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By staying ahead of – not following – industry trends, you can differentiate your fitness business and offer services and training that your competitors haven’t even considered, writes founder of Fernwood Fitness, Diana Williams.

You need to keep moving. It’s a phrase we hear frequently in the fitness industry, usually in relation to running on a treadmill or lifting weights. Here, though, I’m talking about your business. After 30 years at the helm of Fernwood Fitness, I’ve seen my fair share of changes in the industry; equipment has evolved, attire has certainly changed, and brands have come and gone. Much like a workout, this isn’t an industry you can sit still in and expect to see results.

The idea for Fernwood sparked 30 years ago when I realised there was a gap in the market for women’s strength training. Most women did cardio and aerobics in their G-string leotards and didn’t get to experience the benefits of training their muscles through weight lifting. The concept of a ‘women’s only’ gym where members could work out in a safe space and try something new soon became a reality.

After our flagship Bendigo club opened, a member came to me with the idea to launch a second location in Ballarat. Just like that, our franchise model was born. Community is huge in our network, and our franchisees are always sharing new ideas with us, and each other, to deliver services and messages that are relevant and valuable to our members. Whenever we launch a new product or service, we rely on franchisees to be our eyes and ears on the gym floor; they know their audience best and gather valuable firsthand insights. It’s all about collaboration. We work with them to conceptualise what should come next, and they thrive on being part of a network that nurtures growth.

No franchise business, regardless of what industry it is, will be successful without successful people who are motivated to keep pushing, to keep moving. The success of our franchisees is paramount. Nurturing their ideas is beneficial not only to their own success, but to our entire network.

Moving with the industry

The fitness industry will never stop moving. It will continue to change and sprout in different directions, and we won’t see the momentum slowing any time soon. When we first started, there was a sprinkling of gyms across the board, and now you can’t turn your head without a new studio popping up. This is great for consumers who have more options than ever, but of course it has changed the game for club operators too. While most brands will have a unique value proposition in the market, it can be easy to be drowned out by the noise. So, how do you stand apart?

One of the key learnings I’ve seen across three decades in business is the need to cater to an ever-evolving market. We partnered with Deakin University a few years ago as we started to see more members seeking an outlet for stress and mental health. We’ve been pioneers in women’s fitness for 30 years, and while that continues to be a core part of our service offering, our focus has shifted to reflect the needs of today’s women. As such, we now deliver a holistic health offering providing a balance in physical, social and mental wellbeing. Think more yoga, reformer Pilates, wellness programs, and meditation.

When making a change, it’s often about more than just a slight shift in a service you offer or pretty posts on social media. With an ever-evolving and competitive market, calculated risks are sometimes necessary. Earlier this year we launched Fernwood Ultra, a premium sister brand skewed specifically towards balancing mind and body. We utilised what we knew from our research partners, from our franchisees, from our members, from the industry, and created something new. We’ll always be Fernwood, but we’ll never be afraid to move in a new direction, especially when it comes to satisfying consumer needs.

You can’t wait for a trend to appear and then jump on the bandwagon – that’s an easy way to get lost in the crowd. Start forecasting what your audience will want and need in one, two and five years’ time and make a plan now so you’re always one move ahead.

Diana Williams

Diana has been giving women a dedicated and safe space to exercise for 30 years through her gym franchise Fernwood Fitness. Since winning the 2005 Telstra Business Women’s Award, Diana has driven Fernwood’s growth to become a nationwide 70-club franchise with 73,000 members. As Managing Director, she ensures the company stays innovative and relevant to current market trends.





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