The solution to struggles that health club owners face today is to provide better member experiences, according to Jaime Irick, president of the Life Fitness Division of Brunswick Corp. Many of those experiences will come from the implementation of technology that for too long has missed the fitness industry, he added. And who will be a leader in the implementation of that technology in the industry? Life Fitness, according to Irick, who spoke to Club Industry in March at the IHRSA show just two months after Brunswick announced it would spin off its Life Fitness Division.
The spinoff includes its brands Life Fitness, Cybex, Hammer Strength, Indoor Cycling Group, SCIFIT and Brunswick Billiards, brand names that will continue although a name for the spun-off company has yet to be determined. For now, it is being referred to as FitnessCo. The spinoff is expected to be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2019, and Irick, who became president of the division in January 2017, is expected to lead the new company. It is a challenge that the former GE executive, Harvard Business School MBA program graduate and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point told Club Industry he is up for.
And technology innovation is his focus.
The company created Digital Ventures Group (DVG) in March to focus on accelerating the adoption of technology and innovation in the global fitness industry.
“Their only job in life is to operate untethered from the mothership,” Irick said, noting that Life Fitness is the mothership that funds the prototypes, testing, consumer surveys and club pilots that DVG works on to drive better customer outcomes and to bring the “mothership” validated ideas and products.
"Our industry is at an inflection point in which technology is moving to the forefront of how fitness facilities market and evaluate the fitness experience," Irick said. "What the industry needs now is the speed and focus of a startup combined with the resources, customer base and expertise of Life Fitness. At that intersection is DVG. It will lead the vision for the gym of the future."
Irick said that the company can do more to complement its products and equipment with digital technology.
“I have a very strong point of view on what you need to lead, not just in products but lead in digital,” he said.
One aspect of the company’s business model that will help, according to Irick, is the company’s open architecture software platform.
“Closed [architecture] is a failing strategy,” Irick said. “In an environment where there are multiple options, multiple technology companies, it’s impossible to compete with all of them. Closed architecture says you have all the answers. That’s impossible. We realize that.”
Life Fitness' open architecture platform allows it to partner with more technology companies, he said. TechNexus came on board about a year ago to help Life Fitness find and invest in technology partners and startups. This partnership is an incubator for startup technology companies, according to Irick.
The company is happy to operate in the background and work with more technology partners, as well as integrate with their systems in a better way, Irick said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that that is how the industry will develop,” he said. “I am as confident as I am because I have spoken with a few hundred customers over the past year, CEOs of our biggest customers as well as customers that we don’t have who are migrating our way. No question in my mind. They are lined up to move over because they realize the benefits that an open architecture platform has for them.”
As Irick works with his team on moving forward with more digital offerings, he also is working on the spinoff of the company. The mechanics of a spinoff can vary, according to Irick. Shareholders that hold Brunswick company stock have the option to retain some ownership of the spun-off company. Future investors or shareholders would be able to buy Brunswick stock as a standalone, as well as FitnessCo stock as a standalone.
“Being a president of a division within a publicly traded company is different than being the CEO of a publicly traded company,” Irick said. “Some of the responsibilities don’t change: delivering shareholder value, building a phenomenal team, driving results, thinking about our strategy and vision. What changes is there is more external requirements that I will have personally. We have a phenomenal team, and I am very confident that as some of the time requirements change for many of us, not just for me, we will continue to deliver for our customers and for shareholders.”