While fitness businesses of all sizes around the world continue to ride out the ups and downs of our complicated industry, one thing is certain: there’s growth opportunity for the brands and businesses that do actually get their member offerings and growth models right. According to IHRSA’s 2023 Global Fitness report, the industry lost around 9 million studio members in the troubled days of 2020 and recovery has taken time. But the top 25 operators by membership volume now report member gains on an average of 15%; consumer spending on wellness is up 87% and the booming fitness app category is expected to reach a value of $5 billion by the end of this year. All of that says business and brand growth is achievable in 2024 – but club operators must evolve how they engage members with their brand. As you make plans for the road ahead, consider these changes to practices at your club that can help to supercharge not only member experience but make a real, tangible impact on your bottom line too.
1. Engage members by tracking shifting preferences
The heart of any fitness business is its members. But as member interests shift so too should club offerings and business strategies. According to McKinsey’s Future of Wellness survey at the end of last year more than 50% of US consumers now prioritize wellness in six ways (or dimensions as McKinsey terms them.) These include improvements in health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, mindfulness and sleep. But the report also states that busy consumers are blurring the lines between each, opting for products that are good for the body but also promote sleep, or looking for more from their fitness clubs.
For club operators looking to engage more meaningfully with members this means adopting a more holistic approach to fitness and providing facilities, content and tools to help members de-stress and improve their overall wellbeing. Review your on-demand library and make sure you have a good balance of fitness favorites for members but also content that directs or instructs them in mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, stretch and stress management. Use your app notifications, email newsletters, website and social channels to promote and connect members with advice they need including nutritional tips, strategies for better sleep and overall healthy lifestyle habits.
2. Streamline operations with automated technologies
Building your business is also about creating lasting efficiencies and technology plays a big part. Automation tools can now manage front desk check-in, scheduling, billing and membership renewals to save admin time. And customer relationship management (CRMs) systems can help fitness businesses collate and analyze member data, tracking preferences and detailing interactions for better communications and personalized engagement. While these have been around for some time, the new AI-assisted systems can collect more data points, analyze in near real-time and provide detailed member insights into behavior, workout times, class preferences and more. Data insights can make a major difference for on-site efficiency including adding more of the most popular classes, promoting the most searched content and allocating staff appropriately, but they can also help define the most saleable messaging and drive better targeting for campaigns to grow membership and promote new offerings. Investing now in the time to assess areas for tech improvement and allocating funds and resources to train staff on data gathering tools and AI will help your business become data-driven, nimble and more efficient in engaging members and driving sales.
3. Activate all members through smart, digital tools
81.6% of Americans now own a smart phone and spend on average more than five hours a day consuming content, news and social media. So, it’s essential as you look to build brand engagement with members to keep them renewing year after year, and to reach new audiences that you initiate mobile-friendly member communications and marketing. That means more than having an app for the club but putting together a strategy for use. Use back-end data analytics to assess how members are engaging with your app: is it all about scheduling or are they engaging with other features: content, mobile classes, nutritional information and news from the club. Start by understanding usage, screen time trends and preferences before reviewing how you engage. Better apps now include push notifications to keep members engaged with your club and activities, promotions for services, upcoming activities and member challenges that they can do online or in the club. Make sure you’re optimizing other digital touch points too: streaming classes from the club that members can engage with at home or on the go; short form workouts that make streaming activity easy to fit into busy schedules; and social media groups that build community between members and your team.
4. Cater to all member demographics and interests
Can your brand grow by being associated with one of the fastest growing trends in the industry: all ages fitness? With the 55+ age group becoming the fastest growing segment in new memberships, and the rise in teens in clubs, there’s significant opportunity to grow membership by catering to interests and needs beyond the core 20-30-something age bracket.
Review your mix of live-classes and on-demand content and ensure you’re including workouts and instructor-led content appropriate to all, or different age groups: core strength, balance and flexibility for older members; high intensity, dance and cycle classes for high-energy young members and a good mix of trending content from emerging providers. Shuffling the mix of classes in live-studios may take time to initiate in the club or mean schedule changes but adding or promoting the right kind of diverse content on-demand and via mobile streaming can be done instantly by working with your on-demand partner.
Todd Wiginton is a seasoned fitness professional with over a decade of experience in the industry, currently serving as the Director of Operations at Fitness On Demand. His career, marked by roles such as Personal Training Manager and Strength and Conditioning Coach, showcases his dedication to fostering personal and professional growth in ever-changing environments.