14 Nov 2018 Health Club Management Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - Demonstrating value

Research round-up

Demonstrating value


Mintel’s senior leisure and technology analyst, Paul Davies, looks at the state of the health and fitness market and explores key issues for 2016 and beyond

Paul Davies, Mintel
Consider offering flexible memberships with a discount if people opt out of pool use Photo: shutterstock.com
Gyms should look at ways of offering virtual PT services to members Photo: shutterstock.com

Nearly four in five UK adults (79 per cent) having at least one health and fitness goal, with most wanting to lose weight, improve their cardiovascular fitness or tone up – yet only 13 per cent currently belong to a gym. There’s clearly a huge target audience.

However, having survived the recession, the health and fitness club sector now has a new battle on its hands – because the arrival of more sophisticated health and fitness tracking apps and wearables means there’s more pressure than ever for clubs to demonstrate their value versus the ‘do it yourself’ alternatives.

Purely on a price basis, the budget club model would logically be well placed to offer perceived value; anyone wanting access to gym equipment – and in many cases classes too – is unlikely to argue over membership fees that typically come in under £20 a month.

But justifying a higher price point will be more challenging, whether you operate in the already ‘squeezed middle’ (see Repackaging the mid-market, p108) or at the premium end of the market. Indeed, Mintel research shows that nearly three-fifths (57 per cent) of consumers believe that full-service health and fitness clubs (eg with a swimming pool and other facilities) are expensive, while only 12 per cent of consumers describe these health and fitness clubs as innovative. Meanwhile, some 57 per cent of consumers who don’t go to the gym cite the high cost of membership fees as a barrier.

Flexible innovation
The fact that the younger generation in particular view full-service clubs as ‘not innovative’ should be particular cause for concern, as many operators will have hoped that their recent technological developments would give them some credit in this area. However, mobile apps that allow people to log their activity, manage their diet, view class timetables and share information on social media websites are really only a first step – and in fact ‘innovation’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘technology’.

Rather than viewing technology as a tick list – “we must have an app” – operators must instead recognise what technology allows them to do in terms of meeting customer expectation, as this is where they will win points on innovation.

One key thing consumers want nowadays is flexibility; this is why businesses such as ClassPass are doing so well. Operators may like to consider introducing more flexible memberships, as Barcelona-based operator DiR has done with its ‘a la carte’ packages whereby members pay only for what they use.

Whether that means allowing people to remove swimming pool access in exchange for a discount, or alternatively to add specialist classes/boot camps to their standard package, consumers will tend to favour the brands that adapt to their own personal requirements.

Apps & streaming
Flexibility also means working out where and when they want, assisted by technology – but also potentially supported by their gym if this is done better than any app could do.

Clubs must therefore embrace fitness apps by making them an integral part of their offering, effectively creating a virtual personal trainer service. Operators could lease or sell wearable devices (fitness bands, smart watches) as part of a membership package, particularly as gyms’ core demographic of 16- to 34-year-olds show the most interest in owning these gadgets. By analysing the data gathered by these devices and using it to deliver tailored exercise and nutrition plans, both in and away from the gym, operators will still have a valuable role to play – even the embattled mid-market.

Not only that, but with almost half of consumers (46 per cent) acknowledging that a lack of motivation stands in the way of achieving a healthy lifestyle, the opportunities are there for health clubs to step in; most people will still get better results when they’re accountable to a person rather than an app, even if that person is sometimes accessed virtually rather than face-to-face.

Further innovations could include the streaming of PT sessions or exercise classes into people’s homes; operators such as the Pure Group in Asia and Fitness First in Germany have already embraced this technology. In addition, in the same way Amazon allows owners of its Kindle Fire tablets to video-call product experts by pressing the ‘Mayday’ button, gyms could support home workouts by allowing members to call in via fitness apps.

Becoming a hub
And why not look at making the club more of a hub in members’ lives, via the addition of services that allow them to conduct more activities at the gym – setting the club up as a collection venue for parcels and Amazon deliveries, for example.

This could help premium venues avoid the troubles encountered by mid-market establishments over recent years.

Repackaging the mid-market

Squeezed from both sides in a polarising market – budget clubs at one end, boutiques at the other – the mid-market in particular has struggled to demonstrate its value to the consumer over recent years.

But it is possible to avoid being caught in No Man’s Land: the turnaround of Fitness First, with its heavy investment in refurbishment and staff training, is a case in point. Arguably however – and particularly in London – prices have risen to a premium level, lifting this operator out of the mid-market altogether.

In the meantime, Anytime Fitness is rapidly on its way to becoming the leading mid-market operator. The company has set out to repackage the traditional mid-market model, broadly following the format of budget gyms but with a few added extras to justify a slightly higher price point – but still not as high as mid-market operators used to charge.

Much of its strategy is centred around convenience, as it looks to make its gyms as accessible as possible: open 24/7 and located in residential areas. Unlike some lower-cost rivals, it doesn’t charge members extra for multi-club access, meaning they can use any of its UK venues as well as its thousands of sites worldwide.

Customer service – a key area in which mid-market operators can still differentiate themselves – is also a priority. Average membership at Anytime Fitness is just under 1,000, far lower than the 5,000+ members seen at a typical budget club; the operator sells itself on its safe, inviting, familiar atmosphere.

With the franchise opening its 3,000th club worldwide late last year, it’s evident there’s still scope for success in the mid-market, provided you have a distinct and relevant proposition, offering perceived value compared to the competition.


About the author

 

Paul Davies
 

Paul Davies is senior leisure and technology analyst at Mintel.

Mintel’s latest Health and Fitness Clubs UK report was published in July 2015. The company also produces market reports such as Healthy Lifestyles and Sports Participation.

Web: www.mintel.com
Twitter: @mintelnews



Originally published in Health Club Handbook 2016 issue 1

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