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Stuart Brauer on Why Your Brand Needs to Engage Your Members

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Stuart Brauer always brings a lot of energy to every conversation about running a fitness business and we were happy to have him back on the show to talk about the current state of play in the fitness world. 

He is the owner of WTF Gym Talk, an all-round resource for those looking to grow a real fitness business. He is also the owner of Urban MVMNT, a fitness studio in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Stuart talks to us about providing value for members when they go online, ways to keep your customers loyal and how to use your brand to engage your members.

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Episode Link

This episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast can be found on SpotifyApple Podcasts, and anywhere you get your podcasts.

5 Key Takeaways From This Episode

1. Members Will Be Forgiving but You Need to Evolve 

When your gym closes, the first thing you need to think about is how you are going to survive. To survive you need to retain as much of your members as possible, which means live-streaming classes online or providing pre-recorded workouts on demand. 

Some gym owners will be hesitant to dive into filming workouts, especially if they are inexperienced in this area. Stuart makes the point that in the beginning, your members will be forgiving of the lack of quality. However, he says that if your workouts look the same on Day 20 as they do on Day 1 you’re in trouble. The key is to learn and improve so you are providing the best value possible

2. Provide Real Value for Your Members 

The baseline you have to do as a fitness business is to provide online workouts for your members. However, this alone will not be enough to get them to stay long term. As well as improving the quality of your online content, you need to evolve your offering to provide members value worth paying for. 

Stuart says that on top of your live-streamed classes and/or pre-recorded content you need to actually provide services like accountability calls. This allows you to check up on how your members are doing and ensure they are sticking to their goals. Crucially it provides the person with some social interaction during lockdown. 

3. Build Trust to Keep Members Loyal 

The reality is that the online fitness industry existed well before COVID-19 and was thriving. The technology available now makes it easy to provide premium workouts online. Peleton is a prime example of this type of company. Because of this, you’re not going to compete on brand and quality straight away. 

According to Stuart people will choose your gym over premium home workout apps if you can provide them with a consistent experience. This, in turn, breeds familiarity and most importantly trust. They know what to expect and will forgive your inability to match online offerings with better quality branding.  

4. Support Your Local Community 

In your local community, there will be many businesses going through the same thing you are. Shops, restaurants, bars, and offices have all been affected one way or another by the pandemic. It’s important that fellow business owners take the initiative in the local community. 

Stuart makes the point that you should form a support network with other local businesses in your area. A good way to show support is to promote them on social media and encourage your members to do the same. It’s important to give back at this moment. 

5. Engage Your Members with Your Brand

Lastly, one of the key points that Stuart makes is that members really need to engage with your brand at this time. To him, branding is a combination of good creativity and good strategy. Your strategy is your live stream workouts, accountability calls, and all the things that you do as a business. 

However, you also need to look at your creativity and how you are actually engaging your members. A good way to do this is to look at how many members you have and then look at how you are actually active in your chat group or actively attending class. If this number is low then you need to rethink how engaging your brand is.  


Kevin:How’s it going everyone? Welcome to The Fitness Founders Podcast. I’m Kevin Mannion, VP Marketing here at Glofox. This week we talk to Stuart Brauer from WTF Gym Talk. Stuart talks about providing value for members when they go online, ways to keep your paying customers loyal, and how to use your brand to navigate the hard times. He is a straight talker so let’s get started.

Hey, Stuart Brauer, welcome back to the show.

Stuart:Thank you so much for having me, brother. 

Kevin:Glad to have you back and definitely keen to get your insights into what’s going on now in the fitness industry. I remember we had a great chat around sales and marketing, and referrals about a year ago, so looking forward to seeing how your take on things has changed. 

