Much has been said about threats to the traditional health and fitness industry throughout the pandemic, be it digital classes, home equipment, changing usage patterns or low cost competition.  We have spent the last 12 weeks concentrating on the opportunities in this area and believe the most significant opportunity is the further development of group exercise classes. The last couple of weeks has, in many locations, been about fire fighting additional class demand. In some contracts there is more to come!

There are a number of factors to consider when adding classes but the starting point has very much been utilisation data and benchmarking. One of the benefits that Parkwood has is a data analyst who can advise based upon the cold hard data rather than letting any personal opinions or prejudices impact the outcome. We have always operated a traffic light system for class usage and this will continue going forwards with clear communication to our customers.

The numbers since group exercise returned have been very encouraging. As member numbers continue to rise, the average percentage of those choosing to book has stayed at the 35% mark. However a 21.65% increase in visitors to the centres since 17 May is where we have seen an incredible appetite. Members are tending to choose an evening workout with 48% of bookings coming for the 18:00-19:00 slot. Nevertheless, people are not shying away from an early morning workout with the 06:00-07:00 hour the second most popular time alongside the 19:00-20:00 session.

With our ethos of being hyper-local, often the success or failure of a group exercise programme comes down to the local management team. We made the decision working with Les Mills that all of our Operational Directors and management teams will undertake the Les Mills Group Fitness Management Qualification over the next 6 months. We need to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge to deliver local programmes. The best thing about this is that the principles are readily transferable and the modular online approach can fit around their other work responsibilities (of which there are currently many). 

Fitness studio spaces have been evolving over the last 10 years, the staple was one or two studios, but now in many sites we now have three or more. When the contract with South Northamptonshire Council (now West Northamptonshire Council) commenced in 2015, Towcester Centre for Leisure and Brackley Leisure Centre had two dedicated studios – they now have five! One of the biggest challenges that I foresee in the next three months is that, actually, many of our customers like the additional space, acoustics and atmosphere in our sports halls. In fact we are just about to survey our customers on some key questions such as bookings, future expectations and digital fitness but we really need to release these spaces to community clubs and maximise facility wide usage. 

We have had a number of sites do classes outside; April was excellent for that but May was somewhat of a washout! Cancellations, frozen memberships and sign up rates have actually been pretty stable irrespective of offering external group exercise. External classes such as bootcamps, pilates and yoga may continue when the weather allows but we will need to continue to monitor usage.

After the UK was forced into a third national lockdown, we felt it was essential that all customers were offered Les Mills on Demand free of charge during that period – this was to keep our members engaged with our centres as well as offering them a helping hand during a period where there were no facilities for them to use. We have now stepped away from that offering with our centres reopening and group exercise returning. Our next step is the movement onto the Leisure Centre Virtual Studio in partnership with Move – a digital platform that Parkwood have teamed up with. It gives customers access to six Les Mills virtual workouts as part of their membership with the option to have full access to Les Mills for £1.99 a week for a variety of home workouts. We feel this approach provides our customers a good level of flexibility depending on what they want to get out of their membership.

Alex Godfrey

Operations Director 

Parkwood Leisure