9 Focus Areas for Your Health Club’s Future Success

It’s time to push the throttle in order to secure success and longevity. With that in mind, we’ve put together nine focus areas that you should keep your eye on to guarantee your club’s success in the future.

It’s hard to believe that more than six months have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic changed nearly every aspect of our lives. The fitness industry was especially hard hit with government-mandated closures, forcing clubs to scramble to pivot to virtual training and advocate for the industry to be viewed as the essential service that it is.

It has not been easy—but the industry has shown strength and resolve, and we are starting to bounce back. Early data showed that members were eager to return to their health and fitness clubs, our message that clubs are safe, vital, and hurting has been resonating with the media, and, just this month, an IHRSA and MXM study found that fitness facilities are safe and are not contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

And we can’t stop now. It’s time to push the throttle, both as individual health clubs and an industry as a whole, in order to secure our success and longevity. With that in mind, we’ve put together nine focus areas that you should keep your eye on to guarantee your club’s success in the future.

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1. Become an Essential Resource in the Community

One thing that has become clear over the course of the pandemic is that health clubs are not viewed as essential services—and that needs to change. Anyone who works in the fitness industry knows that clubs play a vital role in the health and well-being of their communities, and it’s up to all of us to get that message out and bolster the image of the industry.

While we need to collectively join together, there are many things each and every club can do to promote this message in their communities. Club operators can get involved with local, state, and national governments to help establish clubs as essential. They can seek partnerships with physicians and hospitals to foster integration with the medical community and strengthen clubs’ important role in the healthcare continuum. And they can get more involved with schools, local sports leagues, and other community organizations.

By branching out and expanding clubs’ services and influence beyond their four walls, we can make our communities stronger and healthier, and greatly enhance the public’s—and government’s—perception of health clubs.

2. Embrace Opportunities for Innovation

Historically, health clubs have not been positioned for aggressive innovation. The traditional health club model has relied on forming a community inside a physical space, and that has worked well for decades. So it’s no surprise that the pandemic caught many club operators on the back foot as they had to quickly transition to virtual programming.

While these last several months have been exceptionally difficult, one thing has become clear: club operators do not want to find themselves in this position again. The industry must seek out opportunities for innovation and embrace them, rather than wait for another crisis to spark change.

Clubs need an innovation strategy. If you’re not sure where to start (and you’re not alone) you can attend the “Developing an Innovation Strategy for You, Your Business, & Your Team” session at the IHRSA Innovation Summit. The session, led by Castle Hill Integrative Fitness General Manager Michele Melkerson-Granryd and SC Fitness Heald of Customer Experience José Teixeira, will explain how to create an innovation strategy that will play a key role in the success of your organization.

3. Get Creative with Budgets & Financing

Even during “normal” times, budgets, accounting, and finance are subjects that can seem daunting and sometimes overwhelming. Add a pandemic, and the thought of looking at your budgets that need to be adjusted is even more of a struggle—and just one more thing to add to your ever-growing list of to-dos. Every company has had to make changes to the way they operate, including the way finances are handled. And this may have caught some off guard.

Now is the time to get creative with your club’s budget and finance strategy—but that’s something easier said than done.

“We weren’t built with a budget that we have to deal with right now,” says Larry Conner, president and general manager of Stone Creek Club and Spa. “We just have to know what’s coming in, and what’s going out, every day, every month. I mean, it’s week-by-week. You have to know the timing of your bills, you have to know the timing of when you receive your revenues, so that you make sure you have enough in the bank.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Conner was successfully able to pivot and plan budgets that prepare his businesses for three different scenarios each month. How did he do it? He’ll explain during his IHRSA Innovation Summit session, “Preparing Budgets for Every Scenario.” Conner will cover budgetary changes you should plan for, how to stay organized amongst the chaos, how to leverage changing KPIs, and accounting controls needed in the current state of the fitness industry.

4. Strive for Complete Transparency

Generally, it is better to over-communicate than risk communicating too little. At the start of the pandemic, the image of the industry was damaged by the few bad actors who were not transparent about membership freezes and fees.

However, the vast majority of clubs have been more open, transparent, and communicative than ever before. Clubs swiftly and creatively addressed member concerns during shutdowns, and have become experts at showing their cleaning protocols and social distancing measures to help members feel safe during reopening.

Your members, staff, and community expect to hear from you to reassure them, keep them updated, and keep them engaged, says Diva Richards, founder and CEO of Hard Work No Excuses. If you don’t take these steps, she cautions, “It already sets this tone of distrust between you and your community.”

Even after our lives and businesses return to normal, this level of transparency cannot be dialed back as the industry moves forward. For more on how communication and transparency can benefit your club, attend Richards’ Innovation Summit session, “Strengthening Health Club Member Loyalty During COVID-19.”