Stuart:Yeah, man. I’m fucking keen to talk about it. COVID has changed a lot and I’ve made some [unclear – 1:15] recently. All the material positions, and features, and amenities we all had as gyms, you know, nice front desks, and bathrooms, good equipment, and lots of space, and good coach to athlete ratio, none of it means anything anymore. So everyone has been set to zero and now more than ever everyone is having to pivot last minute. They are having to learn a new technological way to reach people. Really, technological isn’t the right word. But for a lot of these gym owners using iMovie, and getting a microphone, and some decent lighting for a video, it’s technologically more advanced for them than they were used to. Ad they are having to pivot, and those that can pivot quick are going to be okay, I think. Those who are slow to pivot are probably unfortunately… like I think I mentioned this before you hit record, there are going to be a cautionary tale to everyone else years down the road. 

Kevin:Yeah. I hear you. I think let’s kick off around that pivot and how people are changing their businesses. I think there is a lot of people struggling with, “Okay, I know I’m going to have to go online but I’m not really sure if I value my online content enough.” How do you create value when you basically become an online – a gym that’s now become an online business? 

Kevin:Remember, you are an online business to a bunch of people who feel bad for you, right. Where none of us are right now… No one that’s starting content and online remote coaching should be starting with the idea of I’m going to acquire a new business. I look at this like every micro gym is a boat at sea in a middle of a tsunami. You’re never really worried about where you’re going or how you are going to get there right now. All we care about is not capsizing the boat and that’s in retention. I’ve been developing with gyms… I’ve been doing about 68 calls a day creating burn rates. A burn rate when I work with a startup or a tech firm is essentially you got a million dollars of funding, before you make any money, how long will that money last? Essentially, I am doing that with gyms taking your current recurring subscription, how long can you sustain on that knowing you’re not going to get any new money in probably. So we come up with a burn rate at 44% cancellation you’re done. So we have a little ticker and people know, like, “Shit! I had four cancellations this week I’m getting closer to that number.” With that in mind I’m telling people, you have an audience people who get that this isn’t your core offering, they will forgive cosmetically poor video production. They will not forgive no video production. They will not forgive you making an effort. 

I think it is a three prong approach or maybe even four. You know, the rental of equipment. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a lot to rent out and vice versa, the entire United States… I don’t know how you guys are doing over there in Ireland but you can’t get a rower, or dumbbells, or anything. Anything at home fitness wise is fucking gone in the States. But if you have an equipment and renting it out, that’s great, because it creates a psychological bond between you and the borrower. And that can keep them under recurring EFT. Again, the whole goal here guys is to get people just keeping the recurring membership. We’re not upselling, we’re not charging for rentals or anything like that. 

You can then go with pre-recorded content, right, making good video content. I’m literally editing one right now for Urban MVMNT, my gym back in Charlotte, North Carolina. And you get that out. That way it’s on demand. They can watch whenever they want. That content needs to evolve. It should be full length classes, 60 minutes long, with a warm up and a cool down, and a strength, and a metcon, or whatever you do. They should be express versions that someone could just watch, see the workout, get coached on the movements really quick, and then hit it themselves. And then it should get very what I call cherry-picking enabled. Allow members to go ahead. Don’t worry. They are bored, they are at home. They might want to work out twice a day. They might want to do a bis and butt workout. They might want to do a core blaster workout. They might want to do something that’s just movement specific. They want to do a push-up progression. Whatever. Create as much video content as possible pre-recorded for live streaming. You know, there’s platforms available that I think are great like STUDIO by flexx is a new one hitting the scene that is going to allow gym owners to take their own, like, a branded app for free, put their logo on it and upload all their content to that. And that’s going to be a great, cool feature I think. People will be able to log classes, all of that. 

So if you have those features you then have lives. Have you seen a lot of people be doing Zoom classes and things like that? Go for it. I’m not the biggest fan of the Zoom class. I think it’s a cluster fuck of an experience. I’m not doing it personally for my gym but I’ve heard lots of micro gyms recommend and say that is working for them. If it’s working, go for it. Test everything. Try it out, yeah. 

Kevin:Got it. 

Stuart:Go ahead.

Kevin:Yeah, no, I suppose I think my behind the question is once they’ve got their basic baseline of online content how much further do businesses need to go in order to keep that loyalty further? 

