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When Fitness First conducted a survey to establish how it was perceived by the general public, the responses prompted some deep soul searching – and some radical changes, writes Pete Manuel.

Change is never easy. So when Fitness First decided to undertake a total rebrand on a global scale we knew it would take more than a little soul searching to find the way forward.

In 2011 we conducted extensive research to ask the general public what they thought of us. We really listened to the feedback we received, taking on board a lot of insights, and we accepted it was time for a major change.

We learnt that making a difference is as simple as supporting our members and investing in things that matter to them, like clean, innovative clubs, helpful people working as a team, and fitness innovations to help them stay motivated.

2012 was a pivotal time for Fitness First and gave us the fresh start we needed, following an acquisition by leading global private equity house, Oaktree Capital Management. Since then the business has undergone widespread restructuring to reposition itself once more as the fitness leader and industry expert.

The changes we have made have not been superficial. We have worked on the DNA – the very fibre of our business, including the culture we create and the attitude of our people. We have seen that we can no longer take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the way we do things. We’ve made structural changes to support an obvious truth in our business – that our members are different, and as such, we understand that clubs in different locations cannot be run in the same way.

In 2013 we reached out to members and asked what they wanted from their gyms. We received an incredible response from 16,500 members, highlighting three key areas of importance – equipment, club environment and fitness support.

In The Zone

In response to the feedback from members, in July 2013 we launched The Zone in Sydney’s CBD – in what was a first not only for us here in Australia, but for Fitness First globally. Taking The Zone from concept to fruition was no small undertaking, and has set us apart from our competitors by challenging conventional training methods – signalling to the world that we are leading the way in fitness innovation.

With the launch of The Zone we introduced what we call Dynamic Movement Training (DMT). This form of training is all about utilising the body’s natural movement patterns with three dimensional exercises that work the entire body by challenging the muscular, cardiovascular and neural systems. DMT is the most efficient way to train, allowing the body to get three times the benefit of regular isolation training by improving dynamic strength, fitness and function at the same time.

At Fitness First, we believe that DMT, in combination with group training sessions, is not only the best way to get fit and see results, it is also the most fun and motivating way to exercise.

More than just a new look

In January this year we unveiled the new look Fitness First. The familiar blue logo has been replaced by a new, vibrant red logo with a bold ‘F’ – symbolising passion, energy and strength.

But it is much more than just a new logo. As we’ve said, this is about change for the best – and to really make that happen we have taken a 360 degree approach to change across multiple aspects of our business, from the inside out.

We have invested in ‘Raise the Bar’ training programs for all of our 3,800 employees Australia-wide so they have the skills and resources to deliver an excellent standard of customer service and fitness expertise. We know that machines don’t motivate people – people motivate people – so we are making a significant investment in developing and training our team to ensure they can help our members to go further.

On that note, we are also investing significantly in the nuts and bolts of our business. Fitness First invested more than $20m in the past 12 months, and we will continue the transformation by doubling that investment during 2014 to $40m, which will be spent across capital expenditure, training and products.

We have introduced a number of fitness innovations over the past 12 months – from Shockwave, Small Group Training (SGT) and Flow Yoga, to Fitness Workshops and Fitness Programs. And, to continue to support our members’ fitness aspirations, over the coming months we will be rolling out a number of new fitness products, completely free to our members and all built around the philosophy of Dynamic Movement Training.

The first product due to launch this month will be Pro Cycling, a 30-minute high intensity class based on the training regime of Pro Cyclist and Olympic Gold Medallist, Victoria Pendleton. Soon after, we will be introducing our Freestyle Group Training Program, which has evolved from our current SGT offering.

Our Signature Bio Age, which assesses biological age versus actual age, is also scheduled for release early this year. This new and improved fitness assessment is more challenging than the current version, harnessing the latest findings in behavioural psychology and utilising innovative fitness equipment. Custom Fit training programs are also still to come – offering unique fitness programs to each and every member. On top of that, we will also be introducing a raft of new motivational technology enabling members to track progress daily, obtain instant feedback and connect socially as a fitness community.

Changing the rules on member commitment

You may have heard that we have recently built our intentions right into our terms and conditions. People who join Fitness First will have the option to pay as they go, without committing until they are truly ready to. In a clear statement that we want our members to stay with us and reach their goals, through our Fitness Guarantee we will be making it possible for them to leave even within contract without a notice period if they train three or more times on average per week. We want our members coming to the club, getting the most out of their membership and unlocking their true potential to get the best out of their lives.

We’re very excited about the recent announcement of two of our major sponsorships for 2014. Our partnership with the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras conveys that we are a progressive business that embraces diversity. Also, this month our role as the naming rights sponsor of the Fitness First Corporate Triathlon Series is a great way to encourage our members to keep fit both in and outside of the gym.

Underpinning all of these changes is our new brand philosophy – to inspire our members to achieve their fitness aspirations and go further in life. Not just in the gym. Not just in their sporting pursuits. But in life. And everything we do is about how we support our members through fitness, to do just that.

This is the dawn of a new era for Fitness First and while we know there will be bumps along the way, we are committed to always taking an honest look at our performance. The theme of this year’s FILEX Convention is ‘Embracing Change’ – we too are embracing change in everything we do, and we are committed to constantly re-inventing ourselves, always adapting and moving forward.

Pete Manuel, BA (Hons)
Pete joined Fitness First Australia as managing director in 2011. Prior to this, he was vice president and managing director of Procter & Gamble Australia New Zealand. During his career with global brand leaders including Gillette, Duracell and Yoplait, Pete has worked across the globe in the UK, US and Canada, as well as Australia. He is an active member of the Manly Surf Life Saving club.

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