Osprey Leisure Centre is one of south Dorset’s most attractive health and fitness facilities. Based on Portland, it boasts a swimming pool, a large indoor sports hall, two squash courts and three fitness suites. The centre offers a full programme of classes, as well as holiday activities for children.
The centre opened in 2007 and is run by a registered charity, South Dorset Community Sports Trust. With its ‘pay and play’ ethos, it brings the benefits of varied leisure and fitness services to the heart of the community. A range of membership packages is designed to ensure maximum flexibility for everyone, from regular customers to occasional and seasonal visitors.
The centre currently has around 400 active members but has a mission to grow this to 500 members in regular attendance. A new café in the complex has also created an opportunity to boost secondary spend by upselling refreshments and snacks.
However, as General Manager Nigel Williams explains, raising the centre’s profile as a valuable community business has been hampered by a lack of marketing focus, particularly when it comes to web-based and social media strategies.
Although the centre already had a website with a Facebook button – which has helped it to accumulate 200 ‘likes’ in the last three years – efforts to engage with new and existing customers were generally ad hoc and restricted to local press and media campaigns rather than using the web as a meaningful marketing and communications channel.
“We had no way of measuring the effectiveness of our marketing activities and still less idea of how we could use technology to achieve this and streamline operations to reduce costs,” says Nigel.
“So when we discovered we were eligible to receive advice and support from the Superfast Business Service, I was very interested to know what our options were on the e-marketing and technology front. We had done virtually nothing before. We’d never proactively used Facebook or Twitter, for example, and although we’d been running our membership system for a year, we didn’t really have a data capture strategy at all.”
A first meeting with the Superfast Business adviser was eye-opening, immediately identifying key areas in which the centre could bring focus to its marketing and achieve greater efficiencies through more streamlined communications.
Practically, this included upgrading to Superfast Broadband, which would improve system availability for Nigel and the centre’s staff, as well as providing customers and members with a reliable WiFi service – something which is expected as a matter of course in any modern public facility.
The adviser also referred Nigel to an e-marketing expert who could help the centre review its marketing strategy with the aim of increasing customers and reducing costs. Eight hours’ expert consultancy was broken down into a series of four fortnightly sessions that, according to Nigel, gave the centre the chance to act quickly on each new target – and immediately see the benefits.
To begin with, the consultant helped the business to consider the demographics of its target market, breaking it down into sub-sets and building persona profiles on which to focus marketing campaigns.
The next step was to decide the best channel to market for each persona – some of which were revelations to Nigel and his team – and establish targets for boosting engagement with the local community online and through social media, increasing Facebook likes to 1,000 by May and 3,000 by the end of 2014. It was also agreed to build and evaluate an online marketing strategy using email newsletters, and establish a constant policy of measuring its effectiveness.
“The real surprise was discovering what our target market should actually be,” says Nigel. “I soon realised that the consultant knew what he was talking about. His observations were so pertinent and I was very impressed.
“I realised that everything he said about our target market could have applied to my wife! In other words, we just hadn’t been hitting the 30-55-year-old female daytime market effectively. He explained that research shows this demographic will use Facebook rather than Twitter – and again, that rang true – and sure enough, within a fortnight of using our Facebook page more proactively to promote last-minute availability of classes, advertise new ones, and put out cancellation alerts due to the floods, we had doubled the number of likes that we’d received in the last three years.”
Although it is still early days, Nigel says he is confident that the e-marketing strategy developed with the help of the Superfast Business Service is already on track to deliver a 5% increase in income and an operational cost reduction of 5% by the end of the year.
“I’m convinced that in the long term we will increase our income and annual surplus as a result of this process, because we already have more customers – and they are staying longer and spending more while they are here,” he says.
“It is difficult to quantify but admin-wise, we’re already saving a lot of time. It took just three weeks to arrange the Superfast Broadband upgrade and there are some obvious benefits there. One of our adviser’s best pieces of advice was to get the cloud working, and now everything is quicker – including the reception computer. I can even monitor our CCTV cameras remotely.
“When customers take pictures, they can post them straight to Facebook. If they want Wi-Fi with their coffee, it doesn’t matter if 10 people are using the Internet at the same time – it won’t slow down, and they are probably buying more coffee! Previously, we had to keep our access code secret because the connection would grind to a halt if too many people were on it. “
Nigel says that in truth, the centre’s communications used to be in the dark ages. It was a struggle to get a mobile signal around the complex, even with a dongle on his laptop. If there was a problem with equipment in the pump room, a colleague would have to go and take a picture on their smartphone, bring it back and download it so that Nigel could then send it to the contractor. Now, there is a works i-Pad, which allows Nigel to capture all kinds of information around the site. Communication is now instant from the location of any problem, helping to streamline maintenance and administration.
“This whole process has helped us to jump to the next stage in our marketing and operational ambitions without having to struggle with our minimal technical knowledge,” he says. “We’re more focused and we’ve got a clear idea of what we need to do
Following much of the advice received during the delivery of the Superfast Business Service plan, and after close consultation between Nigel and his colleagues, Osprey Leisure Centre’s website will be refreshed in the near future – reflecting its new focus as a key marketing interface.
The centre has also appointed a part-time e-marketing assistant, who will use the email address database to develop newsletters that will be distributed via Mailchimp.
“Everything we’ve done and are looking forward to doing is down to that first meeting with our Superfast Business adviser and subsequent sessions with our e-marketing consultant,” says Nigel. “The best thing was that we had time between each meeting to put his advice into action, and come back with another set of discoveries and questions. It was immediately clear that they understood us and what we wanted to achieve – and I was very impressed with the quality of their advice.”
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