Stuart:Then you go further. I tell people if your video content looks the same on Day 21 as it did on Day 1, you’re doing them a poor service. They should cancel on you. They should. If you don’t know how to get better video content there is an amazing resource called YouTube. Fucking use it, right. Number two is you have to evolve the service. So we purposely at Urban MVMNT did, we’ve done a four tier approach. We offered this, and then the following, and then 15 days we offered this, and then 15 days later we’ll offer this. Currently, where we’re at we are now offering, at no extra cost, personalized workouts for our members. Up to three personalized workouts a week in addition to the on demand stuff that we’ve been streaming, in addition to the daily lives that we do, in addition to the accountability calls that we’ll be dropping. You’ll be able to book a 15-minute accountability call twice a week with a coach just to help check in, and just to give you some social interaction, and just to talk about your nutrition. 

Kevin:Tell me about this accountability calls because they are starting to pop into existence. 

Stuart:Yeah, it’s a complete farce. None of us know what the fuck we are doing. It’s an accountability call. What is it? It’s this. It’s a Zoom call. I talk to you, “Hey, how many workouts have you done this week?” “Two.” “Okay, how many do you want to do this week?” “I would like have to do four.” “Well, what the fuck happened?” “Well, I got this…” Again, you are playing part psychologist. Anyone who has done personal training knows you are a shrink half the time. Yeah, you are essentially talking to people and just helping them get out of their own fucking head. Even if it doesn’t change it. If that client still only does two workouts a week, I promise you they will still sign on to those calls, and the just like having someone to talk to. Again, anybody with a personal training client, you know, trainers have clients for 8 years. They look the same fucking way they did on Day 1. But they love showing up for those sessions. It is a social thing. People need social now more than ever. I think everyone is really learning that. Peloton is not going to put us out of business. I think we are all learning how badly people want social interaction. 

Kevin:Yeah. I think there’s a lot of fitness business owners in the mindset that lots of streaming content is really cheap, so how can I compete against that? Like people can do it free. How do you talk people through that?

Stuart:It’s super easy. If I’ve been going to your gym, I know you, I know the lexicon, the lingo, I know the kind of workouts we do, I like it. If I go to the app store and I download one of the 10,000 different free ones, I promise you, the delivery of fitness is not consistent with what I was used to. And the foundation of any good brand is trust. And customers trust your brand when they receive a consistent experience that allows them to build this baseline of familiarity and trust. Trust isn’t that they didn’t do me wrong. Trust is I know what to expect. You know, going out and finding another, like, an online offering that they’re going to like. You know, they are going to spend… They are going have to go through six different apps and $9.99 a pop or even free ones. Test it out, “Ah, I don’t like…” They would rather just stick with yours. And they will forgive your inability to make it sexy. They will. Yes, there is way better shot apps out there and video. But nobody is judging you. At least your current members are not. The open market is. So when you go back and these gyms open and I hope they continue their digital revenue stream, kind of like, the fitting room in New York City has done a great job with it, Alchemy Anywhere. We’ve got MVMNT Anywhere. We’re going to continue and we’ll use STUDIO by flex to push that out there to the world. We are going to continue it up. But as long as it’s consistent with what our members have come to know and love, they will excuse us for hiccups along the way from a production, and aesthetics, and editing issue kind of scenario. 

The members… and here’s the other thing too. I don’t know about how it is over in Ireland, but supporting your local businesses is a huge push here in the States. Huge. They realized that them continuing to pay you monthly, even though you are now delivering a service that they didn’t sign up for in the first place, is supporting a local small business. I cannot recommend enough for everybody to be bragging and boasting about how your business is supporting other locally owned small businesses. Every time you go out to the grocery store, or you go get food, you better do it from a locally on spot and you better share it on your gym’s Instagram. 


Stuart:Every time you go buy beer from the local brewery, you better show that you support the local business. No matter what you’re doing, show your support in local because people get that you’re paying it forward just like they are. And people like brands that they can trust. 

