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Cut through clutter with mobile apps


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Ryan Masanz is CTO at Anytime Fitness.

Editing photos? There’s an app for that. Ordering food? There’s an app for that. Looking for a customized experience from your favorite franchised brands? Now, there are almost too many apps for that.

Companies from personal fitness to healthy foods to drive-thru coffee are taking full advantage of new technologies, particularly those related to the mobile devices consumers have permanently in hand. Whether the main focus is increased efficiency or a rewards program, mobile apps are competing for customers’ attention, making it vital to stand out and use modern technology to drive sales.

Now more than ever, it’s important that a company’s app targets the right customer base, develops brand loyalty, and then keeps those customers around. According to LoyaltyPlant, a mobile solutions provider, it’s seven to nine times less expensive to retain existing customers than acquire new ones, making it crucial that franchised concepts develop efficient, user-friendly and unique apps.

Amplifying the people

One brand experienced in mobile app development is Anytime Fitness, which has had a consumer app for just over two years. Originally developed as a simple source of information and gym locator, the app is now focused on personal training and connections between clients and coaches. “We’ve kind of moved from convenience to more into coaching, and our app has changed with this as well,” said Ryan Masanz, chief technology officer.

With a history of customer success stemming from personal training initiatives, Anytime wanted to hone in on that connection between members and trainers. “A lot of our competition is focused on removing people from the equation, and we’re more focused on amplifying the people,” Masanz said of the company’s direction with the app.

A physical trainer used to have between 20 to 25 clients; with the app, Anytime is seeing that each trainer can have upwards of 50 clients thanks to increased connectivity and efficiency. “It’s better for everyone involved,” Masanz said.

The company acquired a separate workout app in 2015, and development was brought in-house for it as well. “We want to own the consumer experience as much as possible,” Masanz said, adding these are global solutions available in the many countries (and languages) where Anytime operates.

Engaging more people with a channel directly to their coach is definitely boosting Anytime’s personal training programs, he added. Members are also seeing more results through the analytics that the app gathers. “People stick around at Anytime because of results,” he said.

The app gathers data by tracking members’ activity outside the gym with wearable trackers, aggregating it for coaches to see. “On the back end, the coach can manage people at scale,” Masanz said. Allowing coaches to see who hasn’t been into a gym in a while, or who hasn’t reached their step goals are features of the app that let coaches hover and motivate the client for those better results.

“We’re trying to build a community of wellness,” Masanz said. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing to this point. He named increasing the engagement from the franchise side as one of the company’s biggest challenges.

To get its network of trainers and club staff to engage beyond when members are in the gym was easier said than done—especially because it involved an entire shift in how Anytime did business, according to Masanz. “We look at it like a marathon, some of our owners adopted the apps right away, others may still be trying to find trainers,” he said.

That being said, over the past two years, the number of clubs that have leaned into this coaching focus has grown considerably.

Anytime also overcame these challenges by making the back end of the app more user-friendly for coaches and by motivating staff to use the new features to better the client experience.

“If an app is telling you to get up and go for a walk, people will eventually dismiss it; if it’s your trainer you’re going to see that week messaging you to go, they’re going to go on that walk,” Masanz said.

At a time when technology in the fitness industry is evolving mostly to benefit elite athletes, Masanz made it clear that Anytime is trying to use it to target the other end of the spectrum: the people who aren’t motivated and need that extra boost.

Rewarding smoothie lovers

Another brand that’s looking to use mobile technology but in a different way is New Jersey-based Frutta Bowls. Founded in 2016 by Brooke Gagliano, the concept serving acai bowls, kale bowls and fresh fruit smoothies has grown to 35 locations in 14 states and will soon launch a rewards program app to boost sales and customer satisfaction.

“The mindset behind the company is a healthier alternative to fast casual, with a positive atmosphere,” said Josh Giambalvo, director of marketing and the first out-of-state franchisee in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The main focus behind the app is a tiered reward system, with different levels of rewards ranging from products and merchandise to gift cards.

“We’re excited about getting a rewards system out there to thank our customers but also give them so much information,” Giambalvo said. Notifying users of specials, suggesting certain smoothies for pre- or post-workout, and offering random free gifts such as a cup of coffee are all ideas the Frutta Bowls team has for the new mobile addition. “Tech and foodservice have already mixed, so a good way to add value is to add information,” he said.

While the obvious goal behind the app is to drive sales, especially because the technology fits the demographics of Frutta Bowls so well—mainly women ages 18 to 40 but gaining popularity with men, especially athletes—Giambalvo also mentioned really wanting to provide value to clients. Sending a “happy birthday” or “haven’t seen you in a while” message is so much easier when it’s in their hands, he said. “Nowadays, no one gets ‘happy birthday’ emails.”

As a smaller franchise, Frutta Bowls had a bit of a challenge finding a company to help it develop an app within its budget, but settled on LevelUp, which has a wallet feature that lets customers pay on the app. A secondary focus of the app is ordering ahead, whether for pickup or dine-in.

“We’re pushing that order ahead, dine-in feature,” said Giambalvo, who called the atmosphere of all Frutta Bowls locations a “happy medium.” With phone charging stations, couches and coffee tables, customers can stop in or stay for hours.

Capitalizing on running culture

Also joining the realm of technology to aid customer engagement is Fleet Feet, the running supplies chain that recently released runMoji. An app modeled after the customizable character concept Bitmoji, it contains running-exclusive icons such as racing bibs, joggers and port-a-potties to associate with the unique humor of running culture.

The franchise will also launch a loyalty program app in which consumers can hook up Garmin accounts and get points for each mile they run. RunMoji will be fully integrated, adding a run-specific twist to the program.

“We’re going to be able to speak to runners in a different way,” CEO Joey Pointer said. The app release came with a rebrand for the company, complete with a new logo and other new technologies such as a foot-scanning feature to drive in-store sales.

As more and more companies fill the tech sphere with mobile apps and constant connection, it’s important for brands to get creative to stand out and keep their customers loyal.

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