02 Dec 2021 HCM Handbook

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Health Club Management Handbook - Adopting aggregators

Research round-up

Adopting aggregators

Is the health and fitness industry wise to err on caution in adopting aggregators or should they simply embrace the opportunity? We ask the experts …

Aggregators can bring new audiences into the fitness industry IMAGE COURTESY OF CLASSPASS

If you’ve ever used an aggregator service, such as Expedia or lastminute.com, to book a flight or find a holiday, you’ll know from a consumer’s point of view how useful they can be to both find what you want and get a good deal: they make the information transparent and give the benefit of customer reviews, special offers and consolidated services.

However, the health and fitness industry is very different from travel. One’s global, while the other is local. People are motivated to go on holiday, but can be resistant to exercise. Health clubs want to build day-to-day loyalty and relationships, while the travel industry is less concerned with this.

There are a number of other reasons to be cautious, including the fear of losing control of data and the customer base, and concerns about paying a commission to get the same customers or being forced into discounting.

However, if you always do what you always did, you always get what you’ve always had, so if the industry wants to increase penetration rates, it needs to start looking for different ways to mobilise new audiences.

Aggregators bring extra marketing budgets and new technology to the table, which can translate into different customers being brought into the industry, so they’re definitely worth consideration.

If you’re thinking about giving aggregators a go, shop around first. There are a number of different choices in terms of business model and you need to know whether they focus on B2C or B2B.

Choose one that cares about growing the market and as Nishal Desai, co-founder of imin, says: “Go forward with your eyes open and hands on the steering wheel. Choose to work with those companies in a way that puts you firmly in control and keeps you there.”

Peter Fitzboydon MD Parkwood Leisure
Peter Fitzboydon

I have experience on both sides: being involved with the set up of OpenActive while I was chief executive of London Sport, as well as now running one of the UK’s largest leisure operators.

I’m a massive fan of open data, but that doesn’t mean to say that all of its uses are going to be positive immediately. At the moment I think it’s too early to say what impact aggregators will have on the health and fitness industry, as they still need to show more innovation to really get operators interested.

Health and fitness is a low margin business, so it isn’t viable for aggregators to follow the model of the travel industry by simply offering price comparison websites. Neither will it work if they just appeal to the people who are already active.

"It’s too early to say what impact aggregators will have on the health and fitness industry... they need to show more innovation to really get operators interested."

For aggregators to gain a foothold they will either need to add value to the customer experience, or start mobilising the inactive population and grow the market for health clubs. If they successfully do this it will be a win-win, but they need to be more creative to make this happen.

Aggregators can create value for the industry, if operators can find ways to retain control
David Minton director Leisuredb
David Minton

We all accept and use aggregators to book restaurants, flights and hotels so why not also use them for fitness and sports activities?

Sports, particularly, and fitness – until the low cost brands arrived – were not very transparent to the consumer, so it was only natural that entrepreneurs looked at what was being achieved in other leisure sectors and tried to emulate it.

"It’s difficult to find the sweet spot, so consumer, operator and aggregator are all happy. Some will find the magic formula ... they’ll survive and thrive"

Most came up with business plans that put them between the consumer and operators, but it’s difficult for the relationship to flourish in an industry where operators don’t often have live inventory feeds or the ability to connect the aggregator into their booking system.

At Leisuredb we’re currently tracking around 20 aggregators and most will either fail or need to change their business plan.

It’s difficult to find the sweet spot, so consumer, operator and aggregator are all happy. Some will find the magic formula, and will help drive new business and in return they’ll survive and thrive.

There needs to be a win-win-win for the consumer, operators and aggregators – and you don’t get that by deep discounting.

Neil Harmsworth PayAsUGym
Neil Harmsworth

The debate around ‘aggregators’ in the fitness sector will continue to be one of the hottest topics of 2019 with advocates and detractors on both sides of the conversation.

Advocates have identified that consumer behaviour has changed, and they work to ensure their brand is seen in every sales channel the customer wishes to shop through. Often described as ‘omni-channel’ marketing, it recognises the fact that in order to be paid by the customer, you must first be seen by the customer. Aggregators can provide a hugely valuable service in this respect thanks to their investment and expertise in digital marketing.

