Is the Free Gym Trial Dead?

Lucy Connor
03 October 19
11 min read

Popularized by large commercial gyms like Gold’s, Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness, the concept of a free gym trial has been around for a while. Generally, these gyms acquire more members than they can actually handle at full capacity. So the goal of offering a free trial is to entice people to the gym in the first instance, then lock them into a contract that they’ll hopefully forget about; allowing the gym to still collect membership fees and run without being overcrowded.

While there can be benefits from offering a free gym trial, what do you and your potential members actually gain? They get a free session and maybe become a paying member. You give away your services for free and maybe gain the steady income of a new signup.

But what if instead, you offer something that requires commitment from both parties right from the get-go – and everyone is guaranteed to gain something? 

In this article, we’ll discuss what you can expect if you opt to offer potential members a free trial. We’ll also dive into some alternative methods for providing members with incentivized value, which will drive long-term retention, improve referrals and ultimately; help your fitness business grow.

The Free Gym Trial: Expectations vs Reality

Providing a free trial of one of your classes, use of your facilities or a personal training session might show what your studio has to physically offer, but it doesn’t actually demonstrate the specific benefits of joining your gym. It doesn’t show a prospect what they’ll get in return for becoming a member and staying loyal to you. So while you might have some expectations of how free gym trials can benefit your business, the reality is a little different. 

Expectation: Trial Members Will Sign Up for a Full Membership  

Many gym owners think offering a free trial is a great way to acquire new members. They don’t want to pay for something they haven’t tried but will happily pop into one of your classes for free. They’ll love it so much that they’ll signup for a full membership before they even leave the studio!

Reality: Trial Hopping

It’s now extremely common for people to abuse the benefits of a free trial, often maxing out their free sessions before moving on to do the same at a different gym. So it doesn’t matter if you offer a free trial of your HIIT class and a potential member thinks it’s amazing. They’ll be sure to book another HIIT session for next week, but it will be at another studio, for another free trial. 

Expectation: Members Will Think You’re Offering Great Value

If you’re offering a free gym trial, you probably feel like you’re offering potential customers good value for money. Completely free access to your studio facilities for a whole week seems pretty great, considering it’s $69 a month for a membership. Members will probably think its amazing value getting a week for nothing. It’s so good, and so worth than usual fee of $69 a month, that you’re giving it away for free… 

Reality: Devalued Service

Expectations from today’s customer service are high. Consumers want a helpful, authentic service from the brands that they are choosing to put their time and money into. They are happy to invest more in a service that addresses their needs and provides value beyond the initial purchase. 

For your fitness business, this means helping members reach a goal. Whether that’s weight-loss or being able to complete certain exercises or workouts. This sits at the core of your business, but if you’re offering a free trial you’re devaluing your service. 

In the latest episode of The Fitness Founders Podcast, we spoke with yoga entrepreneurs and brothers Christopher and John Yax; founders of Hot House Yoga. Christopher and John share some great advice based on their 15 years in the industry, with insights from their experience on valuing your services right. 

“Free literally has zero value. And so it doesn’t compel people to stay. It doesn’t compel people to perceive what they’re getting and the value of it. They don’t increase that perceived value at all.”

John goes on to describe the common, unsuccessful, pattern that many fitness businesses fall into the trap of implementing. 

“What happens in the experience of studios is everyone is racing to the bottom. They are racing to the very lowest price and so if this studio down the road is having a thirty for thirty, I’m going to do it twenty for thirty. Then someone else is going to open up and they’ll be like I’m going to go ten for thirty. And everyone is literally putting themselves out of business by not charging what they’re worth, and not understanding that money follows the value. If we can present more value for people, we can actually charge more.”

So before jumping on the free trial bandwagon, you need to ask yourself what your service is worth. Do you really want to win the race to the bottom?

Expectation: Members Will Signup, Love Your Studio, and Bring Their Friends.

If a person has gained a workout for free and they like it, surely they will want more. They’ll commit to a membership and keep using it. They’ll be benefiting from it so much, they’ll tell all their friends to try it too.

Reality: Poor Retention

Long-term, free trials mean poor referral rates and even poorer member retention. The free-trial makes no sense when it comes to growing your business because the concept doesn’t foster any loyalty with potential members. There is no reason for them to come back after their trial.

