Making Ownership Profitable Again
By Adam Aberbach
Success can be measured in several ways, and being the best is something everyone in the fitness industry strives for. But keeping the doors open has become a challenge for smaller business owners. 10 years ago, you may have seen just a few national chain fitness clubs in the market. Today we see more than ever, opening up every few miles and sometimes across the street from one another.
Not only has this happened in the fitness industry, but large electronic, appliance and wholesalers have virtually cannibalized the market. To survive, independent fitness clubs will have to find other ways to attract and retain members. This can be done, and we’re seeing it happen.
Only about 15% to 20% of those who buy memberships actually use them, and the big box undoubtedly capitalizes on that, as they offer a very low cost membership dues and sell incredible volumes. Add that to very deep pockets, huge marketing campaigns, tremendous buying power across multiple locations and often boasting facilities over 20,000 square feet – and you have a force to be reckoned with. Large pools, hot tubs and basketball courts are what I refer to as an ‘unused wow factor;’ a great lure, but not so important if they’re not being used.
Smaller facilities usually cannot afford to build and maintain such grandeur, making it almost surprising that any independent clubs still exists. As the big box takes a huge piece of the non-use membership holders, they leave the independent clubs very little share.
The Good and The Bad
The overwhelming growth of the national chain has created both positive and negative effects. From the consumer standpoint, affordability for a fitness club membership is much better, and now not reserved exclusively for country club style luxury. The convenience of more locations and amenities, if used, are also a positive for the average consumer. But no different than many businesses outside of the fitness industry, as the quantity and size increases, the quality may suffer. For the independent club, I believe they must recognize this, and focus their efforts on the quality they bring, and the culture only they can offer in order to continue.
How do independent clubs and trainers survive?
How does the local club owner overcome marketing strategies of national fitness club chains? Offer better hours, newer equipment or maybe lower costs? Although these are all somewhat valid suggestions, we know that people join fitness clubs for results.
- Make Members Feel Valued – The opinion of many big box club members I have spoken with feel their membership makes them ‘just another number’ and not necessarily a highly valued customer. Once they are in the door, they may never hear from the person who enrolled them in the club. The quality of interaction and member results don’t seem to be the top priority, and the quality of the facility drops immediately. A lot like many large car dealerships. The salesperson is your best friend when you first come in to get a membership. High pressure, ending specials, and manager turnover all come into play. This should be the exact opposite in an independent facility. The owner or manager should be very in tune with getting the members results, continuing to encourage and help their members achieve their goals. Members should feel as if they are actually a part of something.
- Quality of Training – One of the most attractive things I find when it comes to the quality of independent clubs, is not just the relationship they offer, but also the quality of training. On average, the going rate for personal training sessions are more expensive at an independent club or training studio, but there is really no comparison, in most cases. The barrier of entry for a trainer in many national chains is very low. In some cases, almost anyone who wishes to become a fitness trainer can, and many will even hire without certifications. The trainers in these facilities might make as little as $7.00 an hour on average. The turnover can be very high in these instances. Independent clubs and trainers should be capitalizing on the results their personal trainers offer, and building long-term career options.
Another trend I’ve been seeing in the industry, is a club culture. Truth be told, it costs a lot to maintain a facility and keep members when they are at a 15% to 20% user rate. This is where an independent club and independent club trainers can far exceed the large chain.
- Operate From The Floor – Instead of a top down club culture approach, the members of an independent club are much more the influential in the way it will operate! It goes deeper than just someone knowing your name when you walk in the door. Although, that is something members are more likely to experience at an independent club. When their voice is heard and their membership is valued, members are motivated to be a part of the club. Programs, equipment, hours and amenities can be catered to the members of an independent facility. Local ownership over corporate ownership may be a factor in decision making. Ask your members what they would like to see in the club. You may be surprised.
- Engage in Local Programs – Local community involvement is one of the best ways for creating an amazing culture for your business as an independent. I suggest owners really think about what you want your club business to stand for in a local community sense. Health and wellness are central, but there are local programs and engagements that clubs can get involved in, where members can see the direct effects outside the club as well as inside.
Independent fitness clubs can strategically master these areas to grow their membership base and return value to the entire process – including enjoyment of ownership.
My name is Adam Aberbach and I am very passionate about the fitness industry. I have worked in several of the big box clubs, starting at the bottom and working up to management, trained in clubs, owned my own club, and currently help build, design and supply facilities with multiple needs, with systems and equipment as the general manager of a commercial fitness supplier and the DFW’s largest retailer for fitness equipment.
We believe fitness professionals time and talent training veterans for free, creates lasting and measurable habits in health and wellness, and is the best way for the industry to give back to our heroes, by reducing depression, stress and anxiety through working out. Discover more at www.FitnessMilitary.org, and email me at Adam@FitnessMilitary.org