Turning customers into a community: How Pride Fitness built a loyal following

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A small business is nothing without its customers. But as many small business owners know, there is a fine art to taking your small business to the next level and turning those customers into a loyal following. Cultivating a community of people obsessed with your business can be tricky, but once achieved is immensely beneficial. A thriving and engaged customer base keeps people coming back for more and also builds awareness of your brand. Plus, happy customers are more likely to pass on your details to others through word-of-mouth and online reviews.

One business that’s no stranger to the power of community is Matt Smith of Aussie small business Pride Fitness. Located in Sydney’s inner west, Pride Fitness offers small-group exercise sessions for the queer community and its allies. In addition to helping his clients get fitter, Matt’s also focused on creating a welcoming space for friendships and connections to grow. “Our fitness community runs together, we sweat together, we have dinner together. And we sometimes bake for each other too.”

Starting the business.

Matt’s idea for his business was born from his own experiences at gyms. “Even at their most friendly, I’ve always found gyms quite soulless. There’s always one or two people you say hi to briefly but moving beyond the head-nod or quick hello was almost a no-go zone.” Noticing the lack of connection, comradery and joy in his own workouts, Matt took action – “I wanted a community around me to share the fun and creativity of exercise and when I didn’t find it at a few gyms, I decided to create it on my own.” Matt started up his side hustle while still maintaining his day job – “balancing my day job with the side hustle is quite manageable. We train three mornings a week at 6am so I’ve ensured I get Pride Fitness done for the day before hitting the office job. I set aside time on the weekend for paperwork and admin and I use this time to plan a few exercise routines to roll out to the Pride Fitness Crew too.  I like to be planned least 2 weeks ahead which allows me to try out the routines to see what works, what’s too hard and what needs to be adjusted.  It can be quite easy as a trainer to build workouts that excite you and forget that there are differing levels of fitness.  This is where my day-job team come into it. They’re very supportive and it’s not uncommon for me to rope a few of them into a workout to see what they think of it.”

What makes a community.

For Matt, the purpose of Pride Fitness goes beyond exercising. “Being a safe space for the queer community is at the heart of what we do, whilst welcoming allies to the crew too.” The Pride Fitness group stays connected through a WhatsApp chat, which allows conversation to flow outside of training hours. “Everything from sharing running personal bests to delivery of baked goods takes place within the chat, and someone’s always planning an activity like kayaking, online trivia, picnics and bike rides.” Matt acknowledges that this in turn has contributed to his loyal customer base, “I’ve been building the community since 2018 and have been fortunate in having clients returning year on year.”

Turning challenges into opportunities.

Like most small businesses, 2020 and 2021 saw Pride Fitness pivot in the face of a global pandemic. In-person group fitness sessions were at odds with social distancing and new health measures, so Matt seized the opportunity to switch to an online offering. Moving his workouts online had its benefits – with geography no longer an obstacle, Pride Fitness had new members all over the world dialling in to be part of the fun. The social aspect of his business also moved online, “We survived an online Escape Room, did weekly trivia and a few in the team trialled a wine-tasting online.”

While keeping his community engaged throughout lockdown was easy done, gaining new clients proved more difficult. “The most success we’ve had in attracting new clients has been with posters around town, at train stations and other busy pedestrian areas, but with COVID, there were no high-traffic areas anymore!”. The business turned to new marketing methods, like social media advertising and posting on online community groups and utilised their loyal following through word-of-mouth marketing. “We would use ‘bring a friend’ discounts and really tried to focus on what it is that sets us apart – asking our clients what they like, we know that a small training group, the friendliness and community and my creativity tie it all together.”

Looking forward.

For Pride Fitness, 2022 is all about celebrating the return of in-person connections and reinvigorating his community. “After a long winter of lockdown we’re excited for people to restart their fitness regimes.” Alongside adding more in-person sessions, Matt’s stepping up his marketing efforts too. “I’ve created a welcome pack for new clients and I’ve got new shirts and merch for existing customers (a gift for our 3rd birthday). We’ll also launch our first weekend training retreat – an idea that’s been bubbling away for a while, and I’m working with a local videographer to shoot a short promo reel highlighting what we do.”

A new logo for a new year.

As part of the global 99 Days of Design initiative to help small businesses get back on their feet, post-COVID, Pride Fitness was one of the six Australian businesses selected to receive a brand refresh and $15k financial support package. Aside from the obvious financial impact of lockdowns on his business, Matt also found that his logo needed some love. “We’ve been in operation for 3 years and as a part-time operation, it was tough to find the headspace to sink into proper creative marketing or logo creation.” The design pros at 99designs by Vista were here to help execute his creative vision, “Pride Fitness had never had a fully realised logo or branding until this point and seeing the designs coming in was very exciting. The logo we chose represents Pride Fitness perfectly, it’s got an element of fun to it, with a focus on fitness and a nod to the queer community.” With the new year ahead, Matt’s looking forward to putting his new logo to the test in his marketing and has already revamped his website with the new branding.

The brief.

As part of his logo redesign, Matt submitted a brief to the design pros at 99designs by Vista. “Designing a new logo was a lot of fun and a little overwhelming as we had so many amazing designers submitting work! There were so many great interpretations of the brief and there was a time where I was stuck on which way to go. Happily there’s the poll function on the website which allowed me to get advice from others.”

His brief explored a wide colour palette and the characteristics of his business he wanted to bring to life in his branding. “The final product I signed off on came on quite a journey from its original design butworking with the designer we came up with a modern, stylised & fun logo.”

The final design.

  • Bold and fun
  • Clean, modern lines
  • A strong visual symbol that speaks to the industry
  • Rainbow flag colourway