Behind the Scenes
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Michael Scott Scudder explored numerous topics in his writing for Club Industry, especially the nuances of club memberships.

The Best of Michael Scott Scudder's Columns and Insights in Club Industry

Michael Scott Scudder's insights and opinions live on in the columns that he left behind on topics such as sales, unbundling memberships, Millennials and more.

When I heard about Michael Scott Scudder's death on June 30, I not only mourned the loss of a friend, colleague, speaker at our show and former columnist for us, but I also mourned the fact that people in the fitness industry would miss out on any future off-the-wall, controversial but often on-target ideas about where the industry is headed or should head from his perspective. With that in mind, I decided to comb through some of the columns that Michael wrote for us and share the ones I found the most thought provoking.  

In one of his more interesting recent columns, he asked whether the health club industry sets people up to fail. In the column, Michael wrote:

"The fitness industry has an approximately 40 percent annual member turnover. The industry has sold almost 300 million memberships in the past 20 years but shows only 54 million members currently 'on the books' of 34,000-plus fitness facilities. If you look at these numbers, you have to admit that our system has some kind of flaw.

"Perhaps that flaw is not in the system of sales, but rather in the system of delivery of what people really want. Segar refers to that as the primary 'why.'"

His suggested solutions were included in his next two columns, one of which focused on behavior change and the other on group fitness mentality.

One of his most controversial recent columns was this one from December 2014 about whether it's really that difficult to sell memberships. In it, he shared the four facts any salesperson needs to find out to be successful. He received some heat from salespeople for this one, but you can be the judge on whether he was on target. He added more on the topic in this January 2015 column

In another column, Michael shared a past discussion he had had with others in the industry about offering free health club memberships. In this model, people only paid when they used the health club. I liked this idea for certain fitness models, particularly the group fitness ones. This may stem from my own experience more than 25 years ago when I joined Jazzercise using a punch card that could last me a few months only to have Jazzercise switch to a monthly membership model. I didn't like that the membership model required me to pay the same amount as people who went every day to class while I could only go twice per week. Today, I would be happy if my boxing club offered a punch card option, especially during the summer months when I go less often.

Later, Michael shared more on unbundled memberships in this article. Here are the parts of the article with Michael's comments:

"Membership unbundling has increased during the past decade, but not nearly enough to increase membership numbers, says Michael Scott Scudder, a 37-year industry veteran who is now an independent consultant. Scudder's first quarter 2014 survey—comprising 595 clubs of various sizes—showed 43 percent of them are unbundled and/or offering what he calls "a la carte" memberships.

"'This was an unusually high response,' he says. 'In most previous surveys, I'd seen 30 to 35 percent.'

"Unbundling is not a new phenomenon, though, Scudder says. Thirty years ago, 'if you wanted to buy a tennis membership, you bought a tennis membership,' he explains. 'If you wanted to buy an aerobics membership, you bought an aerobics membership. That worked because we priced each membership according to our overall costs.'

"That all changed, Scudder says, when the industry became convinced that EFT (electronic funds transfer) memberships were the way to go, as club operators did not have a way to 'police' members who might buy a tennis membership but sneak into the fitness center.

"As many operators began bundling memberships, they ceased to think about demographics, age groups or different needs, he says. The one-size-fits-all approach was back."

In another column, Michael cautioned against pursuing the Millennial market to the detriment of the Baby Boomer and senior markets, arguing that Millennials earn less income today than generations before them did at their same age even though expenses have increased. For that reason, Millennials' disposable income is smaller than that of previous generations. 

He posited that club operators instead should reach out to Baby Boomers and seniors. In fact, marketing to Baby Boomers was going to be the topic of one of his presentations at this year's Club Industry Show.

Speaking of which, earlier this year when discussing with Michael the topics he would present at this year's show, he shared that he was looking forward to coming to this year's Club Industry Show because it would have been his 30th show, and he said that might make it a good farewell to the industry. Unfortunately, we don't always get to say our good-byes in person, but I hope sharing some of Michael's columns and thoughts with you has helped some of you with your farewells.

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