The Gym Group was the first low-cost gym chain to launch in the UK in 2008. It is now the second largest operator in the UK and was the fastest growing low-cost operator in 2017. In 10 years the group has grown to 128 sites with over 650,000 members.
Their compelling customer proposition is simple and has disrupted the market since inception:
- 24/7 opening
- No contract model
- Average £17.50 monthly cost
- No premiums to pay for extras you won’t use
- High specification gym equipment
- Professional helpful staff
The Gym Group has been able to successfully operate as low-cost to the member as they are technology led. The model is built around members being able to join online with the ability to then self-serve. The gyms have automated access control and CCTV enabling a full and proper 24/7 quality service.
The member management system is the lynchpin to the digital offering. It feeds the website, access control, e-CRM and the member subscription system. This is fundamental to The Gym Group’s competitive advantage.
It became clear that as the business grew the requirement to manage the business grew. They would require increased complexity of reporting with an ability to seamlessly integrate into other systems and applications, and that would be robust enough to scale up with the business. The decision was made to move from a proprietary system which placed limitations on the plans for growth.
The Gym Group were looking for a supplier that could deliver them a customised solution that would offer a product roadmap, development capability, migration expertise and proactive support.
Selecting a new software partner
Two angles needed to be considered in the selection of a new member management system:
- It had to work – if not members couldn’t join or access the gyms.
- It had to fit The Gym Group model – the model is unique and other existing solutions were a bad fit
- It had to scale – it needed to be able to grow in line with expansion plans
- It had to deliver existing functionality
- It had to deliver a world-class staff interface
- It had to expose APIs for integration
The solution needed to offer scalability facilitating frictionless expansion in line with The Gym Group’s growth plans as well as being able to work with third-party integrations to continue to deliver an exceptional member experience.
Once Clubware had been selected, the critical decision was when and how to make that transformation. Ordinarily, migration on this scale would be done incrementally however the reliance that the business had on the existing member management system meant that it would need to happen at a single point in time in Summer 2017.
Putting this into context, on a busy day The Gym Group will have about 100,000 visits by members. Each site relies on the member management system and access control integration to get members in and out of the gym. Over 300 employees across the country log into the system over the course of a working day and there are over 15,000 logins to the member area daily – everything had to work from day one.
At the same time The Gym Group were also rebuilding their website. It would have a new interface and a new content management system. In summary, there was development of a website, development of two APIs and a new membership management system happening in parallel.
Part of the Clubware team are based in Australia and New Zealand which brought its own challenges and benefits. Even though the project team couldn’t sit in a room it offered pretty much 24/7 coverage. The Clubware UK team was the single point of contact to pull together the teams from the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
The Gym Group worked with the Clubware development team to ensure that the deployed solution fitted their needs. The development plan for Clubware was accelerated as a result. Clubware 4.2 was developed closely with The Gym Group and had several new features being deployed.
One of the biggest challenges on the project was data migration. The Gym Group had amassed nine years’ worth of exceptional data in an undocumented data schema; insight that informs development and business strategy.
The team at Clubware in Australia unpicked all the data and put it back into an entirely different data schema.
Communication & Training
The Gym Group have 300 client facing staff paired off across the UK. The scale of the communication and training was immense with regards to systems, familiarity and in terms of change. It was important to get it right. Everyone involved needed to know what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, how it was going to happen and how to use it.
A comprehensive and structured communication programme was developed in partnership with Clubware. Previews were given of the system, regular communications were sent, short-form videos were developed and a champions network was set up to promote and embed the programme.
On reflection there is very little that The Gym Group say they would do differently but there are two things of note:
- More people on the project earlier:
It sounds obvious but having a lean operating model meant that the project started lean. When the complexity, both intellectually and actual detail, began to increase people were added to the project. The sheer volume of the work had simply been underestimated.
- Project specification:
The value of a quality specification grows exponentially as a project progresses and although it was good enough they feel they would have had a higher quality output if they had added resource to this earlier. Unbeknown to anyone they were also running the IPO process at the same time!
Since going live there has been a process of continual optimisation as expected. The newness to market of the product and the complexity required by The Gym Group meant that there would be several unknowns but the core product has worked well.
Jasper McIntosh, IT & Digital Director, The Gym Group says, “Clubware is a central lynchpin to our digital offering – it feeds the website, it feeds the access control and it feeds the e-CRM system, it integrates with our payments supplier – it is a fundamental part of our competitive advantage. It does what we want it to do and matches the specification we demanded in a way that others couldn’t.”
He continues, “As a listed business The Gym Group have some demanding reporting requirements but we’ve been successfully taking transactions; the members have been self-serving and people have been getting in and out of the gyms.
“With Clubware we’ve retained the sense of a small supplier service quality whilst benefiting from large supplier steadiness and their depth of resources. We delivered a major project on time, implemented it successfully and we’re already starting to see the benefits and keep our business plan progressing.
“The support that the frontline receives really works. The support team are approachable, accessible and respond to requests very quickly. The team also support strategic management using analytics and data to inform our commercial, marketing and technology developments. It doesn’t matter which level we are talking about, it works.”
In November of last year, three months after the change, The Gym Group launched a major proposition change mobilising a large group of people in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to achieve before.
Jasper concludes, “Eight months down the line all the fine tooth-combing over the reporting and reconciliation has verified that the migration worked.
“As the largest growing operator in the sector processing a large volume of joiners and leavers, an increasing number of visits with the management of membership payments we would absolutely recommend Clubware.”
James Barter, Senior Software Consultant, Clubware says: “The success of this transformation is testament to the long hours, hard work and the strong commitment to partnership working put in by both The Gym Group and Clubware project teams.
“It was a massive undertaking but we have been able to deploy our most up to date version of Clubware in the UK with a leading operator.”
Clubware Gym Software is health and fitness specific software designed for the industry by the industry. It is currently used in 200 independent and national chain sites in the UK and is used in 1200 clubs across the globe. For more information visit https://www.clubware.co.uk/
Clubware is a TSG Solution