066: Keeping a brand alive despite shifting to a digital platform – with Aaron De Jong

Aaron De Jong is the owner of Movement108, a successful fitness membership that reinvented itself in 2020. In this episode, he joins Ward to share why he relied on his community to keep his brand alive when pivoting to an online platform.

✍️ Show Notes

📄 Show Transcript

This transcript is computer generated, please excuse any errors 🙂

Ward Sandler: Aaron. Hey, welcome to the Membership Maker.

Aaron De Jong: Thanks Ward. Excited to be here and to have a nice chat with you.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, definitely. All right, so let’s just kick things off. Let folks know who are you and the membership business that we’re going to be talking about today?

Aaron De Jong: I’m Aaron De Jong. I am the founder, owner, operator, head trainer at a studio in Vancouver called Movement108. It was an in-person studio for six and a half years, and then this year, we flipped it over into an on-demand membership platform, where we film our classes or our workouts, and we post them for our members and that lives in our membership space.

Ward Sandler: And to give folks an idea, roughly how large was the in-person studio, in terms of customers or clients you had come in on a weekly basis or something like that.

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, I mean it fluctuated. I started super small, and then we went into a bigger space. Our space was 2000 square feet. We had a second space and still have a second space, where we do our filming, which is another 1500 square feet. So at our peak, we had 12 trainers, we had like 2,500 people through a month, that’s 2,500 visits, probably about 800 unique people. Our class sizes were anywhere from 3 to 15 people, and we had seven classes a day throughout the week, and then we specialize in personal training as well. So it was a pretty robust community. It was a really fun space, and then converting it over into something more digital-focused it was quite a trip.

Ward Sandler: Awesome. All right. So kind of speaking of the community growth you mentioned, how have you sort of keep your brand alive despite shifting fully to a digital platform?

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, I think like, so number one, I feel like that’s like an ongoing thing. It will be really interesting over the next eight months to see what the retention rate on online platforms is for people who have come, who do become really comfortable with especially exercise at home or in a remote environment versus how many people go back to gyms. What we’ve done is, I think the big thing is being an honest person who shares the real-life things that they’re going through and real-life things that are happening in our climate and our culture and our society is important. And I think, yes, we are an exercise platform. And within that, it’s very important to be human and show who I am in who our trainers are, like the encouragement is always be yourself, talk about what’s important to you and make sure that you’re being inclusive and educational and open to the people who will be watching this video! Now it’s one way, but we still have to be human, and a lot of people who are sticking with the, on the platform, that is the community sort of connecting and feel that they are like, okay, this isn’t just, um, a big box, you know, Peloton or Apple or Nike training club, where that person is just very robotic in the studio doing their thing, and that’s really not our competition, right? We’re a boutique fitness space that people got to know us as humans and then to enjoy our exercise sort of methodology. So I think there’s the sharing part being open, honest, vulnerable. And then I think on the other side of we’re still problem-solving. We still do Instagram lives. We’ve done some like zoom sessions, where the community connects, where we do sort of like, educational hour-long things that our members are interested in learning about, we did a lot of outdoor classes in the summer to supplement the online stuff. So it’s a very hybridized online thing, but there’s also just this thing in the world called zoom fatigue right now, you know like people are fatigued from being on a screen. So we’re like, how do we create that without asking you to sit for another hour on your computer? And that’s been an interesting problem.

Ward Sandler: I was going to say, did you figure that one out? Cause I’m looking for a solution too, everyone’s looking to solve that problem, man.

Aaron De Jong: I think it’s just; there’s like an element where I think the hybrid is moving forward, as the convenience of the remote, access to everything is unbelievable now, and I think we’re going to see social spaces, especially gyms, exercise studios in my industry, be a lot more about the society because people are not going to have access to sweat wherever they want to go. So it really is about like the quality of the product you’re offering and then the community space that you’re providing, whether that be digital or in person. And I think that will be some form of a hybrid model, but it won’t be the same as it’s been in the last six months. Eight months, nine months. Uh, just because people are starved for human connection, in my opinion. Yeah.