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5. Inspire Creative Thinking by Hiring Diverse Teams

After months of social movements calling for racial justice in the U.S. and around the globe, businesses have never been more highly attuned to the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And it’s more than a moral imperative—it makes plain business sense.

Study after study shows that diverse teams are smarter, more successful, and more creative. According to Harvard Business Review, a McKinsey study on 366 public companies found that “those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.” And a Deloitte study found that “deep‐level diversity in culturally diverse teams is positively related to team creativity/innovation.”

Ultimately, diversity and inclusion must be a priority for leading club companies—especially in today’s increasingly competitive and volatile market. You can learn more about how to make progress in your club by attending “IGNITE!” at the IHRSA Innovation Summit, which will include a presentation called “How to Create & Foster a Diverse Fitness Community,” presented by Soul City Yoga Founder Shanel Anderson.

6. Reimagine Your Sales Strategy

The way consumers view, buy, and engage with your brand is changing. Pricing structures, freezes, and cancellation policies have been worked, reworked, and reapproached for months. All signs are pointing to the fact that the old way of selling is out the window for good.

To further complicate matters, your target audience may have changed significantly since before the pandemic. It’s time to rediscover who your target audience is. “You have to know who they are, where to find them, and how your messaging affects them,” says Crystal Washington, an author, futurist, and technology strategist.

Once you know who your audience is, you need to use that information to adjust your sales strategy. Club operators must change their mindset, identify a strategic foundation, and implement new tactics to drive sales, says Luke Carlson, CEO of Discover Strength.

Carlson will present “Reimagine Your Sales Strategy” at the IHRSA Innovation Summit. His session will give you tips on how to overhaul your sales process, including how to do less to get more, how to align what you say and what you do, and how your grandmother plays into your sales strategy.

7. Master the Power of Technology

If doing business in the COVID-19 era has taught us anything, it’s that a strong tech strategy is no longer just a “nice-to-have.” Clubs that already had online scheduling and virtual class offerings had a clear advantage when shutdowns began, as other facilities struggled to catch up.

And while the jury is out on whether virtual classes will continue to provide a revenue stream when business returns to normal, there are other digital strategies that certainly will play increasingly vital roles; digital marketing and communication tools, from targeted emails to chat bots, can no longer be overlooked—or viewed in a silo.

“There’s no such thing as an app strategy, or web strategy, or social media strategy—it’s all part of your marketing strategy,” says Washington. “These are just methods you utilize to communicate elements of your marketing plan—in the same sense that cold calling, for instance, might be a part of a club’s marketing strategy.”

Hear more from Washington on how technology directly impacts the way you do business and the way your customers view your business during her keynote address at the Innovation Summit, “Imagine the Future.” Her keynote is sponsored by Club OS.

8. Become an Expert at Planning for the Future

After months of restrategizing, innovating, and rebuilding, the fitness world continues to adapt into a different version of what it once was. Gym closures, temporary shutdowns, and staff adjustments have forced the industry to embrace change in order to survive.

As we move forward, those who rise to the front of the pack will be the leaders who become experts at planning for the future.

This future-centric theme will be woven throughout the IHRSA Innovation Summit for this very reason. The CEO panel, “The Future of the Fitness Business,” will feature experiences of executive club leaders from around the world as they provide key learnings from the past few months and discuss how they have navigated changes, provide excellent customer service, and rebuilt their teams—all while looking ahead. And during “IGNITE!” Paula Neubert, president & general manager of Club Greenwood, will present “Planning for the Future.”

9. Cultivate Meaningful Relationships with Industry Peers

"The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity," said author and entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi. This sentiment has never been more poignant than now, when sharing information, best practices, strategy, and advocacy work has never been more important.

Fitness industry leaders around the world have been rethinking the meaning of competition, and realizing that by banding together, club operators and industry suppliers can be strong allies against outside forces threatening the success industry.

That’s why we designed the IHRSA Innovation Summit to be a place to come together as an industry to learn, share, and help you cultivate meaningful relationships with industry peers. On the interactive digital platform, you can chat with other attendees one-on-one via direct message, or talk with multiple people in session chats or in group messages. You can also learn about cutting-edge products and talk to vendors in the Sponsor Marketplace and ask specific questions to speakers during live Q&A sessions.

The IHRSA Innovation Summit is taking place on Thursday, September 17, so if you haven’t registered yet, do it now! We can’t wait to see you and the best minds in the industry as we come together to innovate, connect, and thrive in the new economy.

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Marianne Aiello

Marianne Aiello previously served as IHRSA's Senior Digital Content Manager—a position focused on crafting and monitoring IHRSA’s digital strategy and covering IHRSA events.