Kevin:Yeah. I really want to dig into this brand conversation. But I think to summarize this where people are maybe not seeing value in their own products right now, there is a huge ton of value. And just people being already familiar with you and how you do your workouts, and that’s one thing that’s going to keep them coming to you. Adding in things like accountability calls, adding in things like one-on-one sessions and rolling that in with decent online content that you continue to work on, there is probably more value in that than people actually realize in terms of what their existing members are willing to pay for. 

Stuart:Most of people who listen to your podcast is probably would look at their gym and say, “My gym is okay. It’s not the nicest gym ever.” But you still have fucking members that show up every month and pay you. Your contents are kind of the same thing. It doesn’t have to be the nicest ever. You have to care the most. You just have to care the most and you have to be constantly over communicating with your members. And crisis communication, if anyone has ever study crisis communication, we do it frequently and we do it often. I want to add a third dimension that you do it from the heart with full transparency, and I think you’ll be able to hopefully weather the storm. All depending obviously on how your local economy got hit with the COVID thing, but that’s a whole different conversation.

Kevin:Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about branding, and you touch on it there, but I think you’re probably want of the best people to talk about this. How do people keep their brand and their vision going and keep their members connected to that brand, say, when it’s through a Zoom window? How can they do that?

Stuart:Branding is simply the intersection of good strategy and good creativity. That’s what branding ultimately is. The strategy is a Zoom call, and pre-recorded videos, and personalized workouts, and accountability calls. Good for you, you got a good strategy, but how is your creativity behind it, right? How do you make it a little bit more creative? You know, we started buying a bunch of our members gift cards to breweries, right. We do a daily movement challenge. In a private group we go ahead and send it out. Our members participated and we randomly pick a winner and we send them free beer or wine or whatever it is. And then we started going on things like TikTok, and we start finding fun little challenges that fucking people are doing on TikTok that have gone viral. One of them the other day was you have to do a Turkish get up with a beer in your hand and a roll of toilet paper on your forehead. And you have members trying it out, and they are goofing. Again, it creates engagement, so the brand now is about engagement. How can I keep someone engaged? 

Here is a great metric people can take as an actual tactic. How many members are in your gym and then how many people are actively engaged in that Facebook group or actively registered for a Zoom call? And that’s not a metric a lot of people… I’m asking people like, “How is it going?” They are like, “Great.” I’m like, “Good. How many people are showing for your classes?” They are like, “Well, I don’t know what you mean. You mean like watch the videos?” I’m like, “No.” If you have a class that was typically busy at 6pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and all of a sudden two people showed up to it, you would be worried if we were back in your brick and mortar. I want to know how many people are actually watching the video or actually on the live. And if it is a fraction of what your overall membership is, your brand is not doing enough to entice them to engage. 

Kevin:Yeah. I think you’re right. I think it’s probably a warning sign that people are aren’t watching enough and people are craving social interaction now. Now you’ve got a chance to create a platform for that.   

Stuart:Yeah. I mean, that’s one of the reasons we are switching from YouTube, because YouTube just gives you views. Views doesn’t tell me how many of my members went to that. I could rehit reload on a video 10x, that’s 10 views. I could go watch 20 seconds, that’s a view. So we switched over to STUDIO. I know companies that are doing… actually having people register for classes. Like gyms are actually still register for class and then there’s a link for people to then go to the Zoom class. Like you have to create accountability and the brand, and your ability to brand beyond this is essentially what else do we have to talk about? If there’s gyms still posting pictures of people doing box jumps inside the brick and mortar, on the rower inside the gym. If there’s still pictures of that, you’re fucking up the whole thing. We literally have our photoshoots scheduled. And again, this is not following social distancing orders probably, but we are doing a one-on-one photoshoot with members. We bought everyone brand new swag, new shirts, gave them out for free. All the members got free swag and we’re going to take them out in blocks of 20 minutes a piece and have them all over my city. And they are just going to post and be models in different areas in Charlotte that are iconic, wearing the brand new urban movement swag, and we are going to take those photos. Because I can’t take pictures of them inside my gym anymore. That’s done. That’s temporarily over with. So I’m going to show us embracing the city. That is branding. It’s where creativity met a good idea. Good idea, pictures of your members. That is a good idea. Give your members free swag, that’s a good strategy. How can I be creative with it? And this is something we’ve done these outdoor photoshoots for years. This one is just going to have a lot more meaning.  

