The club industry reportedly lost $15 billion in revenue in 2020 due to the global pandemic. But as our industry gets to grips with 2021’s challenges, experts remain optimistic about new trends and developments that will help operators seize new opportunities and get back to business as usual.
Reasons for Optimism in 2021
2020 demonstrated the incredible adaptability of the club and fitness industry. With all of the operational challenges from closures to hygiene protocols to sheer entrepreneurial innovation, we’ve all seen examples of clubs and fitness facilities across the country that quickly changed the way clubs and facilities do business to keep members active at home and engaged with their brands during the lockdown times of the pandemic. So whatever this year throws at us, I know club operators will take it in their stride.
Reshaping Fitness in the Year Ahead
Clubs – and I mean fitness clubs and gyms, but also corporate fitness facilities and those in hotels and multi-family units too – are all going to evolve. It’s easy to recognize operational changes that won’t be going away. For instance, the hybrid model – where members use in-club facilities and also stream and access fitness content classes and programs at home. Everyone from club operators to members love that technological convenience so it’s here to stay. But physical club design is likely the biggest evolution we can expect this year and beyond. There are a number of key design innovations that are already happening.
- Air quality and filtration – clubs quickly focused on this in the early days of the pandemic to ensure members air quality is healthy. At VERDURE Fitness, we were on the forefront of this as we have a shooting range (it is Texas after all) where air flow is also critical to the sport and use of that part of our facility. We will continue to see this as a major structural line item for club operators – even if members don’t see it every time they step through the door.
- Indoor/Outdoor space – we’re fortunate because our club members enjoy good weather conditions all year round. But all clubs are at least looking at, and many are making changes to, the way they design indoor and outdoor space use. For a long time, other than outdoor pools, clubs have been mainly interior spaces but the experimentation and practicalities of working around Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, meant that a lot of club managers discovered the benefits in running outdoor group fitness classes, which also delighted members. We will certainly see more of this, with at some point, a potential opening up of physical spaces, where doors slide open to outdoor air flow, sunshine and exterior workout facilities, as weather permits.
- Floor Plan design – the footprint of clubs is going to evolve too or the way we all think about placing and using cardio equipment. In Japan they were already experimenting with plexiglass screens between equipment and then the pandemic hit and made this even more of a priority. We may see more of this trend toward equipment privacy or possibly a continued social distancing of stationary bikes, ellipticals, treadmills and other machines. It remains to be seen whether regulations change regarding the number of cardio equipment pieces per square foot, but time will tell.
- Technology first clubs – streaming fitness content was a life saver for clubs and members in 2020, but I think we are going to see technology first design – the building- in of technological systems and tools into the way clubs are designed and run. Automated check-ins for busy times, continued health symptom screening, the integration of personal workout performance metrics into live instructor-led classes.
Future Changes to Fitness
From our point of view, concepts like VERDURE are going to become more widespread. True lifestyle centers where fitness, lifestyle recreation and probably health and wellness facilities will begin to merge more rapidly as fitness becomes a more integrated part of both everyday recreational life for more people, as well as maintaining and protecting the overall health and wellbeing of members.
Frank Guengerich is president, Hospitality at Williams Holdings/ Verdure Fitness, and a veteran expert of club design trends.