While predicting the future is impossible, some leading industry suppliers offer their best guesses as to what will happen in the fitness industry in the years to come.
1 Existing fitness centers will expand
Owners and operators of fitness facilities that are active today will have the opportunity to expand, says Frank McDuff, senior vice president of CSI Software, Houston, Texas. "I think there will have to be a vast expansion of facilities," he says. "The climate will be right for small and mid-sized club operators to grow their businesses." Paul Schaller, president of ABC Financial Services Inc., Little Rock, Ark., agrees: "I think we'll see more and more of the medium-sized operators become larger operators, and the larger operators become even larger."
2 Small facilities will open
"I don't see much movement in the progression toward truly national chains, like Bally's already is and like 24 Hour Fitness will likely become," says Michael Rojas, president of Iron Grip Barbell Company, Santa Ana, Calif.
3 Competition will heat up
With the numbers of fitness facilities increasing, competition for new members will be fierce. "Competition, especially for the smaller independent clubs, will increase, as the major chains grow their numbers and the chains themselves are acquired by investment companies, such as the recent acquisition [of] 24 Hour Fitness by Forstmann Little," says John Aglialoro, president of Cybex International, Medway, Mass.
4 Location will become more important
One way fitness centers can beat the competition in the next 20 years is to narrow their focus to a small community, Aglialoro of Cybex says. Fitness facilities will have to "take fitness closer to where the customer lives as opposed to waiting for them to come to the club," says Aglialoro.
5 Niche markets will open up
In the future, fitness centers will also target niche markets on both ends of the age spectrum. "As people move more toward fitness being a lifestyle, I think there are two areas we're going to be continually gaining on," says Riches of ASF. "One is the older, sedentary group ... but also the younger group." Bruno Pauletto, CEO of PowerSystems Inc., Knoxville, Tenn., concurs: "We see the future of fitness being focused on the elderly and youth markets," he says.
"I would recommend the club owner ... focus on the needs of an older population with various function levels, and on the deconditioned young, so they will be prepared to be a leader in the health and fitness industry of the future," says Steve Sarns, vice president of sales and marketing for NuStep Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich.
6 Entertainment options will be imperative
To attract and accommodate young exercisers, fitness centers will have to make efforts to keep them interested. "Younger people joining earlier -- whether it's in high school or college -- expect, in some ways, entertainment value in the membership," says Riches of ASF.
7 Educated members will look for results
Fitness facilities should be prepared to serve better-informed members in the next 20 years. "We're going to see that the members are more educated," says Riches. Thanks to media awareness and good publicity, there is a lot of information about exercise available today -- and that will continue in the future. "Consumers are quickly becoming much more discerning when it comes to their own health," says Lindsay Merrithew, president and CEO of Stott Pilates, Toronto, Ont., Canada. "Not only do they want to take control of their body and how it functions, they also want to be well-educated about doing so."
8 New ways to profit will be implemented
Better-informed members can mean booming business for fitness centers, says Rojas of Iron Grip. "I think that, in the future, new members will come more prepared and more informed about fitness, and, therefore, be more open to the kinds of non-dues-based profit centers that will help make clubs more profitable," he says. "Club owners will continue to pursue profit centers within their own building, which will dramatically increase the profitability of each unit."
9 Specialization will set fitness centers apart
To differentiate themselves from other facilities, fitness centers will expand specialized offerings, says Rothafel of MediCorp. "Clubs will continue to offer more and more specialized services and programs, such as weight-management, group programming, sport-specific training, yoga, Pilates, nutrition, etc., to accommodate their ever-diversifying memberships," he says. This trend will converge nicely with the holistic approach, which is already on the rise, according to Ken Endelman, president and CEO of Balanced Body, Sacramento, Calif. "Fitness is going toward ... more mind/body-type stuff," he says.
10 High-quality staff will be mandatory
It goes without saying that fitness center staff will have to be more knowledgeable and skilled than ever. Bob Palka, president of Jacob's Ladder LLC, North Tonawanda, N.Y., says that this requirement will be increasingly difficult, thanks to advancements in the science of exercise. "The industry itself will ... get more scientific than it already has," says Palka.
11 Regulation will increase
Fitness centers are already faced with new laws regulating how their business is run, and that trend will continue, says Riches. In fact, he says, "there's probably going to be more regulation as time goes on." Staying on top of laws and keeping liability waivers strong will be imperative for facilities in the future.
12 Spa services will raise the bar
Fitness centers will offer more spa services to members, says Reinig of Association Insurance Group. He predicts that "very high-end clubs that offer spa services," will be popular.
13 Paperless billing will be here to stay
In the next 20 years, most facilities will be on their way to going paperless when it comes to billing, says Ron Poliseno of CheckFree Health & Fitness, Dublin, Ohio. "The customer of the future will expect the ability to manage their membership, from dues and fee payments to scheduling activities and contract review, from home via the Internet and in the club on Internet-connected kiosks," he says.
14 Insurance companies will incentivize fitness
The rising costs of healthcare will encourage insurance companies to offer more exercise incentives, says Aglialoro. "The average member will be in need of health solutions," he explains. "They will be encouraged and rewarded by HMOs and insurance companies, perhaps even by the government through tax breaks, to change unhealthy living habits and to incorporate fitness and wellness into [their] lifestyle."
15 Information will increase the power to sell
16 The Internet will enhance communication
The Internet will be used not only to inform, but also to keep in touch with members, say Berka of Aphelion and Riches of ASF. "The landscape of the future includes further development of the specialized community that arises around the health club.Software is a key component of the glue that ties members, employees and suppliers to the club facility. Through the Internet, the connection to this community provides more efficient supply chains and enhanced member services."
17 Consolidation will continue
Palka of Jacob's Ladder says he believes the industry's suppliers will continue to consolidate. "What I see happening is price competition of light products getting much stiffer. Product differentiation getting much tougher," he predicts. "Because of those two things, a consolidation of the industry [will occur], to some degree."
18 Equipment innovations will stall
In terms of the equipment of the next 20 years, Aglialoro believes what you see is what you get. "There will be less equipment choices due to consolidation," he says. "I have concerns this will stifle innovation. There will be less focus on innovation and more on 'follow the leader' in product development."
19 Technology will be less intimidating
Many fitness facility owners and operators already use technology in their facilities. The bells and whistles that accompany many software programs for fitness centers usually go unrung and unblown. But a new era is on the horizon, predicts Poliseno of CheckFree. "In the future, club owners will leverage technology to improve both their operating performance and their customer's satisfaction," he says.
20 Business will improve
Though there are some potential pitfalls, the consensus is that the future is a rosy one for the fitness industry. "[Club owners] will be helped enormously by what will be continued and increased positive emphasis placed on fitness by the media, the medical and scientific communities, and, increasingly, the government," says Rojas of Iron Grip. "This emphasis will evolve into more of a traditional market force, and should drive demand."
Thanks to renewed media attention, making people aware of the health benefits of exercise just isn't your job anymore. You're faced with a new responsibility: to provide cutting-edge services and facilities to an informed public. Taking note of these 20 trends of the not-so-distant future can only help your fitness center achieve this. It's true, what they say: The future is now.