4 Lessons from Leaders in the European Health Club Market

Award-winning fitness industry professionals share their insights on how to create a successful club brand.

“Winners embrace hard work.”—Lou Holtz, Hall of Fame football coach

And recipients of IHRSA’s European Club Leadership Award know hard work. Each year, the award goes to an IHRSA member in the European market who has advanced their company and the industry through strong leadership and performance.

Past recipients of the award helped build successful club models by focusing on market needs and by placing a focus on differentiators. These are the lessons they learned in the process.

1. Provide expert advice by a highly trained staff.

Leadership Henrik Gockel Prime Time Fitness Germany column

Henrik Gockel of PRIME TIME.

In 2010, Henrik Gockel, a 30-year industry veteran and 2018 recipient of the European Club Leadership Award, introduced PRIME TIME fitness, a compact, service-intensive concept specializing in providing expert advice by highly trained staff. He is the founder and managing director of PRIME TIME.

What makes PRIME TIME stand out is the company’s policy to have a trainer on the floor from open until close, regardless of whether any personal training appointments were scheduled.

The decision helped to differentiate the club, Gockel said, and comfortably place it within a premium market. And when most clubs in Germany were in the high-volume, low-cost category, the decision proved to be a smart one.

PRIME TIME has nine locations, including one franchise, in Frankfurt, Munich, and Hamburg.

2. Make fitness available for everyone.

Leadership Jon Wright column

Jon Wright of Xercise4Less

In 2009, Jon Wright of Xercise4Less believed there was a need and demand in the U.K. for a low-cost gym with affordable, accessible facilities and a robust group exercise offering. From that belief, Xercise4Less or the “Peoples' Gym,” as it is popularly known, was born.

In an effort to contribute to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic, Wright and his team launched the Xercise4kids program in 2015. The program, which is free to non-members and members alike, encourages families to exercise together, especially when the children are still young.

And in 2017, the group began collaborating with Lancashire Sport Partnership to help people recovering from drug and alcohol dependency, by providing free gym memberships to help them incorporate regular physical activity into their daily routine.

Wright, who was the 2017 award winner, believes all should have the opportunity to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle, and is determined to make fitness available to everyone.

3. Improve members’ overall health and well-being.

Leadership Gabriel Saez GO Fit column

Gabriel Saez of Go fit.

Gabriel Saez’s personal commitment to help alleviate a serious public health problem in Spain due to inactivity led him to open the first Ingesport club. Saez is the 2016 leadership award recipient.

In 2009, under the GO fit brand, the group expanded with a mission to provide fitness for all, to help people live longer and better lives.

Under Saez’s leadership, Ingesport-GO fit continues to grow rapidly by offering new ways for improving overall health and well-being. Most recently, the company introduced research-based personalized exercise prescriptions to all members.

By focusing on results beyond the physical, Saez believes customers’ overall health will improve.

“If we’re able to advise them on the best training methods, when and how to do them, and also advise them on how to sleep, manage daily stress, become more mindful, etc., I think we’ll be able to truly increase the happiness of our customers,” Saez told Health Club Management in 2018.

4. Differentiate with experience over price.

Leadership Nick Coutts Fitness Hut column

Nick Coutts of Fitness Hut

In 2011, at the height of a global recession, Nick Coutts of Fitness Hut, the 2013 award winner, saw an opportunity to provide quality, affordable fitness to a population that was economically stretched and unable to afford membership fees at traditional health clubs.

So Coutts bet big on the fitness industry when he co-founded and introduced Fitness Hut, a disruptive low-cost model in Lisbon. Fitness Hut, which was later acquired by a U.K. private equity company, Bridges Ventures (owner of the low-cost Spanish chain, VivaGym), now operates close to 40 clubs across Portugal.

While Coutts admits to making use of standard “low-cost” strategies—no contract, accessible pricing, and minimal ancillary services—it was the group’s innovative approach to group fitness and personal training, and providing a welcoming environment that set them apart from the competition.

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This article was a team effort by several IHRSA experts.