27 Nov 2022 HCM Handbook
 

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Health Club Management Handbook - The good, the bad and the meta

Industry insights

The good, the bad and the meta


Whatever your health and fitness background, you will have felt significant shifts in underlying consumer behaviour over the last year. Emma Barry shares her original viewpoint on where we’ve been and where we’re going...

The future is about content, community and engagement Photo: Les Mills
Les Mills has raised the bar again with BODYCOMBAT VR Photo: Les Mills
The future is tech: new players will enter the industry Photo: Les Mills
Pilates, breathwork and yoga will see double to triple digit growth Photo: Shutterstock/Hananeko_Studio

In 2020 we traversed a health crisis, financial meltdown, civil rights movement, supply-chain challenges and political unrest. 2021 bedded in those changes and added rising inflation and fuel prices to the mix.

An extended at-home sabbatical changed our behaviours. Stress exerted itself at both ends of the continuum: distressed businesses and those in hyper-growth. Well-backed brands are now backfilling the 30 per cent of shuttered brick-and-mortar businesses.

Mental wellness
COVID was tougher on some metabolisms than others, but the extra kilos played second fiddle to our collective mental meltdown. There’s no point in living longer if it’s not with vitality, and there’s no point in having vitality if all our faculties aren’t intact. So therein lies the freshly dusted-off definition of the health trifecta: longevity, vitality and mental fitness.

We embraced a new narrative, finally figuring out that programming the body starts with programming the mind. The most progressive fitness brands are engaging neural science at their core. Out with the “harder, faster, leave it on the floor” and in with the invitational, all-inclusive, behavioural goal setting.

We rifled through the rainbow of emotions. We languished. We sought enough structure to feel secure, but sufficient chaos to feel like we were still making choices. We struggled to make sense of the metaverse suddenly coming online. Time slipped and dragged simultaneously and we all suffered too much screen time.

Omnichannel got good. We can now cruise into NIKE in Santa Monica, be greeted at the door as our phone pings with our latest browse - Air Jordans – we head upstairs to be greeted by name and our size. When we arrive home, we receive a digital workout, highly rated by other Air Jordan owners. Slam. Dunk.

We rekindled our love affair with nature and, at member request, many businesses have retained an outdoor element.

Essential industry
We tried new things and made new friends. We upgraded our fortress at home, and our screens finally got good, like 8K good. Industry associations linked their well-intentioned arms to take on the politicians, and competitors jumped into the trenches to fight for survival. Competition has become less about the folks across the street and more about raising the health and fitness flag as essential.

Personalisation became more personal. Technology and our neighbours in retail intensified as technology and comparative sectors weighed in, providing more personalised goods and services – be it food delivery services, beauty regimes, buying a custom Tesla or 24/7 wearables.

We self-managed. With a hospital and a gym on our wrist or in our boxers, a patch on our skin, or a sensor on our phone, we are suddenly okay with a digital doctor, joining a virtual line, deciphering our medical-grade diagnostics and being fed our daily predictive activities based on what we already have in the tank. Are we there yet? Of course not, but it’s approaching like a freight train.

The fitness pie got bigger and the slices got smaller. As fitness has burgeoned into the broader ecosphere of wellness and started cross-breeding with adjacent sectors, hyper-personalisation has spawned micro-segmentation. The more we expect things a certain way, the more particular we are. Getting it wrong for customers in the future will be annoying, expensive and ultimately fatal.

The customer and candidate are in charge. The big quit has resulted in a hot labour market. With so many leaving we all must realign workplace priorities. Flexibility, wellness and mental health support are expected in packages today. We are an inherently good and passionate sector, so expect an influx who need training.

Recovery is the new black and the holy grail of Super Bowl Champions and NBA stars – the extended elite careers of Tom Brady and LeBron James stand testament. Wearables have tightened the clasp on being both a motivator and a diagnostic tool. Percussive therapies, hot and cold treatments, compression and the meteoric rise in meditation and mindfulness apps and sleep-tech brands like Eight Sleep promote sleep fitness by leveraging technology and personal biometrics.

