Health Clubs Must Embrace the Digital Revolution

The pandemic has accelerated the long-overdue move to a hybrid model. Here’s how to do it right.

  • October 30, 2020

Usually when we think of business disruptions, we think of norm-shattering technology or recessions that run on a cyclical pattern. Those were the good old days. We’ve never seen anything like this. But that doesn’t mean the lessons of the past can’t teach us how to respond to today’s unprecedented crisis.

Think about recent history, when more familiar technological and market-based disruptions were the norm. Why did Best Buy succeed where Circuit City failed? Why did Borders close down but Barnes & Noble endured? Why did Blockbuster go bust while Netflix soared?

Those companies that succeeded faced the reality and innovated. They made sure they had the tools in place to get the job done. And if their suppliers weren’t adapting at the necessary speed, they found partners who were future-oriented in their vision and practices.

But there’s really no story quite like Kodak, the venerable photography company that suffered an epic collapse. Kodak had a virtual monopoly on the United States photography market, but it was centered exclusively on print photos. Then one of their engineers, Steven J. Sasson, invented the first digital camera at Eastman Kodak in the 1970s. The executives in the C-suites were less impressed.

“My prototype was big as a toaster, but the technical people loved it,” according to Sasson, in a New York Times article. “But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it.’”

Decades later, what was cute turned devastating for the iconic company. Eventually Kodak lost so much of the market share to digital photography that it filed bankruptcy in 2012. It was an epic collapse

Writing in Industry Week, Scott Anthony, managing director and head of consulting firm Innosight, said Kodak’s failure has lessons for other industries stricken with outside threats and disruptions.

“Kodak shows how brutally hard it is to get transformation right," he says.

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Innovation Done Right

Anthony lists four basic lessons you should keep in mind to survive major disruptions.

  • Don’t get trapped by your business model. You need to break from the mold. Continually build on your strategic vision.
  • Start innovating before you need to. Look beyond the obvious upgrades. Continually expand on your service proposition.
  • Place multiple small bets, not just one big bet. Fast-changing industries need to incubate multiple ideas and not be locked into one major concept. Adaptation can be a succession of small steps.
  • Don’t go it alone. Seek relationships with forward-thinking partners who see where the future is headed.

Health clubs are already at the crisis point through no fault of their own. But the question is, why are some clubs better prepared and others are struggling for survival? And what does that tell us about finding success as the industry continues to reopen and rebuild?

At the IHRSA Innovation Summit, IHRSA research specialists shared some bleak statistics from the damage done by the global pandemic this year. This data, which we don’t need to belabor here, wasn’t ignored by the industry leaders who spoke in sessions and panel discussions during the day. In fact, the leading lights of the health club sector spoke forcefully and clearly about the challenges ahead.

As the event unfolded, a major theme seemed to be embraced by participants: Health clubs most evolve into a hybrid model that combines a versatile and powerful digital platform with a community-based, socially-active brick-and-mortar establishment. Today’s health clubs need their brand to be in the cloud and on the ground. That means technology is the key.

Your club management software has to be more versatile and able to provide communication through multiple channels. While having top-rate POS and billing systems are essential, your digital platform needs to be a member relationship management tool. Without consistent and strong communication that engages your members, you’ll give them little reason to trust you as an advocate for their health and happiness. Technology is the key.

Today’s health club operators need take action, force the initiative, innovate, and change. Otherwise, you’ll be just another version of Kodak.

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Bringing the Next Evolution of Technology to Health Clubs

Health clubs need a powerhouse technology partner to meet the demands of today’s fractured marketplace. They should look no further than Club Automation and Motionsoft. Club Automation’s parent company, Daxko, recently acquired venerable technology firm Motionsoft, creating an unbeatable one-two punch in club management software for enterprise space.

“One of the many exciting things about joining forces with Motionsoft was that there was a lot of crossover in the markets that we serve,” says Jeff VanDixhorn, chief revenue officer of Club Automation, CSI Spectrum and Motionsoft. “Motionsoft is a platform that has a strong ability in servicing and supporting multi-location facilities, including franchising, and they already have an international platform built out.”

Al Noshirvani, co-founder and chairman of Motionsoft sees similar synergies in engaging the market. “Historically Motionsoft has had a lot of success in the segment that Jeff mentioned, the large national chains, in replacing in-house software applications, because it is such a flexible platform. We're all in the health and fitness industry, but we all operate differently. And when we built our application, it was done with that sort of calculus in mind.”

This alliance of powerhouse technologies couldn’t have come at a better time. In the past, Noshirvani has written about the industry shedding the “sleeping dog myth” that assumed that the best member was one who renewed their membership but didn’t use the club.

The pandemic has killed the sleeping dog myth for good, asserts Noshirvani. Today, clubs need to be front and center, communicating and engaging with their customers through the entire member lifecycle journey. And technology is how you accomplish that.

“It's obviously been a disruptive time in the fitness industry, but a couple of silver linings have come out of it,” says Noshirvani. “One of them is that health club operators have learned that digital transformation is something they need to embrace in order to be able to connect with members outside the four walls of our clubs.”

VanDixhorn warns that if clubs don’t take full advantage of the digital communication and engagement resources available to them, they’re at risk of losing their customers to competitors who do.

“The crisis has really pulled clubs into this digital transformation. They need to be the leaders in digital communication strategies and use them to build on their already strong relationships with their members. Why should one of your members be engaged in a virtual experience with an external provider, when you can provide something even better?"

Clubs need to own the virtual experience as well as the communication channels that bring health and fitness to people’s lives. But to do that, they need a technology partner that’s up to the task.

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Says VanDixhorn: “Communication and connection are absolutely critical, and your platform should be able to help with this. It should be able to tell you what your members’ interests are, either through information gained when they first joined, or even better, by looking at what they participate in at your club. Use this information to create a connection point with your members, to more effectively engage with targeted audiences, and to promote new and existing programs.”

While Motionsoft and Club Automation excel at programming financial software and management tasks, the ability of their systems to manage multiple touch points through AI, SMS, push notifications, and other functions give clubs the ability to be present in their members’ experience wherever they are. And because these tasks are often automated, club owners don’t have to invest staff time or labor costs into achieving their goals.

These platforms are also programmed to help clubs excel under restrictions due to COVID-19. Features like Capacity Counter are a huge advantage for today’s health clubs.

“Across all our platforms, we have focused our recent development on applications that could help clubs operate successfully, despite the challenging landscape,” explains VanDixhorn. “Capacity Counter is one of those resources, and we are very proud to see how it has helped clubs re-open”.

Both Club Automation and Motionsoft are nimble systems that are consistently upgraded with functionality and added features to keep up with the fast-changing marketplace. Under any circumstance, especially historic disruptions, you need to have the ability to engage with your members and broaden the reach of your brand.

Says Noshirvani: “What Jeff and I have been preaching for years is that the most successful operators are the ones that communicate effectively to their members, inside and outside their clubs. Our systems enable you to do that much more effectively than anything else.”

To learn more about Club Automation, visit their website or email them for more information. To learn more about Motionsoft, visit their website or email them for more information.

Join Motionsoft and Club Automation at the Fitness Technology Summit, a 1.5-day, high-energy educational conference for health and fitness executives. Bringing together the best minds in the fitness technology industry, the virtual conference is jam-packed with cutting-edge solutions and innovations that will re-imagine the future of fitness. For more information, visit

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