From artsy new social media sites to innovative mobile phone companies, it seems that invite-only is the latest must have marketing strategy for hipster start ups.

Now gyms are getting in on the action too, with Singapore’s Straits Times reporting this week that Fitness First, on a mission to take over the rapidly expanding Asian fitness market, is planning its first invitation-only gym, aimed at well-to-do city goers in Singapore. It will be the first UK chain gym to attempt this strategy.

We’ve seen invitation-only bring massive success to online brands like Gmail, Pinterest and Spotify, but can it really work for gyms too?

If your name isn’t down…

It’s easy to see why sites with user-generated content like Pinterest would launch as invitation-only. Marketing tactics aside, it allows numbers to be controlled, ensuring that volume can be managed during the early stages of beta testing.

Plus, the fact that most invite-only websites are “in beta” allows them to launch before ironing out technical bugs, with the automatic forgiveness of users for any initial problems, “because beta testing”.

Beta testing a gym is probably a quirky marketing concept too far, but whilst there may not be obvious practical benefits for an invitation-only gym, there are some obvious marketing advantages.

Creating a buzz: Invitation-only can help to create a buzz and air of anticipation around a gym’s opening. Still relatively rare in the UK, invitation-only can also be a great source of free advertising. Local newspapers and radio stations are more likely to report on the “exclusive new gym in town” than the opening of another same old, same old gym.

Creating a clique: For those with the luxury of an invitation, invite-only exclusivity is the ultimate “I’m so in the in-crowd” statement. This private party elitism is the true power of invitation-only marketing.

Creating a forbidden fruit: “Invitation-only” means demand is going to be high. It means that places are limited. It means this is not a product for everyone. So, naturally, everyone will want it.. or so the theory goes!

Creating a niche: In a crowded market, it’s increasingly difficult for independent gyms to stand out and find their USP. A well thought out invitation-only concept could form the entire basis of a savvy gym’s brand and identity.

But with all its benefits, creating a private party gym can seem counter-intuitive if your ultimate aim is to increase membership numbers and it’s a technique that can easily backfire.

Does your gym really have what it takes to be an invitation-only gym?

For it to work, an invite-only gym must actually deliver on the exclusivity that the concept suggests. Your gym’s membership criteria will determine the privileges you will need to offer your members in order to live up to your self-imposed selectivity.

Take an example: E at Equinox, a hugely successful invitation-only gym in New York, is designed for those looking for a more luxurious gym experience. Members enter the gym through its Minority Report eye retina entry system and work out to live DJ sets while the gym concierge team gets busy with their laundry and dinner reservations. At $25,000 a month, elite really does mean elite at E.

Your typical start-up PT studio in Croydon is a far cry from the city lights of New York, but there’s no reason why a similar, albeit scaled down strategy, can’t work in any area. Especially if it’s already flooded with high street chain gyms.

There are always those willing to pay through the nose for high-end, VIP services, but if its a charade, people will see straight through it. You need to ensure that what you are offering deserves the elite branding you’re giving it.

In other words, members must actually get something exclusive. As a minimum, invitation-only members would expect zero waiting times for machines, premium member support, immaculately kept facilities with the latest, high-end equipment and nothing less than stunning gym design and décor.

You may not need to go to the extremes of live DJ sets and oak-built lockers, but your referral-only gym needs to offer something a little more special than the usual fluffy white towels, juice bar and free fruit that’s on offer at the gym around the corner.

You’ll need to actually restrict membership and set up your referral process to ensure that the select few are getting a select service. Nobody wants to be part of a secret society that anyone can join. Work out the maximum number of members you can take on before your service standard begins to falter and then stick with it. Set up a waiting list for new members.

Illuminati handshakes might be a step in the wrong direction, but fostering an inclusive and tribe-like sense of pride among members should be a high priority for your invite-only gym. Making your members proud and your non-members jealous is all part of the risky but highly effective marketing mind game of invite-only.

Do you have an invitation-only gym here in the UK? We’d love to hear your story! Drop us a comment below.