‘It's limitless'- Martin Guyton on switching to a hybrid fitness model

Stephanie Hutchings
29-Oct-2020 11:36:17

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe impacts on industries across the country, and the leisure industry is certainly no exception. With gyms and leisure centres forced to close their doors from the start of lockdown in March, many are only just starting to reopen, and all are facing threats of potential second closures. Now more than ever, it’s clear that leisure operators will need to alter their approaches in order to retain members and continue to deliver quality services to help the nation stay fit and active.

We caught up with Martin Guyton, Chief Executive of tmactive to find out how his business has coped with these changes and how he’s embracing a virtual approach in this ‘new normal’.

Run on behalf of Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, a charitable not-for-profit organisation in Kent, tmactive is made up of four separate facilities and caters for around 5000 members.

Pre-pandemic, Martin had grand plans for an extensive refurbishment of one of the centres, the Angel Centre, but quickly had to re-evaluate and adapt his approach when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. From the 20th March, tmactive, like every other leisure establishment across the country, was shut. All direct debits were frozen, and the vast majority of staff furloughed.

‘Our income went from £600k a month to nothing overnight’

Naturally, this was a huge blow to tmactive. Having partially reopened from 27th July the business is building back steadily as members return, and has regained 75% of direct debits with new sales coming in. But it’s clear that recovering from this ongoing pandemic won’t happen instantly.

Quickly realising that tmactive needed to alter their approach to adapt to these challenging times, Martin went searching for a solution. This came in the form of MoveAnywhere, a virtual livestreaming platform offered by Gladstone. The MoveAnywhere platform is designed to help members do exactly that: move anywhere. Giving leisure operators the ability to stream classes from their own instructors, MoveAnywhere allows leisure establishments to pivot from a purely in-centre model to a blended virtual/in-centre approach. This versatility helps operators stay engaged with members whilst continuing to earn revenue in these unpredictable times.

Recognising the need for a virtual strategy not only from the COVID-19 perspective but also from a general angle that home workouts suit busy lifestyles, Martin states:

‘COVID-19 will change the world for some time to come. There will be a percentage of people who will not come out of that Covid fear for a year or two or more I suspect. So, we realised that but also, we understand that people are busy – they have all sorts of reasons why they can’t make it to the gym.’

This combined with the nation’s increasing acknowledgement of the importance of exercise were key factors which drove tmactive to try out a virtual solution.

‘With the recognition of the benefit of physical activity for overall mental health and wellbeing increasing, the demand for a virtual solution is there. This is a natural evolution that we probably would have found our way to, but COVID-19 has just accelerated that. I like the flexibility of MoveAnywhere and how it allows us to put our own instructors on screen.

Combining all these reasons, it’s no surprise that there’s been a massive rise in the use of virtual in the fitness industry over the past few months.

The platform also allows centres to maintain class numbers which would otherwise be restricted in order to abide by social distancing rules. tmactive are using MoveAnywhere to livestream their classes from the studio, allowing members to book into either the studio or the virtual option, depending on which suits them best. Currently streaming about a dozen classes a week, the ultimate aim is to increase this to 20-30 classes per week.

After investing in better technology to ensure that the sound quality was top notch, Martin mentioned that his instructors took to the new way of delivering classes extremely easily.

MoveAnywhere screenshotScreenshot of a livestreamed class from tmactive using the MoveAnywhere service

tmactive are currently offering MoveAnywhere as a free 3-month trial for members, but they hope to utilise the platform as an additional revenue stream in the future. Even if 20% of members took up an offer of £5/month that would be a nice additional £5k coming in every month.

Wendy Parker, Head of Sales and Marketing, even outlined the possibility of offering MoveAnywhere as a standalone service:

'For example if we have another lockdown, there could be potential to offer a reduced rate for the online streaming service as an alternative to freezing direct debits’

And it doesn’t just stop with members. tmactive have been utilising the MoveAnywhere service in other ways too. From running a free class for their local NHS trust on World Mental Health Day to streaming the Les Mills ‘Born to Move’ class, which is specifically aimed at young people, the virtual platform is clearly versatile.

Mike Born to Move classtmactive’s Fitness Manager, Mike Stevens, instructing a livestreamed Born to Move class for children.

By making a switch to incorporate virtual into their long-term strategy, tmactive are prepared to tackle whatever these unpredictable times throw at them. And despite the pandemic, Martin is still optimistic that tmactive will see a spike in members joining in January – for once a spike that we’ll be happy to hear about!

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