The fact is; if someone is signed up to your gym because of a free trial that changed into a paid membership and they’ve stopped going, they’re going to cancel that membership at some point. They won’t encourage any friends or family to tag along with them to a session, because they’ve hardly ever been to one themselves. And next time they get the gym bug, they’ll take advantage of a competitor gym’s free trial. 

To really entice members, you need to show prospects how your studio specifically will help them reach their fitness goals. Yes, you need to offer value, but this doesn’t have to mean giving away something for free and asking for no commitment in return. 

3 Alternative Methods That Deliver Better Results

1. High Price, High Value

Money earned from a high value, high price offer leads to the knock-on effect of starting a client funded acquisition model. The high prices earn revenue that you can then funnel back into your marketing. When it comes to gym memberships, people love getting something for free. But this doesn’t mean you have to devalue your service in any way. Instead, use one of the services that you already offer as a bribe. 

Entice members by offering to give something you would usually charge for, for free, if they purchase their full membership right there and then. This is known in sales as an ‘either-or’ situation, where you give two final options that both involve the prospect making a purchase from you. 

Option one: the low-ticket choice. They sign up for monthly commitment with their membership. “With your monthly membership, you can take as many classes as you like. All of our instructors are the top of their game, so you’re in the best hands. You’ll also have full access to all of our facilities.”

Option two: the high-ticket choice. Offer the 6-week Bootcamp that you usually charge $600 for as a free gift if they commit and sign up for their membership right now. 

“If you sign up today, you can get everything the standard membership provides and I’ll throw in access to our 6-week Bootcamp for free; it’s usually $600 and there’s only one spot left, it’s yours if you’re ready to take on the challenge!”  

From a psychological point of view; your high-ticket option is more appealing and by comparison, offers great value. Plus, in pointing out that it’s your last spot, you’re creating scarcity which adds even more value. The Bootcamp must be good if it’s almost full up! 

With this technique, you’re still incentivizing prospective members with a great deal by increasing the value of what you’re offering. And you’re doing it without devaluing your service. 

2. Downsell Your Upsell

When it comes to incentivizing potential members always remember one thing: nobody wants a gym membership. They want results and a deadline.

You can give this to them with your either or selling technique, but the best way is to provide members with a program that has a defined end. Alex Hormonzi, the founder of Gym Launch, notes that people will pay 2-4 times the price for something if it is not on continuity.

The key with this offer is to go in hard with your pricing at the beginning; when people are the most motivated and most excited to take part in the challenge. For example: Say you’re running a 12-week program that costs $100 per week. Once the client completes the program, reduce the cost to $50 a week.

You’re charging double the price when they’re most motivated and likely to get their desired results. After this, when they’re happy from reaching their goal at the end of the 12 -weeks, paying half the price to continue seeing results seems like an amazing deal. 

According to Hormonzi, gyms that use this technique keep double the industry average on the back end at a 58% higher price. 

3. Guarantee Results

There’s no need to offer any part of your service for free if you can promise clients real results. Many people feel like guarantees are risky, but as long as you’re good at what you do it eliminates the risk! For example, say you run a 6-week program. Instead of offering discounts that devalue the service like a ‘get your first 2 weeks free’ – offer to give the whole program for free.

Yes, you read that right. A crazy guarantee is better value for both you and your members than 2 weeks of free classes:

“We really think you’re going to love our program and get amazing results. In fact, we’re so confident, that we offer a personal satisfaction guarantee. Book onto the program and push yourself for 6-weeks. If you get to the end and in any way feel like we’ve not lived up to your expectations, we will reimburse you for the full 6-weeks. The best-case scenario is we change your life. The worst-case is you worked out for free.”

You’re asking for commitment but you’re also willing to put everything you have on the line. That’s how confident you are that you can provide members with the tools to help themselves and in their ability to push through and get great results.

With this kind of incentive, you’re establishing a sense of both commitment and trust from the get-go. If you deliver on what you promise, it’s very unlikely that anyone would try to claim their money back if they’re happy with the results. If anything, they’ll be signing up to do it all again.

In Summary

All 3 of the incentives we’ve mentioned offer great value to your potential members, and each one still requires some kind of commitment on their part. They create a win-win situation, where everyone can benefit without devaluing your service. Long term, these examples are more likely to deliver increased retention rates and the techniques can be adapted to suit any studio. 

Perfecting your incentive might be a case of trial and error, but one thing’s for certain; any kind of value offer that requires commitment is better for your fitness business than a free gym trial.