Apply Yourself: Smartphone Apps for Gyms

“We’ve got an app for that.” 

For gym owners, this is no longer just a trendy catchphrase—in fact, they now can utter those words with confidence. A growing number of all-star programs are recognizing the popularity and usefulness of mobile apps by developing customized apps specifically for their gyms. And the timing is right: more than half of mobile subscribers now use apps instead of Web browsing on their smartphones, according to Internet marketing research company comScore.

For the tech-challenged, a mobile application (or “app”) is a program designed for mobile devices like smartphones and tablet computers. Apps are distributed through application distribution platforms that are operated by the company behind the device’s operating system. For instance, iPhone users download apps from iTunes and the Apple App Store, and Android users download from Google Play.

How does this all play into running a cheer business? Most gym owners create an app to meet two main objectives: communicating with existing customers and marketing to new ones. Find out how it works—and whether it’s worth it.

Just the Push Your Clients Need 

At Future Extreme Cheerleading in Loganville, Georgia, gym owner Micah Redden is currently developing an app that he hopes will help ease his workload. Not only will he be able to notify parents and students of schedule changes and class openings, but the app will also update the online schedule so that he doesn’t have to maintain the gym website separately. Since Redden needs to communicate with various groups, the app will also allow him to choose what information to send or “push” to selected people. “Basically what gym owners want from an app is to advertise, publicize and notify,” says Redden.

Like Redden, many gym owners use push notifications to alert their app users of special events, schedule changes, promotional offers and other updates. The perk of push notifications is that they get more attention than emails and texts, since they automatically appear on a user’s smartphone and demand instant attention. Depending on the app’s design, gym owners can either schedule a specific day and time for the notification or send it themselves.

Another increasingly popular feature is the Quick Response (QR) code, a square bar code that can be scanned by smartphones to quickly access a website. Tanya Roesel of Midwest Cheer Elite in West Chester, Ohio features QR codes prominently when advertising to potential athletes. QR codes are on many of Midwest Cheer Elite’s marketing materials, offering easy access to event information, promotional discounts and links to social media. “What’s great about QR codes is that they don’t take up a lot of space and they provide an automatic link to us,” Roesel explains.

To DIY or Not to DIY? 

Though it may be tempting budget-wise to attempt designing your own app, most experts caution against it. Do-it-yourself mobile app classes are readily available online, but it’s best to hire a professional for apps intended for business use. Apps created in DIY courses are generally based on standard templates, resulting in a somewhat cookie-cutter look; also, gym owners who want their app to be available to iPhone users (currently about 53% of the U.S. market) will need to get approval via the rigorous Apple Review Process. Since Apple prides itself on beauty, design and functionality, they usually will reject any app that looks like a template. (Android phones are less discriminating; they approve and accept all apps.)

When choosing an app designer, it’s also key to hire a company that offers ongoing service support in light of the ever-changing market. Whenever new devices or updated versions of smartphones are released, they require updates in order for an app to work properly. So, unless you’re a software wizard, most would advise leaving the design and maintenance to a professional.

Another advantage of hiring a mobile app developer is the ability to check analytics. “My customers like the easy access to usage reports that can tell them how many people have downloaded and used their apps,” says Gene Cook, owner of 1BoxApps, a mobile app design company in Temecula, CA that has designed apps for Matrix All-Stars, Cheers Unlimited and Five Star Athletics.

Depending on the company, Cook estimates the cost of most apps (including development, design, Apple submission and maintenance) to be between $500 and $700. Though the investment can be steep for some, any business owner knows that long-term profitability means adapting to new technology and keeping up with the evolving times. As for whether all gym owners will eventually adopt apps for their gyms, Roesel predict, “The smart ones definitely will.”