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Industry’s Road to Revival: Season & Reason for Optimism

“There is a wealth of resources to support the reasons for optimism” in the fitness industry, writes interim President and CEO Brent Darden.

The CEO’s Column appears every month in the Club Business International magazine.

My role as interim president and CEO of IHRSA affords me a unique opportunity to gauge the pulse of the health and fitness industry on a continual basis. In addition to the daily discourse with staff and IHRSA members, I am also blessed to continue leading four REX Roundtables including CEOs representing well over 150 clubs across the U.S., as well as regular meetings with the Global Health & Fitness Alliance, Industry Partners, Advisory Councils, Association Allies, interviews, research, and the constant deluge of industry information funneled my direction.

Suffice it to say, there is a wealth of resources to support the reasons for optimism shared in this column. Here are just a few that top the list.

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Health has Become More of a Top Priority

Buoyed by the pandemic and persistent public messaging around “pre-existing or underlying health conditions” and “immunity,” the role of being physically active and pursuing a healthy lifestyle has garnered heightened attention from the society at large.

There Is “Pent up Demand”

The shutdowns, quarantines, working from home, and isolation have created an enhanced desire for people to get back to the gym and back to the sense of community they offer. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and live fitness experiences are the object of desire.

Changing Market Dynamics Offer Opportunity

The permanent closure of 20 -25% of clubs in the U.S. and as high as 40-50% in some countries, has left a large segment of displaced members seeking new alternatives. Many surviving clubs in these markets have already seen significant increases in membership, outpacing pre-pandemic numbers.

Online & In-home Workouts Compliment Gym Usage

Numerous research studies validate the fact that consumers view virtual classes and the vast alternatives for exercising at home to be “an addition to their gym membership” and not a “replacement” for in-person workouts at their club.

The Vast Majority of Members Will Return

Since reopening, operators in China, Japan, New Zealand and the UAE have reported reaching upwards of 95% of pre-COVID attendance levels. In the U.S., leading clubs in states that have been allowed to remain open with reasonable restrictions are reporting 75-80% returning over the first few months.

Clubs Could Move From “3rd place” to “2nd Place”

Clubs often represented the 3rd place for many of their members—the place aside from home and work where they spent the most time. Now, with so many people working from home and anxious to have social interaction with like-minded people, clubs may very well ascend to 2nd place.

The Industry Is Maturing

Crisis breeds progress, inventiveness, and bold strategies. The pandemic forced streamlining of staff and programs, accelerated the adoption of digital offerings, fast-tracked the repurposing of spaces, progressed outdoor fitness solutions, and enriched member retention efforts, among other advancements.

Economic Forecasts Related to Wellness Are Very Favorable

Outside the industry, investment analysts, private equity groups, and market prognosticators all predict a bright future. Inside the industry, national, and regional operators are already aggressively seeking expansion opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs of all is the resilience and dogged determination I hear in the voices of those I speak to. Driven by a lack of respect from elected officials, indifference of the sedentary population, and a passion for lifting the image of our industry, there truly is a palpable synergy that I believe will make us all better than ever!

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