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Grondahl Steals the Show at Club Industry 2011 Panel Session

You didn't know quite what to expect when Planet Fitness CEO Mike Grondahl spoke at a panel session last Wednesday at the Club Industry conference in Chicago. With that in mind, Grondahl delivered.

Grondahl is pretty blunt in his opinions about the industry and his brand, which he has built into a high-volume/low-price force over the past few years. Critics say Planet Fitness is all about its $10-a-month model, but Grondahl says it's much more than that.

"Hello. Good-bye. Clean clubs. That's all you're getting from us," Grondahl told an overflowing session, which required additional tables and chairs to accommodate the attendees. He then added, "We're more atmosphere-driven than anything else."

Twice, when saying that the industry did not have the right approach to attracting new members to clubs, Grondahl said the industry was "backwards a**," a term which in and of itself is backwards.

"The industry has been way too focused on results," Grondahl said, adding that clubs are too concerned with body image.

Some people say the sluggish economy factors into club performance. Not Grondahl, who says clubs use that theory as an "easy way out."

"Why think about the economy when you can't do anything about it?" Grondahl said. "You can be $10 a month and still (stink)."

To Grondahl, getting people to lead healthier lives is simple.

"If you eat less and exercise more, you're going to feel better," he said. "If you're not smart enough to know that, you're not smart enough to have the $10 that we're going to draft from you."

The session, moderated by Michael Scott Scudder, included Bryan O'Rourke of Integerus, Bill Rodriguez of Snap Fitness and Robert Dyer of Fitmarc. One of the points O'Rourke made is that traditional club marketing will no longer work in this day and age.

"You cannot con people anymore," O'Rourke said. "You cannot lie to people anymore."

Dyer said group exercise will grow in clubs, but added that the industry has not managed group fitness as well as it should, and clubs need support from the owner on down to make it work.

"Twenty percent of clubs shouldn't have group exercise," Dyer said.

Rodriguez said convenience is what makes Snap Fitness' 24-hour key-card club model unique. With all the one-liners Grondahl delivered, Rodriguez may have had the best line in the sometimes contentious panel session.

"I feel like Rick Santorum in the GOP debate," Rodriguez said.

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