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Tuesday
Sep062016

From WiFi to Community: What Millennials Want From Their Health Club

What’s next on the horizon for the health and fitness industry? 
A revolution sparked by millennials, suggests Stephen Tharrett, the cofounder and principal of ClubIntel, an industry consultancy based in Highland Village, TX.

“Millennials—those individuals who were born between 1980 and 2000—are poised to dramatically change the industry, as they’re introducing a whole new purchasing mindset,” he says in the September issue of Club Business International. “Club operators are well advised to take note.”

 

The new issue of the IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, produced by IHRSA and ClubIntel, supports Tharrett’s assertion. This annual best-selling research publication provides detailed information on participation trends among both health club member and nonmember consumers at U.S. fitness facilities.

The report identifies numerous new opportunities for club operators, but the one that shines brightest—because of the large size of the group and the small size of the current penetration rate—is the one offered by millennials.

Clearly, this group represents a promising, largely untapped market for the industry, prompting operators, equipment suppliers, and marketers to pose the question: “Who, exactly, are the millennials, and what do they want?”

Free WiFi and Intelligent Exercise Equipment

“Technology,” is the first word out of Dan Schawbel’s mouth when he’s asked what attracts millennials to a club. Schawbel is the founder and managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Boston-based research firm, and a New York Times best-selling author.

“They want free WiFi wherever they are. They’re the most connected generation in history,” he says. “So clubs should focus on having modern equipment, a strong online network, and a solid social media presence.”

The affinity these individuals have for technology is hardly surprising, since they were born and grew up with it. The Internet, smartphones, and social media have been an integral part of their daily lives.

“They’re demanding that exercise equipment be intelligent and tailored to their workout and entertainment preferences,” says Adam Hubbard, the director of product management at Precor, Inc., the Woodinville, WA–based manufacturer. Hubbard’s job involves constantly deciding how and when to address emerging fitness and demographic trends in Precor’s products.

But while millennials embrace technology, they also retain a fondness for people; they’re certainly not interested in working out alone on the fitness floor.

“Many operators assume that these folks prefer to have their heads buried in their phones with their ear buds firmly in place, but that’s not the case,” Hubbard says. “There’s a huge opportunity for operators to attract them by providing engaging staff, as well as clean, modern equipment that offers a mobile-optimized, in-gym experience.”

Efficient, Interactive Workouts

Here’s another revealing observation about this important demographic. According to The Wellness Deficit: Millennials and Health in America, a 2015 study of 5,000 individuals in this age group, commissioned by Technogym, the Cesena, Italy–based manufacturer, they don’t have much time for exercise.

Although 90% said they worked out about four hours a week, half of the respondents also reported they had trouble finding time to do so, and complained that scheduling constraints prevent them from doing more.

“Critically, millennials are looking for fitness flexibility that enables them to manage and customize their exercise experience on their own terms, whether it be short and sharp exercise formats to fit their busy schedules, or ‘smart’ equipment and wearable technology that connect them to their personal health and vital information,” says Nerio Alessandri, the founder and president of Technogym. “Overall, millennials want their workouts to be fun and as interactive as possible.”

An example of a program with appeal for this cohort is Les Mills’ GRIT, a suite of 30-minute, high-intensity sessions that put participants to the test with a powerful sequence involving weight lifting, cardio bursts, and plyometric movements. The classes are available in clubs and on demand, so users can take part whenever and wherever it’s convenient for them.

The company’s success with GRIT has led it to develop similar programs, reports Trever Ackerman, the vice president of marketing for Les Mills U.S.

“Responding to the fact that millennials are focused on their health, but don’t want to invest a ton of time, we’ve focused on developing new and innovative HIIT (high-intensity interval training) programs such as LES MILLS SPRINT,” he says. “Our research found that HIIT cycling generates rapid results with minimal joint impact.”

Adds GRIT Program Director Les Mills, Jr., “When it comes to exercise, millennials want to get in, get results, and get out. They also want a place where they can show up and have someone push them hard, without having to think about it. They want someone else to motivate them.”

Building Close Communities

“Responding to the fact that millennials are focused on their health, but don’t want to invest a ton of time, we’ve focused on developing new and innovative HIIT (high-intensity interval training) programs such as LES MILLS SPRINT,” he says. “Our research found that HIIT cycling generates rapid results with minimal joint impact.”

Adds GRIT Program Director Les Mills, Jr., “When it comes to exercise, millennials want to get in, get results, and get out. They also want a place where they can show up and have someone push them hard, without having to think about it. They want someone else to motivate them.”

The desire for external motivation is one reason millennials are flocking to studios in significant numbers, adds Williamson. “The last thing they want to do is walk into a gym and have to figure out how to use a particular machine or plan a workout. They want expertise and guidance.”

According to the Consumer Report, studios attract the largest portion of their members from the 18-to- 35-year-old category, while multipurpose and fitness-only facilities generate the largest portion of their membership from adults 35 to 54. Nonprofits garner the bulk of their membership from adults 55 and older. It’s important to note that many studio members also belong to clubs.

Studios and boutiques are great at leveraging their specialties and positioning themselves as experts in a given area. Consumers perceive that they do one thing very well, which tends to set them apart. They also excel at fostering a sense of community based on their specialty, which appeals to millennials, who tend to view exercise as a social opportunity more than as a chore to be performed.

Do these qualities make studios a threat to traditional clubs? Not necessarily, responds Tara Sampson, the general manager of VIDA Fitness, in Washington, D.C., a multipurpose facility that targets people in their late-20s to mid-40s. Rather, she suggests, their existence should prompt clubs to focus their marketing more directly toward this cohort.

“Most multiuse facilities have infinitely more resources than small studios,” she says.
“We just have to be strategic with respect to how we leverage those resources, and how we
address the market. We have to move away from messaging that highlights everything we
have to offer, and market our programs, instructors, and experiences to specific markets.
We need to alter our strategy and language to sell our experience, community, and specialized services.”

Pricing and ‘Affordable Luxury’

The millennial’s preference for boutique operations reveals a very interesting purchasing dynamic. Although they’re less financially secure than older generations—many contend with student loan debt and a weak job market—they gravitate toward pricier facilities.

Tharrett says they tend to ask, “Does what you’re offering meet my needs, fulfill my aspirations, and allow me to accomplish what I want to in my life?” If it does, then they’ll pay the price—whatever it might be. “They view it as an affordable luxury.”

And while this group will pay for special services, they’re also looking for variety, notes Hubbard. They get bored easily. “Previous generations may have prided themselves on a strict program and strong adherence to a more narrow exercise regimen, but millennials disdain the ‘same old routine,’” he says. “They’re looking for more ways to engage with others, both inside and outside the facility.”

Ackerman agrees, insisting it’s important that clubs offer a variety of options. To that end, the company focuses on instructor recruitment and training, and refreshes its choreography and music every three months to keep participants engaged and satisfied.

“The LES MILLS GRIT program, for example, has been successful because it’s modernized the fitness experience, and created an in-touch, personal community with cool instructors, many of whom are themselves millennials,” he says.

Williamson acknowledges that providing what millennials want—a unique, specialized, high-tech offering that creates a sense of community—is a tall order, but, he quickly adds, it’s not impossible.

And, moreover, clubs really don’t have a choice. “The millennial mindset is already disrupting the industry,” he says, “and it’s going to force clubs to reexamine how they do business for decades to come.”

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Technology,” is the first word out of Dan Schawbel’s mouth when he’s asked what attracts millennials to a club. Schawbel is the founder and managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Boston-based research firm, and a New York Times best-selling author..
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