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The Best Club Model?

“What’s the best club model?” It’s a reasonable, recurring question, and, if you attended IHRSA’s convention and trade show in Las Vegas in March, you probably heard a number of strong opinions expressed on the subject—all offered by individuals convinced that they have the answer. Well, let's consider the options.

For the past 10 years or so, the model that I've heard described as "the wave of the future" most frequently is one that marries clubs and the medical community.

That's one possibility.

Many club operators have, in fact, been successful in getting physicians to write prescriptions for exercise in their clubs. Professional staff members then work closely with the patients and their doctors to ensure positive outcomes. This club model embodies the philosophy of Edward M. Phillips, M.D., the founder and director of the Institute of Lifestyle Medicine (ILM) at Harvard Medical School, which encourages doctors both to be more active themselves and to prescribe exercise.

However, in the “CBI Interview” (see pg. 30), Walter Bortz II, M.D., one of the world’s foremost experts on longevity, points out that challenges remain. Today, he points out, modern medicine relies on people being sick, not healthy. “The sicker you are, the more the medical corporation can put in the bank,” he observes. “Healthy people don’t pay big medical bills. And, without those big bills, Big Medicine can’t feed itself.”

The answer, he suggests: Our industry should emphasize the financial benefits of fitness. “In the final analysis, doctors and gyms need to realize that they’re in the same business—that of promoting health. If, somehow, we could get the two on the same ledger sheet, all profits would derive from a healthier population, and everyone would share in the bonanza.” 

All the other end of the spectrum, some operators believe in casting a wide net to lure in as many people as possible, includeing couch potatoes, to set them on the road to better health, without involving the medican community. "More members want to be left to their own devices," they argue, "not strictly supervised, bu, instea, left to experiment to discover what they like." 

With that in mind, these operators build facilities

that offer a wide variety of equipment, classes, and amenities—something for everyone at an affordable price. The staff makes sure that the club’s programs are safe and effective, and encourages members to get moving.

That’s another possibility.

Next, we have the budget model, which offers clients a variety of equipment, but, often, without classes or other amenities. Marketing is price- driven, and members, who find the “hands-off” approach appealing, don’t expect “high-touch” service. The members’ satisfaction rate is rather high because they’re receiving value for the price.

Yet another possibility.

Finally, “specialization” is an attractive model because it’s as diverse as the entrepreneurs who embrace it. They offer speed, running, sport- specific, old-school strength, and hard-core training; programs for kids and older adults; personal and group-exercise instruction, etc. Because these businesses can be launched at a lower price point, they provide easy access for fitness professionals with a particular passion.

So, what’s the best club model?

In truth, there are as many “best” models as there are customers with unique wants and needs. People gravitate to the activities and club types that they enjoy ... and there are clubs to fulfill every desire. That’s what makes this industry great. 

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