Personal Trainer to Club Manager and then had the opportunity to purchase the business in 2016.

The 12-18 months prior to purchasing the business was tough for the centre as we started the transition from one owner to another. The issue during this time was our naturally different views on how the business should move forward, so during this period the Centre stood still for the first time in about a decade. This impacted on the performance of the club and we felt stagnant.

Once we took the reins, moving away from rigid contracts and sales systems, we started to implement a lot of our cultural changes which were keeping things very casual from a managing staff point of view and how rigid members were with locked in contracts.

Initially we went a little too far one way which we later pulled back on and found a happy playing field we could all work in. We grew 10% in the first year and started to put some capital behind us enabling us to implement changes to the facilities and our programs. At this point My wife and I decided to sell our Home due to the large maintenance required on the property. We did however make this decision while traveling in Europe where the idea of living in a smaller space appealed more to us as we could enjoy the city we lived in rather than just our backyard. This was a blessing because a month after us coming back, a neighbouring property threw some embers over the fence into our property on Boxing Day which ended up lighting up our Centre and effectively closing us for about a month.

The blessing of selling our house was that we had a chunk of savings which would have been used to buy our next house, however over a glass/bottles of red wine we made the decision to be brave and push the business forward with our personal money. This led to using the Centre for our own accomodation. We had a seperate living space but it did mean we didn’t leave the Business for almost 18 months. During this time we upgraded all of our equipment, remodeled our bathrooms, foyer, spin studio and strength areas.

This was a tough time, we had about 12 months of breaking even financially due to the huge drop in our membership we suffered as a result of being unable to open while the damage was assessed by insurance, a large chunk of cancellations from recently joined members and the inability to sell memberships. When we did open it was at a reduced capacity as it took 6 months to complete the repairs required on the facilities.

One thing that really kept our heads up was our loyal members, they really stood by us during this period and it is something my wife Jade and I will never forget.

When we finally moved through this, we made the decision to start our R50 program. Starting the boutique training service which runs out of NAFC was a real turning point. We will elaborate on this later on, but it pushed our business along financially and reinforced our need to be a blue ocean business (we will chat about this more later on).

At this point we made the decision to move out and start a family, looking back I understand that most people would have waited until they had a house but we knew we would have the money to move out eventually so we went with it. Not long after we did find an apartment which we loved and was walking distance from the centre. We put a deposit down and began waiting for it to be built.

About 5 months later, we found out the awesome news that we conceived and had a baby on the way! However our housing fortune took a downturn again as the developers of the apartment building pulled out and the process of finding a house started again. Luckily we did happen to find a place quickly, again walking distance from the centre and already built.

At this point things were really moving forward and was taking all of our time to keep up with the intake of new business, this was extremely satisfying. During this time we also won our latest award which was one of IHRSA’s rising star’s. We are now moving towards another boutique inside the Centre and we’re currently working through the same process we did for R50 so keep your eyes peeled.

Your mission is to help people become a better version of themselves. How do you go about ingraining your mission in your staff?

I find that your exact mission/why statements tend to be a hard thing to ingrain in staff. We hire staff that purely want to help people. If that’s a key reason why they want to join the fitness industry, then for us more importantly we aim to hire people with the same core values as Myself and my wife Jade. Our core values are a stronger avenue of how we conduct ourselves in the business. Our values are quality, flexibility, respect, transparency and authenticity.

These are used on a daily basis in how we act, make decisions and react to conflict between staff to club, member to staff and member to club.

When I was a staff member I would always see other clubs within the industry that had mission statements and there was always a hypocritical aspect to what they actually do and say. We feel that if our core values are in line, then we will deal with a situation in the same way which will ideally help people become a better version of themselves in and outside the club.

A hot tip, I always ask myself if someone broke or went against one of our core values would I remove them from the business? If the answer is no then it isn’t a true core value in my eyes.

If you had to boil your success down into three things, what would those three things be? Why?

Comparing where we were just after the fire to now I feel we are in a position that is stronger than ever. We often reflect on the things that were successful and helped us move forward as a business.

The first thing is being brave, this means making hard choices on long term business decisions when your back is against the wall and not choosing a short term option.

For example, we have an income strategy where we want the majority of our income to come from direct debit dues as opposed to short term upfront memberships. It has taken over 12 months to see the benefits, but now our required sales per month to achieve positive net movement is quite low.

The second thing is being a big believer of red ocean/blue ocean. I believe the mantra that if you live in the red ocean with sharks and blood it’s hard to survive, whereas if you live in a blue ocean with dolphins and happiness you have the ability to price as you see fit and are not held over a barrel from members seeking cheap deals. To make this work you need to have a product that has a point of difference, for us it’s R50. When we first put R50 together we started the conversation by asking; how do we create excitement for members to join this program? This was essential, as the question forced us to think outside the box and create a program that was unlike no others around us. We wanted there to be a Fear Of Missing Out or FOMO. Since R50 started just under 18 months ago the program has grown to 175 members paying full fees with none of these made up of short term memberships/challenges.