Ward Sandler: It’s something that the listeners of our podcast know well, that I’ve said before, like having a community and engaged community around your business is one of the key markers we’ve seen for the most successful membership businesses on our platform because at the end of the day, most of what anyone provides online, Is a quasi commodity in a sense, right? I’m sure what you provide is wonderful and really good quality content, but other online gyms provide really good workouts, that’s just a fact, and that’s true of any industry in any offer. So you know, maybe you’ll get lucky, and they just happen to know you, and they’ll stick with you, maybe you have great SEO, and they find you. But the point is there’s always going to be competition. There’s always going to be other options for them, but what can you do that makes you unique? Right? In that I think the community aspect you’re talking to, I think that really is the thing for you and others to double down on, because once you have somebody in a community, once they have friends and people they know and trust there, they’re not just gonna throw that all away and go use another app, cause it’s just not the same thing. I’m sure you can get a comparable workout, but if I’m losing that community aspect and that’s what I’m here for, and then the gym is kind of like the aftereffects, like ‘Cool, It’s good to be able to go to a gym online, but I’m here for the community, really.’

Aaron De Jong: You know, I think, I think that the undertone of that is what the community wants socially, but also is it’s the thing, the lifeblood that keeps someone accountable, you know, it’s like I’m in a community, whether it’s part of a routine or the expectation to see somebody or I paid and signed up, so now I have to go, I think that’s where this membership offering we provided, plus connecting people with other members, has been super important. The goal is to show you that you’re not just alone; the goal is to make it together, not just you alone sitting in your living room, sweating and then turning it off and not having access to that sort of accountability and feeling of social connection.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great point because if you think about any membership out there, even if it’s not fitness, it’s like almost all of them are trying to either teach you something or help you like improve some aspect of your life, your business, and if you have other people, they’re a community keeping you accountable, helping you be like, all right, let’s actually do the thing that I paid for together, that helps regardless of what kind of business you have. So yeah, the community aspect has so many positive knocks on effects that It’s hard not to speak too highly of it. I guess. It’s just like, it’s just a wonderful feeling!

Aaron De Jong: Totally, it really is. I think that the ongoing challenge that I’m so just curious about, and I love being a fly on the wall on conversations, is, you know, how are people doing that in a unique way! Is it a Facebook group, or is it actually something else? As a colleague of mine, She started her own online platform, very similar, but what she does that she highlights the members like hobbies. Last night, she had a wine club with their members, and it was hosted by a member of her platform. So it was an invitation to be educated about these wines. What does that have to do with fitness? I don’t know, but other people from the offering I’m from the space like, Oh, you’re a member of this too. And I’m learning something that’s beyond just like my daily sweat. So it was pretty cool to see how people are evolving and creating that connection!

Ward Sandler: I wonder if anyone’s tried like a pen pal, like not email, like sending letters to each other, like having an accountability buddy, or something that you send Movement108 branded postcards to each other, just kind of each other, it just causes it’s also offline, and that’s like, you know, you gotta, you’ve got to like how many pieces of mail do we get that we actually care about? It’s exciting. It’s like, Maybe people who have, uh, getting married or like, uh, had a baby and like that’s kind of everything and like spam.

Aaron De Jong: And also people love mail. I love mail. My wife checks the mailbox all the time. Totally. Yeah. We had like four handwritten notes a year. So it’d be specialists to update that.

Ward Sandler: Yeah, totally. That’s a free tip for anyone else out there; it might be a terrible idea. But it is something to think about.

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, totally.

Ward Sandler:Yeah, cool, Aaron. So I think that’s really great stuff. Why don’t we wrap up here and if you could just share your website or anything else you want to kind of plug, any social media or anything like that?

Aaron De Jong: Yeah, sure. I mean, Check out the platform obviously at Movement108; it’s pretty self-explanatory. We try to make it as simple as possible. You can learn a lot about what’s special or about the workouts, the balanced offering that you get every week in terms of mobility, some strengths and weight stuff, and kettlebell workouts. Social media, is the same on Instagram! We do every so often Instagram live workouts, so you can kind of get to know the trainers. And then I’ve got another project, check out the Movr app in the app store. That’s a different offering, but something I’m super passionate about. So lots of ways you can find me and move your bodies with me.

Ward Sandler: Awesome. Thanks, Aaron. That’s great stuff. Thanks very much for the time; we appreciate it.