A respected figure in the world of fitness reflects on recent industry developments.

After a lifetime working on the operational side of fitness businesses, I have spent the past year consulting with clubs and, essentially, becoming a student of the industry. I’m talking with people, helping my clients, watching what’s going on, and forming some opinions along the way – some of which I’ll share now, if you’ll indulge me.

Firstly, virtual group exercise classes have caught my eye. I think there’s definitely a future for this service. The two keys are the delivery method (how enticing the physical space is) and the content. The best I have seen is the Les Mills material – their experience shines through. My view is that you should only do it if you can do it well – and perhaps wait until the technological costs come down.

Next up, functional training. In mainstream gyms personal trainers are largely driving this growth. While it’s popular with PT’s and their clients, it requires a lot of instruction to get great results and I’m not convinced the consumer is ready to see large empty spaces in commercial gyms. They still expect to see a row of treadmills and some pin-loaded gear – rightly or wrongly. In my opinion, you should offer functional training in your commercial club, but only allocate resources commensurate with the demand from consumers. In other words, don’t overdo it!

Of course, you’re going to need to sell the benefits of these services to prospective members. No doubt your sales staff are an expensive resource, and it may be tempting to think you can do without them and rely on online sales. For consumers well down the decision-making process, or regular gym goers looking for a new club, I think buying online is absolutely fine. I also believe, however, that a great membership consultant will convince many more prospects to get started today. By all means offer an online joining option – but don’t rely on it as the sole method of selling memberships. By doing so, you may simply be grabbing the low hanging fruit.

Budget clubs often come under fire from operators of full service models, but I think they are doing a fantastic job for our industry. In general, for many people they are removing barriers to exercising in a gym. I say, if you’re a budget operator, pick your site carefully and go for it. If you’re not, don’t compete with them on price unless you can adjust your expense model accordingly.

Similarly, some may view technology, such as fitness apps, as a threat to club-based exercise. When companies with the reach of Apple and Nike get into the personal fitness motivation space, you know there’s something big brewing. These guys have finally recognised something we often hear: that going to the gym has become the biggest participation ‘sport’ in the world. I think these apps are amazing and may actually lead people to your club. Your challenge is to integrate them into the way you operate your business.

Finally, the issue of discounting memberships raises its head. The New Zealand market has recently seen a large national chain offer heavily discounted ‘all-you-can-eat’ cardio and weight training memberships. At just a few hundred dollars for a year’s access it may not be long until someone offers a discount for pre-paying, knocking off another $100… and so on. Before long, we’re back to the 1980s in terms of pricing – but with today’s overheads. Maybe it’s simply market forces that dictate who survives and who doesn’t. I’m all for healthy competition, but I also believe that you shouldn’t sell your club, or the services you provide, short.

We work in a fantastic industry doing fantastic things – and there is room for all manner of different fitness experiences. Whichever offering you choose to provide, be absolutely clear about who you are as a business, why you exist, how you will behave in the market place and who you want to have working out in your club. By doing so, you’ll deliver authentic experiences and be rewarded with happy, loyal members.

Reece Zondag is a consultant to the fitness industry, working with clients in New Zealand, Australia and China. Prior to his current role he spent 12 years as the CEO of Les Mills New Zealand, a 10-gym chain with an impressive 70 per cent retention rate.