Ignorance Isn't Bliss


Ignorance is rarely bliss. Take poison ivy, for example. When you don't know what it looks like, you run the risk of grabbing it by the stem and yanking it from the ground between the carefully cultivated plants in your backyard garden. And when you've never had it before and therefore don't know how to treat it, you risk making it worse by standing in a hot shower. Take it from me, the ignorant individual who did both and who paid dearly for it for several weeks.

As a club owner, your ignorance can be more painful than mine. When you don't know what to look for when it comes to changes in the industry and when you don't know how to respond to those changes, your consequences can last for more than a few weeks.

The signs that I'm talking about are stagnant membership numbers and growing club numbers. Memberships in 2005 remained constant at 41.3 million U.S. health club members while club numbers grew from 26,831 to 29,061. The number of low-priced (or value-priced) clubs are growing as are circuit training/express facility franchises. Fuel prices are rising and are expected to continue to rise through the summer. Interest rates are expected to continue to climb. It could be a longer, hotter and slower summer for many fitness facility owners this year than in years past.

Sometimes ignorance comes from sticking one's head in the sand. That, unfortunately, is what too many club owners are doing these days, said industry consultant Michael Scott Scudder.

“There is so much fragmentation going on with different types of clubs and offerings catering to different types of people that it's hard to decipher the direction the industry is taking, but you just know that it's not the same single road that it had been taking,” he recently said. “Many operators have their heads in the sand thinking it will all return to what they have known as normal. Normal is new now. Normal is being established now as we move into the second and third generations of the health club model. Normal is changing, and it doesn't appear to me that the majority of operators are in tune with that because they either are not interested or they are in denial.”

He sees the industry at a jumping off point, a crossroads perhaps. We have millions of potential members out there, but no one seems to know how to successfully pull them in and keep them coming back. We need a new model. The value-priced clubs have negated the “I-can't-afford-it” argument and seem to be doing well at this time. But not every club can be based on this model or we risk further commodization.

What this says to me is that whether your club is thriving, just holding its own or about to go under, we must begin to look at each other not as enemies, but as teammates in an industry that millions of Americans need but have turned their backs on for one reason or another. We need to sit down at the table with each other — at conferences, seminars, Webinars, roundtables (or just pick up the phone) — to discuss what we as an industry are doing right and where we have gone wrong. It couldn't hurt to invite into those discussions the very people we are trying to reach — the never-been-to-a-club-and-never-plan-to-belong-to-a-club people — to find out when, why and how their decision was made and what we can do to unmake it. Otherwise, we'll continue to unknowingly dabble with poison ivy and treat the painful outcome with the same unwise “remedies” we've used in the past.

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