The third and final thing is to create your own culture, how do you want the public to see your business? We want to be like the cool kid in school whom people want to be around in order to share our positive energy. We feel our chilled out environment is probably our most attractive feature to the community and to our members.

Only just recently have we been given two memorable pieces of feedback. We absolutely loved that a member said to their friend “These guys aren’t gym people. You will love them because they aren’t wanky”. The other feedback was a fly in fly out member who we charged just for the days that they came without getting them to lock-in or give them extra time at the end of the membership. His feedback was “It was super refreshing to have someone just do the right thing and be open about it”.

Like many gyms you offer a “try before you buy” 7 day trial. What strategies do you find work best when it comes to ensuring free trial members convert into paying customers? What’s your free to paid conversion rate?

Our enquiry (not tour but straight up enquiries) to conversion (sale) rate is approximately 60%. Almost all of our enquiries that actually make it into the club take a trial of some sort whether it’s a free R50 class or a 7 day pass to our traditional gym and group fitness facilities.

We keep in mind what the enquiry on pass would like to try, what suits their level of fitness and will help them achieve their goals. We do however always push everyone towards the R50 program because they will be looked after and it’s easy to drop sell someone to a cheaper product if they want out of the premium program.

Your gym offers countless services to its members. You have spin classes, group fitness studio, personal trainers, strength studio, kickboxing studio, child-minding and even an area for messages. How do you plan the scaling of services (i.e. when to add new services), or were these services built-in from the beginning?

Our services in the question above were always included in a membership (other than massage and Personal Training). I was a Personal Trainer before buying NAFC so it’s hard for me to say this but we are now moving away from Personal Training as we feel we can provide a better product and look after members more in our R50 program.

We feel to be successful in our strategies and to stay a blue ocean business we need to always be thinking of how are we different? How would we like to train as fitness professionals? This dictates when we add new services. The one key point that we always have is if it looks and feels half done then we should either wait or not do it at all. The one thing I cringe at every time I see is when a club says “we have a high tech spin studio” and it is bikes with some lights on them, a projector and some wanky images on the wall. The top Boutiques that are doing well do things properly, there is always a point of difference and it’s never done halfway.

You have quite a large following on social media. How has social media and the internet in general helped fuel North Adelaide Fitness Centre’s growth?

These days it’s our brand, and if you follow social media closely you find that people will like your page, ask to follow you and before soon you will see that they pop up as an enquiry. I sit on a round table with independent gym owners around Australia led by Justin Tamsett. As part of this we spend a lot of time discussing where social media is going, who is doing it well and how we can implement it well in our business.

Part of a conversation we had was about how to deal with enquiries from Facebook or Instagram or other internet leads.

We have made an effort to not use tricks like “please review us online” or “refer 3 friends to get a free towel”. We find that when someone follows us on Instagram or Facebook our friends in common are always current members which for us says “hey they must be talking about us in a positive light for them to find us online and like us”

As authenticity is a core value of ours we always prefer to not do a referral competition as it’s not how people act in a social environment, it normally comes up naturally in conversation. This is how we see social media helping us. I think a key thing people miss with social media is the word SOCIAL. You can’t force, yell, scream or beg for people to have a conversation with or about you.

On a side note we feel that showing skin gets more traction online, now by saying “showing skin” we don’t mean taking your kit off. We mean as the owner, trainers, instructors and/or member’s, sharing stories is the best way for us to receive followers and interaction on our posts/stories

What are your three biggest digital growth channels and why do you think that is?

This is an easy question for our business. It’s in this order:

1. Facebook
2. SEO /  Google ads
3. Instagram

The reason for this is really simple. Three channels is all we can manage properly. Again, we feel that we’d rather do what we can well than use everything poorly.

Now in terms of non-digital growth channels (physical flyers, ads, word of mouth etc) which have proven to be your most successful channels?

In regards to non-digital channels we don’t really play too much in that space as we haven’t ever had a great return on investment. We would rather spend that time or money on creating better online content. An example of this is having lighting on tripods, a gimbal for videos, splicing software to make seamless videos and time for our staff to sit down chill out and make a storyboard for video content or how to get good looking pictures.

Lastly, if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself three pieces of advice about what it takes to run a successful health and fitness company, what would those three pieces of advice be?

  1. Do what you want and don’t listen to people telling you, “you can’t do that. No one else does that so it must not work.” (It makes no sense to me to be like everyone else, how boring is that…)
  2. You need great staff doing things that they’re great at, but for what matters in the club the best person is always the person who has their arse on the line so as a owner you have to love seeing sales and love seeing staff do things they love.
  3. Be a blue ocean business, no one wants to hang around with people begging them to be their friend. (That ain’t a good look)

Thank you for taking the time to chat with PushPress readers today about your experience as a gym owner Aaron. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about North Adelaide Fitness Centre, we suggest you head over to their website here or follow them on Instagram.

Ready to scale your fitness business?

Try our hassle-free Gym Management Software loved by thousand of successful Gym Owners.
Get started for $0/month
“PushPress is the reason my gym became profitable.”
—Joe M. Gym Owner

Want to share your gym story?

Help other gym owners start and grow their gyms with your insight.

Submit your Gym Story