Curves fitness is an excellent example of market segmentation, of differentiation, and of customer experience design. Their strategy has been rewarded with extremely fast growth as a franchise -- more than 10,000 locations from their first franchise in 1995, and 4 million members.
I want to talk a bit about why I think they are so successful -- that's today's post. And then I want to tell you about a change they are now making that changes the experience. It's an improvement, but not everyone will see it that way. That's for the next post.
Systematically address needs of a segment
I believe Curves has been so successful because they have systematically addressed the needs of a market segment that found the gym experience hostile and unappealing. And they found a way to do this relatively cheaply. The net result is that they have tapped into a new market, instead of trying to shift market share from someone else.
I first started looking into Curves as an example of market segmentation for a course I'm teaching. And became so intrigued I joined the one down the street. It's a very different experience than any other gym I've joined. Here are some of the barriers / issues I think they have addressed in their approach:
Barrier #1: No knowledge about fitness equipment, and have no idea where to start. Response: a circuit that is the same for everyone, where equipment doesn't have to be adjusted because it adjusts itself
Barrier #2: Don't want to be seen in shorts by a bunch of men. Not comfortable around a bunch of men who are lifting heavy weights and making gross noises.
Response: women only club.
Barrier #3: Overweight and intimidated.
Response: no mirrors. No showers. Curtained change rooms.
Barrier #4: Fitness is hard work, no fun, and not motivating at all.
Response: Create a relaxed, social environment with lively upbeat music and motivating coaches to help you stay on track. Offer prizes for attendance. Run contests and fun events for members, like food-bank drives.
Barrier #5: Not rewarded for my progress. Always measured against a standard I can't meet.
Response: Monthly tracking printouts show your progress against your own starting point, not against some other standard.
Barrier #6: Too expensive, too far away, no time.
Response: local operations that are small facilities and low cost, and a workout that takes less than an hour, door to door. You don't need an appointment, or to schedule around classes. You arrive whenever you want.
One of the interesting things about the Curves circuit training approach is their philosophy that you should keep your heart rate within the weight-loss zone. So in a 30 minute circuit, at least twice everyone stops and counts their heart rate for 10 seconds, and checks their chart on the wall. Coaches go around asking everyone if they are okay. This may have started as a liability-mitigation step, and to help members be sure to lose weight, but it became what I would call a happy ritual.
At least twice during your circuit, the staff would come and say hi to everyone during the count, and generally have a moment of human contact. Quite incidentally, this little ritual meant staff had to get out from behind the desk, turn down the music, and connect over the 10 second heart rate check.
Curves has been successful because they have focused with laser-like precision on a set of customers and a set of needs, and have addressed those needs. They have avoided frills that their market does not value. There's no hot tub. There's no juice bar. But it's convenient and inexpensive. And it seems to work for a group of people that would never have joined a hard-body fitness club.