It’s important to note, however, that aggregation exists in many forms and it’s therefore vital to take the time to fully understand the various business models in the market and strategically select those that fit best with your business objectives.

"Aggregators can provide a hugely valuable service in omni-channel marketing thanks to their investment and expertise in digital marketing"

With regard to detractors, it’s often said that those that fear change are those that benefit most from the status quo. This sentiment neatly explains why the leading budget gyms chains continue to be the most vocal detractors of aggregators.

Budget gym chains have established market-leading positions over the last 10 years by cannibalising the mid-market with aggressive price disruption in the 18-40 age group, and by dominating search engines online. Their playing field is about to be levelled thanks to the investment, innovation and digital expertise that aggregators are providing to the rest of the market.

In doing so, a greater range of gym operators will be exposed to a wider online audience through aggregator services. The result will be that consumer narrative will soon shift away from the budget gym marketing mantra of ‘lowest cost’ to focus more on service, facilities and convenience which can only be a positive development for any operator that does not wish to compete on price alone.

Nishal Desai co-founder imin
Nishal Desai

When compared with other industries, the health and fitness sector is being cautious with its adoption of aggregators, especially on the public side. This caution is understandable: operators want to avoid becoming powerless and being reduced to only being the supply side of a marketing partnership.

They’re concerned about the cannibalisation of their user base and being moved further away from direct digital interaction with the consumer.

"One advantage of aggregators is that they’re thinking creatively about the end user"

We understand why they feel this way, because the hospitality industry hasn’t necessarily had a good time at the hands of aggregators. Among other things, the price transparency has hurt undifferentiated hotels. While undifferentiated health clubs could potentially be hurt in the same way, the fact that fitness searches are generally hyper local, as opposed to global, means there is possibly less of a threat.

One advantage of aggregators is that they think creatively about the end user, and how to create engagement tools and active online communities. They should be seen as another marketing channel, to be controlled and measured in the same way. They can help operators to find those people who never go to gyms.

To this end, Public Health England is doing some innovative work around the Change4Life campaign, having launched an activity finder powered by open data and ditching static databases.

We’re at the early stages of finding out what aggregators could do for the industry but, when used correctly, they’ve much potential to create value, as long as operators find ways of staying in control.

Colin Waggett CEO The Third Space
Colin Waggett

The advantage of aggregators is that they can bring new people to your front door. The disadvantage is that they weaken the relationship between club and customer and, through aggressive discounting to acquire customers, dilute the yield, which leads to lower profitability, service and re-investment levels.

Aggregators fit more comfortably with PAYG type models, where customers are more likely to shop around. Here they can add value by offering convenience and value by providing a single booking platform.

There’s much talk in our industry about improving retention. At the heart of this lies giving people great value for money and building a relationship with them, not making one-off sales, as with an airline.

"Aggregators are trying to build scale and market share by discounting... distorting the market"

As long as the plane goes from A to B, I’m happy to choose the option that best suits me from a price, quality or timing point of view. Here, aggregators add genuine value, by making a complex choice simpler. This isn’t the case with health clubs, so the long-term added value of aggregators to the customers is less clear.

The jury is also out on whether aggregators will be profitable in the long term. As a generalisation, aggregators are trying to build scale and market share by discounting. In doing so, they’re actually distorting the market in what’s essentially a fixed-cost business.

I doubt many will invest in the fabric of clubs, or the people and talent needed to sustain great experiences for members.

My view on this might change if and when market leaders emerge that charge a consistent level of pricing that reflects the cost of delivery of good service, but net-net, I don’t think aggregators are a positive thing for the health and fitness industry.

To increase penetration rates, the sector must find different ways to mobilise new audiences
Outlining the options

We navigate the complex world of aggregators, looking at some of the options available if you want to take the plunge


Currently partnering with more than 1,500 fitness facilities in the UK, Gympass is a corporate wellness company that targets inactive people, by engaging with companies that are willing to subsidise fitness activities for their employees to improve their health.

As 80 per cent of Gympass users were not enrolled at a gym or a sports centre up to 12 months before joining, and their visit is subsidised by their employers, this is a good way of attracting new members.

Gympass works with organsiations to build wellness programmes that are widely communicated to employees and have been successful in mobilising 30 to 40 per cent of employees.

