How Independent Health Clubs Can Increase Market Share

I recently stumbled upon a press release from IBISWorld, the largest independent publisher of U.S. industry research, with 700 analysts covering a wide range of industries. 

This one was a look at the state of the fitness industry. Being a geek of sorts, I always find these statistical looks interesting, but even more so when they come from a source that really has no vested interest in the fitness industry or the success or failure of health clubs. Is it really more accurate or more reliable? I'm not really sure, but it is an outsider's look through the gym window so it will always have a valuable and unique perspective. 

If the fitness industry is a pie, how do you ensure your club gets the biggest piece possible?

IBISWorld states that “The gym, health and fitness clubs industry is in the growth stage of its life cycle due to an increased awareness and interest in fitness and health and the need for exercise.” 

This is good news for independent health clubs. But, it could be better. 

The growth in the industry's revenues over the last 5 years has only been about 1.5%, according to the report. Better than a loss seen in many other industries during that time, but still not really worth shouting from the rooftops. 

But, the report does anticipate that growth to continue at a slightly higher clip. 

“Membership numbers are expected to grow an average of 2.0% annually over the 10 years to 2018. In the 10 years to 2018, industry value added (IVA), a measure of an industry's contribution to the overall economy, is expected to grow an average of 2.6% per year, in comparison with forecast GDP annualized growth of 2.1% over the same period,” according to the report.  

Now comes the bad news. 

Perhaps most troubling to independent club owners is the finding of the report that, “Over the past five years, the proportion of businesses that employ 20 or more people has increased, indicating that concentration is rising as a result of larger firms expanding operations and entering new markets. Due to their lower cost, the downturn has also favored the growth of small-budget gyms with fewer amenities over more expensive, all-inclusive clubs.” 

So while the pie may be growing slightly, there are fewer, yet larger and hungrier companies eating from it. 

The question is then, can independent clubs get back market share?

The key for gym owners is to ensure they are getting their fill, instead of just picking up scraps from the fitness table. 

Four ways gym owners can get their piece of the pie:

1. Realize they aren't the big guys. Independent clubs are smaller, nimble and can quickly take advantage of hot trends, focus on customer service, and add local flair.

2. Be local. Act local. Sell local. One big advantage independent health club owners have over the big boxes is a connection to the community. Staying in tune with events, news and happening of the town or city you are in gives you a change to ingrain the business in the fabric of community. Use that to help remain on the top-of-mind of members and potential members.

3. Set yourself apart by building a niche. While it may seem that trying to attract everyone to your club by offering everything is the best way to increase market share, it may not be. The saying "jack of all trades, master of none," can extend to business as well. It may be better to be known as the best local place for "name your club's strength here," than building your business by trying to be one of the crowd. Maybe even try something completely bold, like this.

4. Now that your club has its identity, has created its niche and is part of the community, it is time to let people know it. Too often, club skimp on marketing, go with less than stellar websites, or count on people just magically walking in. Put some resources toward marketing. (And no, just because your trainer can get a thought out in 140 characters, that does not make him or her an expert marketer.)

For health club owners that want to survive the shrinking pie due to growth of the big guys, it is time to set yourself apart. The competition is too tough and the expected growth is too small to make it without changing your mindset.


Agoglia Square

About the author:
John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications and provides marketing strategy and content services to companies in and out of the fitness industry.

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