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Random Thoughts!!!
Originally Posted: 08/17/09

This is sort of a random blog based upon a number of calls and contacts that happened this week. Todd Durkin, one of the rising stars in the industry in training theory, sports performance and the actual business of training, ask me to do a phone in with his mentorship master mind group this week (Todddurkin.com).

One of Todd's questions, and one that I also received from several other callers this week, is where are we and where are going as an industry? Most of the calls revolve on what is new in the industry? What is coming next? Where will we be in the next five years?

If I knew the answer to this exactly I would charge a lot more for this blog but I do think there are some interesting trends underway that will dramatically change how we do business in the coming decade. Here are some thoughts in no particular order:

Circuits and single joint fixed plane equipment are dead: The consumer is bored. The equipment doesn't work. Isolation works against an active lifestyle. The consumer has been there and done that is ready for more than rows of equipment and no help

The industry will return to what works, which is total body authentic fitness, a term I borrowed from Anthony Diluglio (artofstrength.com), the guy who has led this trend for a number of years. Using 50 foot ropes, kettle bells, medicine balls, flipping tires and pulling sleds is exciting for the consumer, allows trainers to become coaches rather than rep counters with clipboards, and cuts the cost of equipping a new facility

The 3000-7500 square foot club will be the club of the future. These clubs can be situated in almost any neighborhood, are cost efficient to open, are based upon what works (at least they should be) and can turn out a lot of profit with a relatively low risk. Every guy at home watching the P90X infomercial and Googling Crossfit wants to do cool stuff and most mainstream commercial clubs simply don't offer the option. The consumer will keep looking until he finds someone who can help him and that person works in this new club model

Innovation in training always starts at athlete end and works slowly back to the club. Here is the sequence: athletes seek performance and embrace what works and discard what doesn't; trainers working with successful athletes share this information with the training population through educational events, blogs and dvds; these trainers incorporate these new ideas into their individual businesses and clients at the local level; trainers in mainstream fitness businesses eventually get the information and bring it into the commercial world, usually several years after the athletes grasp the newer training methods; the general population, the ones who follow the athletes and who read the fitness magazines, pressure the commercial clubs to make change. Most commercial clubs are at least five years behind what is happening in the fitness magazines and with current training thought. Innovation comes from the bottom up, which is why so many clubs still tout the benefits of going in circles with a workout card

The large chain clubs will continue to decline because their approach to fitness is so dated. It won't be tomorrow, but it will be obvious over the next several years as the consumer seeks fitness at a more effective level, something chain clubs full of dated equipment and cheap trainers simply can't provide. These ships are too big to turn and most will fight the change believing that just adding more lines of equipment is the answer. The more progressive chain clubs will eventually be smart enough to start adding large amounts of strong functional equipment, such as Human Sport from Star Trac replacing the old single joint fixed plane equipment over time

Cardio still rules in the commercial club setting and that won't change much. Entertainment systems still won't add much and the consumer would always pick more working pieces of cardio where you don't have to wait over less cardio loaded with small viewing screens

Somewhere, at sometime, a commercial owner will read Dan John's new book, Never Let Go, and realize that effective fitness is simply total body conditioning done the retro way by picking stuff up off the floor and putting it over your head. This owner will then look at his 80 pieces of equipment and realize that he could have cut that order in half by buying just functional equipment and a bunch of kettle bells, ropes and suspension trainers. This guys next gym will be half the size and much more effective

The low price/value guys will also feel the trend back to vintage/retro fitness because their entire business plan is based upon just equipment, light dumb bells and no support. You still have to get results to stay involved and the consumer, who is now at the most sophisticated level of training knowledge in our history, will quickly reject what doesn't work even if it is cheap.

Marketing will also change, but not as fast as you would like it too. Electronic marketing will someday rule the club world but not for at least another five years. As of now, your clients still find you mostly through referrals, convenience and traditional awareness marketing. The reason electronic marketing doesn't work now as well as it should is the fact that there is a total disconnect between the cutting edge technology of electronic marketing and the extremely dated clubs trying to attract a younger, more sophisticated consumer. In other words, high tech marketing attracts a person who just read Outdoor magazine or Men's Health and wants a fully functional workout to get him ready for ski season. He gets hit with an electronic message through a social network site, visits the gym and finds out it is 20 years out of date and couldn't get his mother ready for ski season. But, by the mercy of the universe, the trainers all have clipboards and can count to 12. The club has to equal the expectations and until that happens we will still be minor players in the electronic marketing arena

Clubs will have to be smaller. There will still be large clubs built in certain markets, meaning those over 30,000 square feet, but you will see fewer and fewer as the cost outweighs the possible return on investment. If owners embrace functional/effective fitness, then the clubs will naturally shrink because what is in the club will take up for less space and service far more members. Look for clubs in the 15,000 square foot range doing the work of what use to take 25,000

The club business will get hot in the next five years and you will make a lot of money if you are ready. The consumer has moved from fitness to lose ten pounds for a wedding to a lifetime journey to feel and look good. The clubs are lagging behind, however, in the fact that the consumer wants leadership and coaching. Clubs that figure out semiprivate group training, personal group training and updated group exercise and other revenue generating machines that service large numbers of clients at the same time will be the ones to most benefit in the coming years

You will have to understand weight management in the next five years. Our country has 63 percent of its citizens either overweight or obese. Where are these people going to go for help and why shouldn't we be providing the answers they need?

Traditional marketing will have to change. How many of you believe that a club that offers 50 percent off a membership fee to get started is believable. Percentage discounts must be the most mistrusted of all advertising gimmicks and most clubs running these fail with them. Due to all the competition, you must practice this motto: To know me is to love me. This means that fitness is complicated and you have to get someone into your business at a low risk and let him or her experience your business for a few weeks before he or she can commit. To know me is to love me and spend time in my business and you will buy at some point. Embrace the trial/30 days for $19 or some version and get people into your culture.

These are just a few random thoughts we might continue at some time in the future. Project your business into the future. Are you ready for the changing market and changing consumer? Are you different than your competitors, not just self-deluded as better? Are you ready to own your marketplace through ongoing marketing each week?

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