Friday, August 19, 2011

The End of Commercial Gyms?

The New York Times newspaper came out with an article last month on the demise of the “Big box full service gym” and health clubs who are struggling to survive. They are being over taken by low price “Planet fitness” style business model with no frills workout. Now that never concerned me as I have known this long ago that only 15% of the US population has a gym membership and much less use that membership routinely or train like I do. I have a Small box, Crossfit style gym.

Motivation is almost zilch in most gyms today and the turnover each year is about 45%(industry values) that has to be recruited at a high cost to keep the business solvent. Also impacting big box fitness industry is a recession but that is more of an excuse and not always a barrier to success. Some Harvard geek, came up with a reverse business model; you pay only when you don’t go to the gym. Loss of income becomes the motivation and not fitness.

It does not take a degree from Wharton business school to see that as a business model, if you are a midget in the market, you don’t go head to head with Cyclops. If you are offering a overpriced service in an attempt to maintain your customer base and please everyone so they stick around, you have invested poorly. Problem is the average American that goes to a fitness facility really doesn’t appreciate the juice bars, plasma TVs sound systems and Zumba classes with all the fancy trappings of a full service gym. All the fitness customer wants is some simple machines, small assortment of free weights, a shower, easy to get to, so they can work out to their interest level independently. Also for the most part the average gym customer doesn’t want to be rubbing elbows with “roid boy” so there is no need for hardcore power lifting area for a handful of “muscle heads” or “Billy Biceps” types.

The owners of Planet fitness and other low price, no frills gyms understands the public very well and offered a basic facility with machines, weights and clean rest rooms at 10-20 dollars a month. End result is high volume memberships with ever increasing new gyms all over the country. In my area there is 5 in a 30 mile radius and two other clone style low price gyms like Planet’s model. All are doing well business wise even in a recession while the full service gyms are just making it and hoping Planet fitness never existed.

So what keeps people in any gym coming back and staying with the program? Its community, stupid! I venture to guess this is the biggest reason for my success in kettlebell classes.  Because the group training is small, people really get to know each other.  They can socialize, laugh, joke, and motivate each other to push themselves.  If all your friends go there, then you will go there. If you go as an independent customer of a gym and you walk in to train by yourself (some like it that way but they are the exception) there is a high probability that you will not visit the gym consistently for lack of support from friends and people who share your training. My experience is that men and women that come in groups or with associates train much more consistently then those who come in by themselves. Lastly, those members who have a mission or valid, self defined reason for training will be a continuous members regardless of gym type.

Your fitness options are many; success is having friends or partners to share your pain, a comprehensive life’s plan, and wiliness to seek out the correct training, advice to make your adventure in health successful.

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