Let me start by telling you that I love the fitness industry. I have never had a ‘proper’ job outside of it. I love what it stands for, improving lives and helping others. I love the freedom and flexibility of the industry – there are so many avenues a fitness professional can go down and be successful in. I don’t ever want to work outside of the health and fitness industry.
But I fear the industry at large is losing its way and has been for a while.
The wider industry is moving away from helping people improve their health and rapidly towards chasing profits. I understand businesses have to be profitable, but it seems health clubs are focussed purely on sales and not enough on helping the very members they recruit. It’s a false economy – if members aren’t receiving the help and support they need and deserve, they are less likely to achieve their goals and will ultimately leave and find another place to exercise.
I have seen gyms and health clubs evolve over the last decade or so. Around the turn of the century the race was on to be bigger, better, flashier. Centres competed by building the most pools, housing the most treadmills, providing the most classes and the best cafe. There were takeovers – larger chains swallowing up their smaller competitors. More pools, more centres, more cafes. These things are all nice, but they come at a price.
The race was on to hit ever growing sales targets. As I said, pools, staff and cafes don’t come cheap.
Sales managers were employed by gyms with a responsibility to bring in hundreds of new members per month. Fitness managers were employed gyms. The fitness manager job isn’t really to help manage the fitness product for the benefit of the member – their job is to organise the fitness teams to sell personal training, fitness courses and supplements. In all honesty I doubt if a fitness manager in the country cares if you have lost an ounce during your membership in their gym – their interest is in getting you to open your wallet.
I know this because before seeing the light and going self-employed I worked in these clubs. I worked to hit sales targets, not to help members. After a short time I realised this wasn’t what motivated me to work in fitness in the first place, so I left and set up on my own. Hitting sales targets isn’t helpful to the members – the very people who are paying your wages.
The newest trend in the health club market is the budget gym.
Budget gyms are springing up everywhere – they seem to multiply like rabbits at the moment. Within 5 miles of my house (in a rural part of Cheshire) there are 6 of these budget centres – big box gyms with very limited staff and no service.
I can’t see them being successful over the long term, and here’s why…
The main USP for each is their price point – equipment can be bought from a limited number of suppliers and lets face it, a barbell is a barbell. A treadmill is a treadmill. In order to be successful over your competition you have to be cheaper.
I foresee a time when they undercut each other until their already thin margins are stretched to breaking point. My prediction is the budget gym chain with the deepest overdraft will be the ultimate winner – not the one who offers the best service because as far as I can see, none of them offer a particularly outstanding service. They can offer cheap memberships as they don’t have large staffing costs.
The budget gyms may help some people – if you know your way around a gym they are a cheap way of exercising. If you are a total beginner however, I would avoid them like the plague. They really aren’t beginner friendly.
The sad thing is I don’t see it changing, but it could, and should. If health clubs aligned themselves with the medical industry, improving the quality of staffing and service then there could be a way to be more profitable and more successful at helping the members. Member retention would be higher if the members felt like they were cared for and helped. Sales would be easier if the members were achieving – satisfied customers tell their friends. How many times have you bought a product or service purely on recommendation? Plenty, I am sure.
Look after your customers and they will look after you. As soon as gyms and health club chains realise this they will be far more successful.
It isn’t all bad news though…there are lights at the end of the tunnel!
The number of small operators and fitness professionals providing their own services to the world is increasing. I myself run a weight loss group, a bootcamp and personal training in Stockport and Cheshire. When you work with small operators your results are of a much higher importance. With my own clients I take a personal interest in their progress – from both a measurement perspective and a mental perspective – how do they feel? My job is to help them improve their lives by improving their health.
Success in health comes from determination and support. Small communities of like-minded people will ultimately be more successful than larger, anonymous facilities and groups. In my Handy Plan group ALL of the members have lost weight and/or inches. All of them. That is because we are a supportive group of people who all want the same thing. The put the members first. They are our marketing, they are our living, breathing testimonials. Their success isn’t just important to us, it’s vital to us. We have to do everything we can to help them achieve their fitness and health goals.
Ask yourself, are you getting what you want or need from your current gym membership? Are you achieving your goals? Are you happy with the support? Don’t be a slave to your gym membership – there are other, potentially more successful ways to achieve great health!