Optics on 2022
Expect “new” normalcy. This is predicted to settle around Q4 2022 to Q1 2023, with “long covid” expected to linger in some businesses and their owners.

The tailwinds of change will spark more consolidation, including a graveyard of digital platforms as the demands of both the cost of acquiring customers and keeping up with the feature set compound. HVLP clubs will continue to print money as the market floods back, acutely conscious of cost and convenience. Cue Planet Fitness, Pure Gym and Basic-Fit.

Brands will buddy up for efficiencies. Cue Xponential, United Fitness Brands, International Franchise Association. The big-box model is now spread down the strip mall for these brands. Triple-digit connected fitness growth followed by an alarming decline will steady as demand and supply settle. Similar pressures are being felt in some clubs with a mass exodus of personal trainers who have made hay in the new remote regime where they keep the entire take.

All about collaboration
The future is pairing, partnering and an open API. A royal rollup as we enter the age of collaboration. Pipes and platforms, funnels and clicks – all roads lead to an elegant user experience – an easy, one-click wonder, and Apple knows it.

The future is a buffet. If 2020 was the moment for athleisure: from Barre to boardroom with “Mirror, mirror on the Lululemon leggings wall,” 2021 met us where we were (omnichannel), and 2022 is positioned to be the year we embrace the varied routine: multi-modal movement and mindfulness from one or several brands we love.

The future is tech. The tech titans GAMMA (Google, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, Apple) are yet to flex the full force of their resources. Names we’ve never heard of are coming.

Augmented Reality (AR) should change the game within three years, and Virtual Reality (VR) is a compelling training simulator for high-risk jobs like flying a plane or conducting open-heart surgery and fitness gaming like the highly-rated BODYCOMBAT-VR. And we, the fitness industry, will enjoy the tagalong development benefits of both.

The future is female. With Chief reaching unicorn status as a women’s leadership platform and prompted by the shameful gaps in female clinical studies, it’s time for women who control the family purse and healthcare decisions to close the knowledge and contribution gap. Femtech, boosted by the rise of the majority of female founders, tackles taboo topics and addresses health concerns directly affecting over half the world’s population.

The future is vital. Fitness is fortifying. Strength of mind, body and community. Jumping up the trends this year, we recognise activist times and double to triple-digit growth of Pilates, breathwork and yoga.

The future is a triple threat. Future-proofed brands overperform in three components. First, content is king – think LesMills+. The content train is relentless and must deliver fresh quality consistently. Second, community is queen – think Strava. People leave businesses, they don’t leave friends. Third, personalisation is ace – think Whoop. Wearable technology meets personalised coaching.

The future is human. At the centre of sustainable success sits a real human heart. You can purchase a list, but you can’t buy engagement. That has to be earned.

Our mandate is clear. As the best industry in the world: regroup. Run a tight ship. Be ready for anything. Do better live and digital experiences. Test and retest. Constantly. Raise others. Innovate or die.

FINAL THOUGHTS
For the head:

• Some will do live-only experiences. Some will do digital-only. Most will do both. Determine how you will show up in that ecosystem in ways that matter to your members.

• Obsess over a small set of critical customer-centric metrics and lead with engagement.

• Be ok with more touchpoints but fewer visits.

• Go for continuous, personalised, actionable data.

For the heart:

• Create joy for the people you serve.

• Measure happiness.

• Differentiate yourself through your user experience.

• Eradicate barriers of judgement as you build walls to protect your health.

• Generate FOMO for live experiences by selling the sizzle of being there.

• Be ubiquitous for your members.

• Partner with complementary others to exponentially deliver more delight.

"It’s out with the ‘harder, faster, leave it on the floor’ and in with the invitational, all-inclusive, behavioural goal setting" – Emma Barry


Originally published in HCM Handbook 2022 edition

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