GymPass works with employees to build wellness programmes for staff using local facilities PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/UFABIZPHOTO

Offering 35,000 activities across 5,500 venues, MoveGB offers a wide choice, including activities like climbing, dance, aerial yoga and African drumming.

Founded by Alister Rollins, the mission was to create new audiences and generate leads. MoveGB has a 99 per cent partner retention rate.

Clubs set their own commercial terms when they list on the MoveGB platform, and retain complete control over how they engage with the service. Listing services on MoveGB is free for operators and the price for customers varies according to location. By using technology to nudge users to join clubs they’ve tried, MoveGB also encourages its customers to become health club members.

MoveGB offers 35,000 different activities across 5,500 venues PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/FIZKES

(Find it. Book it. Do it) is a booking management platform used by fitness professionals (Hosts) such as PTs and sports coaches, as well as club owners who manage multiple Hosts at locations within their portfolios.

Hosts and clubs can take bookings, get paid and grow their business – all in one place. They get fully-customisable apps and web pages that clients can use to book activities and process payments, and confirmation emails are automatically sent – no delays and no admin, even if the booking is later cancelled. Over 50 per cent of bookings are made outside of office hours, so fibodo hosts and clubs never miss out.

Health clubs can also create branded ‘Booking Hubs’ to aggregate and promote remaining class availability to their audiences; gaining additional revenue streams and engagement.

fibodo is creating partnerships within the employee benefits sector, in particular with the WRKIT platform. Remaining class availability is automatically promoted to more than 200,000 potential new clients, while employees can find, book and do nearby activities. fibodo is also fully integrated with Trustpilot, offering fitness professionals a way to easily build trust in their business.


Incorpore runs a programme called GymFlex, working with operators willing to provide low corporate annual membership rates. Employees can buy a membership via a salary-sacrifice scheme, and make savings on their National Insurance payments.

Incorpore serves more than two million employees from 1,000 companies. Clubs benefit from a different type of clientele, employers get a healthier workforce and employees a cheap gym membership.


ClassPass has more than 10,000 partners in 50 cities worldwide and a 96 per cent retention rate among partners. It leverages proprietary technology to enable the booking of fitness classes, so clubs can monetise unsold time at a discount on the usual rate. Customers pay a monthly subscription fee, so there’s no charge to clubs.

ClassPass says its customers like variety, and are willing to take their chances with not being able to get into a class in return for the option of trying many workouts at a lower rate. The company says it unlocks new markets, as more than half its members are either new or not regular users of clubs.

ClassPass was born in 2013 after Payal Kadakia struggled to find a dance class to take after work in New York. The result: an app that makes booking effortless.

Aggregators can bring new people to your front door PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/UFABIZPHOTO

The imin service sits between operators and aggregators, enabling operators to find the right aggregator partner.

A real time database, imin plugs into booking systems and extracts a live view, which is shared with aggregators.

Operators can see the impact of the aggregators they’re working with and have the control to manage and monitor them.

imin is working with around 250 operators, which are offering 1.3 million activities a year. Operators include leisure centres, smaller private clubs, The Good Gym and Our Parks. The service is free to clubs, as aggregators are charged.

Aggregators won’t work if they only appeal to those people who are already active PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK/DOTSHOCK

PayAsUGym works with more than 2,700 gyms in the UK. It offers customers the variety of going to lots of different gyms – ideal if they move around with work or like to have a choice.

The advantage for gyms is access to high volumes of incremental customers who would not otherwise visit.

There’s no fee for clubs to be listed; it works on a success basis via a 20 per cent commission. Prices paid by customers are controlled by the clubs, with membership rates set at a premium. PayAsUGym says clubs typically see a 5 to 10 per cent EBITDA growth through using its service.

Urban Sports Club

Working with 2,000 venues in 24 cities across Germany, and more than 300 in Paris, Urban Sports Club offers consumers a wide range of activities without a long-term commitment. The company works with its operator partners to set an appropriate pricing structure in order to create a win-win-win situation for all parties – the aggregator, the club and the member.

It offers visibility, and reaches new customers through its sales and marketing initiatives, which are targeted at smaller clubs with limited marketing budgets. It also promotes clubs to companies via a corporate offer.

Originally published in HCM Handbook 2019 edition

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