Cyclebar Sarasota

CycleBar is finding new customers for its spinning studios among those who rushed out to buy high-end Peloton bikes when COVID-19 hit and gyms closed last year.

Franchises that attracted loads of new customers with their hastily rolled out online offerings amid COVID-19 face a new challenge—how can they convince those newbies to visit their bricks-and-mortar stores as society opens back up? Three franchises showed us their playbooks.

Never stop marketing. Painting With a Twist, the art-making entertainment franchise, rolled out Twist at Home "almost immediately when COVID hit," said Katherine LeBlanc, chief marketing officer. It "offers the experience in a kit form that you can complete at home or wherever you are, with all the supplies and instructions needed." More than 100 videos were created featuring artists in the system to view while painting and perhaps sipping at home.

Even more promising is a virtual experience launched in May of last year. "It was really driven by a lot of what we were hearing around: people trying to meet their employees' needs as far as socialization, team-building in new ways. It wasn't until May or June that big corporations were thinking, we can't go forever" without any programs, she said.

LeBlanc's strategy to attract those new customers into the studios is simple. "We never really pulled back from our marketing plans and strategies," she said. "We relaunched our brand in March" of 2020, with a new website and a new logo. "We launched a new product last fall, a new product this spring."

The consistency is working, she said, with Google analytics showing about 50 percent new customers discovering Painting With a Twist via the virtual products. That's about the same percentage of new customers visiting stores in pre-COVID times. LeBlanc expects in-studio demand to be strong as vaccines rise and regulations fade.

"With Valentine's Day coming up, a lot of our studios have sold out events," albeit at reduced capacity. "Our marketing, we've never taken our foot off the pedal."

Stay top of mind with digital tools. Anthony Pigliacampo, co-founder of Modern Market Eatery, said the number of dine-in customers depends, not surprisingly, on location in his system. "In areas where things are not quite as locked down, we're seeing a healthy return" to inside dining. "I don't believe it will be difficult to convert" customers to dine in. "I hear from guests, they're very, very, very excited to return to normalcy."

Modern Market Eatery used COVID-19 down time to lean in to creating digital tools. "We've been able to keep top of mind" with guests, he said.  "Fortunately for us, literally two weeks before the pandemic really took hold, we had rolled out a completely new web experience. We built it from the ground up. It's a scratch-built ecommerce site for our brand. We highlighted the food visually," to emphasize the quality of the food.

"Our digital ordering grew on a year-over-year basis over 100 percent in the last two years running. It's staggering how much business we're getting. If normalcy would resume tomorrow, we'd still be over 50 to 60 percent digital orders. We have a massive funnel on that side," he said.

Your competitors' customers are fair game. Friends and colleagues questioned her decision when Dawn Weiss decided to become chief marketing officer at CycleBar, the California-based spinning franchise that relied on in-person classes in studios outfitted with expensive fixed equipment. 

When gyms across the nation shut down for COVID-19, it seemed everyone bought a piece of home-exercise gear, especially the high-end Peloton bike brand with streaming video instruction. In one of her earliest interviews for the CycleBar job, "I laughed," and said, "I don't know if you know, but everybody including me went out and bought a Peloton." Wouldn't that mean the in-studio exercise experience was dead?

"When I did more digging, I did my due diligence, and found that we actually had better opportunity than most brands, from coming back from this pandemic really strong," Weiss said. "Most people that got out and got a Peloton, they didn't have a choice, they couldn't leave their home. And the other thing that really struck me, there were so many people who didn't work out before who started to take their health and fitness more seriously.

"This is quite brilliant," she ended up thinking, because now Peloton had introduced so many people to exercise by spinning. Her job was to capitalize on that.

CycleBar quickly rolled out virtual options, she said, including CycleBar Go, which is video on demand, and Go All Access, "which is where we have a huge opportunity to compete. Because that one, that's not just CycleBar, it's all the brands accessible to them" underneath parent company Xponential Fitness's umbrella. "Where Peloton is just Peloton, and they're known for the bike, we have barre, and we have Pilates" and other names "that our consumer knows."

Her focus now will be convincing new customers to come into the studios, and she has been front-loading marketing spending into the first part of 2021. "Lead flow is 80 percent what it was pre-COVID, which is high," she said. As for all those people who bought a Peloton bike, they're her target.

"We've run some tests and run some digital marketing ads, and ran a case study, and found that actually the response was overwhelming. We had 81 percent of the people that responded to our ad had never been to a CycleBar, and of that, 68 percent were actually Peloton riders," she said.

"Now we need to indoctrinate them to our brand. For many we're finding that there's nothing as strong as that in-person community."

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