Kevin:Yeah, yeah, I got it. So maybe let’s talk a little bit about the future because people are scrambling now and they are doing what they can to keep their revenue coming and keep the memberships ticking over. A lot of work to do there. But someday this is going to be over and the industry is going to be changed, consumers are going to be more used to doing online classes and interacting remotely with a gym. What it’s going to look like? 

Stuart:I think everybody will hopefully realize that the video production and the remote revenue stream of their business needs to continue to be developed. This is not going to go away once COVID hit. There were businesses way ahead of all of us on this that are doing just fine that developed remote. So I think remote will be something you continuously offer. It will be offered as a down sell. “Oh, you got to cancel the gym? Why is that?” “I’ll be studying for my lawyer bar exam.” “Oh shit, okay, what are you going to do for fitness?” “I don’t know. I’ve got a gym in my apartment complex. I’ll just do some of the stuff you taught me.” “Well, for $50.99 a month you can keep MVMNT Anywhere, which is our remote app, and you can go ahead and continue to follow along. That way you haven’t loss on your fitness when you do comeback after you pass and you’re a fancy lawyer.” It will be a down sell for a lot of people. Or it will be a lurker sell, that’s a product that you could sell without having to ever see anybody in person. You’ll be able to run ads behind it. So remote will continue to be a revenue stream. 

Hygiene is going to change completely. All of you warehouse gyms that are listening to this right now where you’ve kind of got a warehouse that might not have been the most cleanly. I promise you the cost. I think there’s going to be COVID-19 level acronyms style certified clean facilities. Just like salons have to do in the United States. If you’re a salon you are state regulated and you have to meet a certain hygiene code. The Barbicide, the blue fucking liquid that the combs sit in have to be of certain amount of alcohol in there to kill bacteria. I think there’s going to be more restrictions nationally and globally on the hygiene of large convening assembly locations like gyms. 

I think ultimately a lot of people will perish. I don’t think there will be a lot of businesses which means there will be a lot of scraps to pick up, a lot of equipment to buy for cheap. I think it might impact the commercial leasing and renting scene, a decent of it, if enough small businesses go under. But I still think it’s still too early to tell. I don’t know what Ireland is doing. But we have so much efforts in the United States for the government to, you know, Trump wants to bail everybody out with cash in small business plan. I don’t think he’s going to let the economy take a fucking hit with his ego. But, hey, I’m all for it. Yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot more of the pie to be eaten up from people who survive and hopefully it sets everyone [unclear – 18:15] financially as well. Those gyms that did not have at least a few months of operating expenses, and the bank, when this happen and are freaking the fuck out. You should be freaking out. You should also be fucking ashamed of yourself. You should. I mean, like can I get it. I’m a small business owner too. But there is a certain point where you realize, I have insurance. Do I really think a hurricane is going to hit my gym? No. Should I maybe have had $5,000, $10,000 or more in a savings account instead of buying the fucking GHD, or that brand new Rogue Echo Bike? Maybe. So I think people are going to look and realize, like, “Shit man!” You know, everyone’s got a plan until you’re punched in the mouth kind of scenario.   

Kevin:Yeah, interesting times. I don’t want to let you go without just picking your brains in a couple of more survival tactics for people that are looking for a bit of inspiration here. Tell me about, like, there’s two things. Tell me about referral programs. What is a good way that you can do, you can live with your referrals now?                   

Stuart:I think what gyms could be doing, once you figure out the content whether at Zoom or lives or pre-recorded for your current members, and you’ve got a good feel like you’re not hitting your burn rate on that, you feel decent about your retention over the next several weeks, or months. I think you then can create an outward facing public free video content that is super local obviously and that your members can send to their friends and be, like, “Hey, let’s do this class together on Zoom.” My girlfriend, she literally did a Zoom workout with a girlfriend. Just the two of them. And they watched the video and they both did the workout together. So they were just watching a live on demand video and they did the workout together. And that was cool and they were just kind of… I mean, they shooting the shit most of the time, right. But it was just nice to have that social interaction. I think members will be able to… You know, I think a good place could be able to create some, like, a link they could send, “Hey, come join me and take my lifting move class on Tuesday, whatever, we could do it together.” Or if the on demand you can do it whenever. That’s why I think the on demand win. The on demand allows people to do the workouts together, but the problem is social distancing. You know, with that, referrals are going to be tough right now. I think that’s kind of a pursuit. I wouldn’t be worrying about referrals as much. 

