Behind the Scenes
Image from Thinkstock

Image from Thinkstock.

Thirty Years of Changes in the Fitness Industry and at Club Industry

The first issue of Club Industry may not have been the most exciting cover, but the content did focus on redesigning, refinancing and other important business topics that remain relevant today.

What do you remember about turning 30 years old? Was that milestone birthday one that you celebrated with wild abandon? Or was it more of a reflective birthday where you realized your young adult years were behind you and now you were considered a true adult? Did you ponder where you had been in the past and try to determine where you should go next?

I bring this up because Club Industry has now turned 30, and those of us who work on this brand have been reflecting on the past but also looking toward our future. I have been a part of the brand for the last 12 ½ years. Even though I wasn't with the brand at the beginning, I did relay the history of the brand in an article I wrote to celebrate our 25thanniversary. That article detailed the beginning of the brand by our founder Todd Logan and his first hire, Marc Onigman.

What I can share with you on a personal level are the changes I've seen in the biggest news stories and trends that we've covered during my time with the brand. During my first few years here, the big news involved Bally Total Fitness. At that time, the company was public and under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission related to accounting issues. We covered Bally's first bankruptcy in 2007 and its second in 2008. We also covered its decision to go private and lawsuits stemming from a variety of issues. 

We shared news about Life Time Fitness going public in 2004, and Town Sports International going public in 2006. We also shared the news of ClubCorp going public last year.

We followed the sale of 24 Hour Fitness and the resulting new leadership, the moves of Mark Mastrov after his departure from 24 Hour, the changes in leadership at Gold's Gym and the quiet ascension of LA Fitness.

We followed a lot of trends, one of the biggest being the growth of the high-volume, low-price club segment, in particular, the growth of Planet Fitness. I was lucky enough to visit one of the largest Planet Fitness franchisees back in 2005 when I wrote a story about the growth of the companyWe have talked trends such as medical wellness, the growth of medical fitness centershigh-intensity interval training, functional training, small group training, the rise of studios, personal trainer certifications and regulations, lawsuits, technology advances and more. We covered controversies such as the pool ADA regulations and the swimming pool drain issues, steroid use at clubsserving people in inner citiescompetition between commercial clubs and YMCAs and the obesity epidemic.

For much of our history, Club Industry also has ranked the largest club companies by revenue for our Top 100 Clubs list. We've seen some companies rise on the list (most notably Planet Fitness) and others fall (most notably Bally Total Fitness). We've congratulated new companies for making the list and said goodbye to other companies—in some cases not only goodbye from the list but goodbye from the industry altogether.

We have watch as fitness equipment has changed. Many gyms started with weight training equipment while others were racquet clubs. Then, treadmills and bikes made an appearance. Today, not only has the industry added a large variety of other cardio equipment (ellipticals, steppers, rowers, etc.) but the technological advances on the cardio equipment have also been extreme. Today, not only can people view television from a screen on their own equipment instead of sharing a wall-mounted TV with several other exercisers, but that console also allows users to surf the Internet, watch movies and listen to music from their mobile devices, track their workouts and more. Mobile apps have taken off for workouts inside and outside the club, causing club operators to offer their own mobile apps. Through asset management systems, club operators also are able to track their equipment usage and maintenance needs more efficiently.

Check-in systems have gone from signing your name to showing your card to swiping your card and now often to scanning your fingertip.

Group exercise has gone from the domain of Lycra-clad women dancing along with music to a somewhat more diverse group of participants enjoying classes that include strength and cardio, although we still have the dance classes, most notably Zumba. 

Club Industry made some major transitions during our 30 years. We moved from publishing a monthly print magazine in 1984 to creating a website in 1999. Little did we know that this thing called the Internet would become such a large part of our brand and our world in general. In the early 2000s, we launched our Step by Step how-to section of columns from experts and our weekly Newsbeat e-newsletter. This year, we launched two new e-newsletters, Resourcebeat and Trendbeat. We also launched our trend section of the website, focusing on management issues, sales and marketing, technologytraining and group exercise, and nutrition and weight loss. For the past several years, we had had a mobile app to keep you in touch with news while you are on the go. This year, we introduced Master Class videos and revised our Executive Insights stories to include videos. We also have been adding to our YouTube channel. We established our Facebook page several years ago along with our Twitter page and our LinkedIn group.

In 1999, we put together an advisory board. Longtime members include Rick Caro, Michael Scott Scudder, Casey Conrad and Doug Ribley.

In 2003, we launched our Lifetime Achievement Award, giving our first award to Joe Weider of Weider Publishing, followed by 11 more deserving recipients.

Our biggest transition was going all-digital this past January. Some people didn't quite understand what that meant at the time. (They kept looking for our print magazine in the mail.) But most people have adjusted, now relying on our weekly e-newsletter, website, mobile app and social media for their fitness news and trends.  

During all this time, the Club Industry staff has been here to cover the news and trends and bring it to you in the latest formats available. Those people have included not only Logan and Onigman but also Dan Tobin, Vince Zinno, Tom Morgan, Terry Moffat, Jerry Janda, Donna Loyle, Barry LeCerf, John Agoglia, Jennipher Shaver and Amy Fischbach. Today, they include Stuart Goldman, Laurie Morylak, Marty McCallen and me, along with our writers Mike Kennedy, Sarah Protzman Howlett, Amber Maechler and Ann Muder.

We've also brought you 29 Club Industry Shows, which have been put together by a large group of people over the years, including Zari Stahl, Howard Ravis, Sam Posa, Herb Greenebaum, Robin Leven, Stacey Orlick, Cristina Cotto, Adam Anderson and Erica Stone. Today, it includes Pamela Skaggs, Tina Beebe, Sharon Zittle, Rebecca Arthur, Lacy Abfalter and more.

Based on the changes we've seen in the industry and in the Club Industry brand during the past 30 years, I can't wait to see what the next 30 years has in store.  

What changes have you seen during your years in the industry? Which have been most significant to you? Matthew Wagner, a former club owner, shares his memories in this column. Share your memories in the comment section below.

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