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Indicators Point to More Trends in Specialization

Indicators within the industry point to a continuing trend toward specialization.

Through this column, I have shared my 26 years of experience in the fitness industry, specifically about the ever-evolving world of adults 50 years and older. I discussed the latest research on exercise and marketing to help you find solutions to reenergize your facilities, staff, programming and marketing through approaches created for an older population. I also gave ideas to help you meet the needs of your older members. At the same time, I considered the characteristics that make a person an ideal hire to help move your programming forward with this market. So, what's left to explore? The future, of course.

Stepping backward

Before we step into the future, let's take a leap back into the past - specifically the early 1980s. I was 21 years of age, and starting my career in the fitness business. At that time, I had six main options for a location to exercise:
  1. The gym: A dark, sweaty environment, gyms helped to launch the careers of many bodybuilders and professional athletes.
  2. The spa: This highly chromed world catered to men on one day and women on the other. During this time, the multi-station gym was king, as was the vibrating belt and the electronic roller.
  3. The recreation/community/ aquatic center gym: This 200-square-foot space typically had barbells and/or a multipurpose gym. If we got lucky, we had proper lighting and a mirror.
  4. The great outdoors: The feel of the wood and steel par-courses helped pacify the call of the wild for many who wanted to exercise in fresh air.
  5. The high school- or university-based equipment room: This area housed a small multi-station gym that was just big enough to fit inside. Of course, we had skipping ropes, peg boards and pull-up stations to augment our regimen.
  6. The home gym: For me, like many, my bedroom was my workout palace. My tools of choice were the infamous Bull Worker and a rusty set of barbells.
We have come a long way. We can now find fitness centers in hotels, corporate settings, hospitals, all level of educational institutions, spas, fitness centers, studios, retirement communities, condos, resorts, cruise lines, and golf and country clubs, to name a few. So, what's next? What will the industry look like in five years? No one really knows. But, there are some strong indicators as to how the industry will continue to evolve.

A specialized solution

Over the past few years, specialized centers and programs have become a normal part of the industry landscape. Groups like Bikram yoga studio owners have parleyed their knowledge and passion into a business with more than 2,000 locations. Fitness Together personal training studios has grown to 370 franchise locations, with another 160 on the way, according to the company's website. Curves for Women has 10,000-plus locations, while other women-only facilities such as Ladies of America and Butterfly Life have 600- and 100-plus locations, respectively. But that's only the start. Let's not forget Cuts for Men, which now has 75 locations. Club 50, another fitness center franchise, has sold 48 franchises, and the Silver Sneakers program now claims more than 3,000 fitness centers as customers. Add to the growth MediSpa, with more than 1,500 locations nationwide, and we can see an explosive movement in midstream. Between them, all of these operators have more than 17,500 locations (more than 50 percent of the industry.)

The commercial fitness club industry has 29,000-plus locations, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, and there are also yoga, Pilates, group cycling and personal training studios. For the majority of these facilities, the need to offer specialized training for their members is paramount.

As time goes on, we will continue to see more specialized facilities and programming. For example, what effects will DNA have on exercise prescriptions, especially as the population reaches older ages? Opportunities in new and different segments will continue to grow, creating a change in training, staffing, equipment and facility design. The trend has started. Are you ready to specialize?
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