Regional clubs:
the power to change communities

Seven out of 10 Australians in regional towns are overweight or obese. In 2014, The Biggest Loser TV show will attempt a weight loss challenge with an entire regional community. Michael Jordan looks at the critical role regional clubs can play in taking this transformation nationwide.

Next year The Biggest Loser 2014 series will televise a weight loss challenge on an entirely new scale. Rather than approaching individuals, couples and families, the trainers and Biggest Loser support crew carried out a weight loss transformation challenge with an entire regional community.

The town lucky enough (in my opinion) to participate was Ararat, a regional Victorian town with a population of 11,000. This community was approached because over 68 per cent of its adult population was overweight or obese – one of the highest rates in Australia.

The aim of the series is to address the poor habits and lifestyle choices made within the community – from food, to exercise to education – and implement programs to turn their habits and choices around.

While we won’t know the effects of the series until it is aired early next year, there is no doubt it will draw attention to the massive task that many regional clubs are currently facing.

Ararat statistics unfortunately represent the majority of regional Australian towns. According to the ABS statistics from 2012, seven out of 10 Australians are overweight or obese in regional towns. In the past 20 to 30 years regional life has changed. The active outdoor nature of work is no longer the norm and more people are becoming less active. On top of this, fast-food chains have plagued communities with their low-cost, quick access and unlimited marketing budget influencing a dangerous change in diet and nutrition.

With these lifestyle changes has come a concerning increase in obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, mental illnesses and depression. With doctors not providing the long-term solutions for improved activity, health, diet and wellness – and many local councils being very slow to support local health initiatives – the majority of the heavy lifting for changing the health of regional Australia falls in the lap of our regional fitness club network.

Earlier this year, CFM (Creative Fitness Marketing) conducted a survey with 44 leading regional clubs from all over Australia to identify the unique challenges and opportunities of running a health club in regional Australia.

Despite the challenges of isolation from resources, suppliers and industry events, and of smaller populations to grow the business and staff, there was a clear finding.

The better the business operated, the more engaged and active its members were, the longer they stayed, the more they spread the word within their community, the more the clubs memberships and external programming grew, and the stronger the movement to reverse the obesity trend and create a healthier and happier community grew.

To give an example, one regional town in northern NSW has 25 per cent of its population attending the one extraordinary club. This club positively influences 1 in 4 of the community’s members. Some club owners may think this club is very lucky to have such an engaged community and high penetration rate, but the reality is that luck has little to do with it.

I have visited and worked with this facility, and it is one of the most welcoming, progressive and motivating gym environments I have experienced. The success it achieves is a result of the hard work on the part of the operator and team to create an inclusive, entertaining, educational and influential health and fitness hub for its members.

There were other fantastic examples of regional clubs whose stats proved their growing influence within their communities.

A well-known QLD regional club reported well over 1 million dollars in Allied Health Services revenue for the previous year. Its multi-purpose medical/lifestyle/wellness hub is set up to cater for the physical, nutritional and medical needs of an entire community. Doctors, hospitals, schools, mines and other workplaces connect with this club and its providers because it can provide solutions to address the unhealthy trends of the patients, students and workers within these groups. This club plays a critical role in its community.

Four regional clubs surveyed reported that over 70 per cent of their members regularly participate in group fitness. This high penetration means the majority of members are more active more often, which gives them a higher likelihood of staying with the club and making exercise an ongoing part of their lifestyle than those who only partake in solo fitness activities.

Two of the regional clubs surveyed have over 25 per cent of members regularly undertaking personal training with qualified trainers – a very high rate. A high PT penetration creates great relationships between clients and trainers and, therefore, clients and club.

By practicing a model that enables more people to follow the safest and most effective paths to ongoing fitness, these clubs are improving the overall health and wellbeing of the community, and consequently increasing their business bottom line.

Let’s hope that in 2014 many other regional towns are inspired by the transformation of Ararat – and let’s review the structure of our regional club businesses so we have the platform to truly make a difference in our own communities.

The next Biggest Loser series is aptly named Challenge Australia. Let’s step up to the challenge and do what we can to truly change the health and fitness of our nation.

Michael Jordan, BA Bus
The owner of a successful Queensland-based club, Michael is also the marketing director for six Voyage Fitness clubs in regional Australia and one of the Australasian directors of Creative Fitness Marketing and MYZONE. He is an international speaker, and has consulted with over 250 fitness clubs in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, US and Canada.


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