The Industry Faces Self Selection


As I sat in on the Kjell Nordstrom address at last month's International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conference, I wished that the “global visionary” (as IHRSA referred to him) and the author of “Funky Business” would apply his interesting insights about the world to our industry. So, even though I've never been called a “global visionary” by IHRSA or anyone else, I thought I'd apply to the fitness industry a few of his more interesting insights.

Nordstrom said that the world is becoming more personalized because more people are single today than in the past.

“If you take out the oldest institution we have and build society around single people, you change the society completely,” he said. “It's a fundamental personalization of the human project.”

Along with this move toward singlehood comes a move to the cities. More people now live in urban areas than in rural areas, he says. The growth in the urban population combined with the growth of the single population has meant that cities are becoming less similar to each other. Wanting to feel like they belong, single people are moving to cities that reflect their interests, careers and lifestyles, he said, calling it “self selection.” People in financial industries are moving to New York. People with high-tech jobs are moving to Silicon Valley. Retirees are moving to Arizona and Florida. A large group of people with similar careers, similar tastes and similar opinions all moving into the same city affects that city and causes a sort of “tribalization,” Nordstrom said.

For the fitness industry, that means that what plays in Peoria, IL, won't play in New York. For owners of national and regional chains, that means that even more research is required to discover the specific tastes of your various markets. Which group has selected your city as the place it belongs can affect the design of your clubs, the music you play, the programming you implement and the staff that you hire. You have two choices: either figure out what kind of club you are and then only locate in markets that would be attracted to your club, or change your club's programming, music, design and philosophy for each of the markets in which you locate.

The second option requires more creativity than the first. But is the industry ready to think outside the box? Not many industries are. Most automobiles look basically the same because all engineers went to the same universities and are using the same parts from the same manufacturers to make their automobiles, Nordstrom said. Do all fitness clubs basically look alike because we're all using the same designers who went to the same universities and the same equipment manufacturers who offer the same equipment?

You can make money if you have a good idea, Nordstrom said. But what is a good idea?

“A good idea is a temporary monopoly,” he said. “Successful companies do not compete. A temporary monopoly is a moment in time when you are perceived to be unique. It's all about perception.”

That's why Curves was so successful. Gary Heavin created something that was unique at the time of creation, but it now has been copied endlessly. Maybe it's time to step out of the box again with an eye toward personalization. Cookie cutters don't belong in a world of self selection.
Pamela Kufahl, editor
[email protected]

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