Health club operators may need to rethink the traditional fitness model in order to stay competitive but many of them may stick with what they have always done Photo by Thinkstock

Health club operators may need to rethink the traditional fitness model in order to stay competitive, but many of them may stick with what they have always done. Photo by Thinkstock.

Why Traditional Health Clubs May Stay the Course

Fitness club operators are receiving so much input and technology from so many sources that it is possible that they will resist and stay the course with the traditional standard model of fitness delivery. But this model is broken and is no longer working for the majority of clubs.  

I began this column by thinking of lines from an old song Harry Nilsson made popular: "Everybody’s talkin' at me. I don't hear a word they're sayin'." That is how a lot of fitness club operators seem to feel right now.

So many sources are offering so much input to health club owners about how they should get with the new times, ramp up with social media, jump on the app bandwagon, etc. that the possibility exists that many of these operators will resist and do nothing.

One could make the case from a long-term historical industry perspective to simply stay the course. After all, haven't we previously been through recessions, falling prices, disruptively innovative competition, fads and trends,  and consumer fickleness? If we look at the early 1990s and then the tech bust of 2000-2002 as evidence of a certain deja vu, we'd have to say yes.

Add to this the fact that apparent industry leaders such as Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and Life Time Fitness are embracing much the same operating philosophy as other leaders from other times did. Some would say they are just doing it bigger and with more money behind them.

The standard model of fitness delivery is still arguably the same. Take a retail box (of varying square footage), decorate it tastefully, put in the latest equipment, and add some group exercise classes, perhaps a daycare, maybe a couple of other amenities and there you have it. That model has been repeated thousands of times over the years and seems to still work. Some could even contend that it's what the public expects. So why change it?

It's actually a rational argument. After all, in the last 25 years, haven't we increased national health club membership by more than two and a half times? And hasn't the parallel increase in the number of clubs contributed to that customer growth?

Shouldn't we just wait it out until the dust clears? When our economy finally revives, won't our depressed prices do the same? Isn’t survival of the fittest (no pun intended) an appropriate system in a chaotic market?

This is the thinking of many health club operators. It is why traditional fitness may not change. It is why the big clubs are taking over. It is also why the model is broken and is no longer working for the vast majority of independent clubs.

What's your opinion? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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