But I would be looking at your lurkers. Those are the people who watch your Instagram page, they have check your website, but they haven’t come into your facility yet. They are formulating an opinion about you right now. And when this is all said and done, people are going to want to join a gym because they are going to want to be social again. I truly believe sales will go up when no essential business can open back up. I don’t think it will be immediate but I do think we will see a spike in membership sales. But I think all these lurkers and the people who watched your shit from afar that are local prospects. They are formulating an opinion about you right now. So be careful what you are putting out there and make sure you are also speaking to people beyond the ones that are just paying you. 

Kevin:Yeah. I really like the idea of continuing with that bit of branding, making sure that you are seen as part of the community for all these people that are keeping an eye on you. I suppose before you go when do you think is going to be the right time to start talking to those people and engaging them in sales conversations?

Stuart:Yeah. I think it suit like from a marketing strategy standpoint. Once you get some light at the end of the tunnel and you have a set date from your government as to when you’re going to open back up, start putting some things out there, create a frontend offer. We have one for Urban already planned out even though we don’t know when we’re going to use it. We have what we call a Reset Series. We do it New Year’s Eve and all that kind of stuff. We’ll definitely do a COVID Reset Series. We’ll give a discount of first month or whatever it may be. But, yeah, I think… Again, I’m not worried about people being outwardly sales focused because right now most gyms are so behind the ball on the current thing that’s going to keep them retention. But retention, they will go out of business before they ever got a chance to make a sale. You have to focus on retention because retention is a laggy metric too. Remember that. We don’t know what works immediately with retention. You have a much better immediate feedback on sales, the metrics, than you do retention. Retention you got to do something and then sit back for 30-60 days, and then make a decision. So I’m trying to get everyone to just focus on retention and then obviously there will be plenty of content. I’ll be putting out, another other guys in the market once we start seeing the market has open back up. And what is [unclear – 22:44] storytelling about getting people to come back. I think you just have to be very transparent, you know. I think it’s going to be some cool videos of people opening the door for the first time, and fucking the sun hitting them, and they walk out and they are feeling strong, and you are fat or whatever. It’s they are like, “Uh, it’s time to do something now.” There’s going to be some really cool marketing videos once the sales faucet is turn back on. But right now guys let’s just make sure to take care of that boats we don’t fucking capsize in the tsunami. 

Kevin:Yeah, don’t sink. Okay, it’s been great to have you on the show. Before you go, tell me what’s the biggest you’ve learned in the last three weeks? 

Stuart:The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last three weeks is that I’m really happy that we were would spend as much time and effort in video content and just learning the basics as a small business owner, me and my team, like editing and things like that in just… I think everyone realized video content was great, we consume it all the time, but then as a business owner we never created it. As a business owner I consume video content all the time but I don’t create it. I think watching that from a lot of the gyms I see out there, I think that moment of that come to Jesus moment where they are like, “Fuck! This might be my downfall.” And everyone knows. I think going forward we’re all going to be more cautionary. Even myself, yes, I make video content. I should have been doing more. I should have had this already ready to go. I should have had MVMNT Anywhere ready to go. I should have had it. Not for this. Not for an unprecedented pandemic, but just because it’s 2020. You’re not making video content? What are you doing? 

Kevin:Yeah. I think it is just accelerated a few things that were always going to happen. 

Stuart:Yes, sir. 

Kevin:Alright. Okay, Stuart Brauer, WTF Gym Talk, thank you very much for coming on the podcast. 

Stuart:Absolutely. Thank you for having me. 

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