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Resiliency & Innovation Are the Future of the Fitness Industry

"It's time to innovate or fold," writes Crystal Washington, futurist, technology strategist, and IHRSA Innovation Summit keynote speaker. Learn her perspective on the way ahead for the fitness industry.

2020 in general and COVID-19 specifically have dealt a mighty blow to health club owners and operators. However, innovation lies on just the other side of this black swan event.

Some of the world's most significant companies were birthed during times of crisis. General Electric was founded in 1876 during the worldwide recession brought on by The Panic of 1873. During the 1918 flu pandemic, Lerner Shops, now known as New York & Company, came into existence. Disney, a garage-based cartoon studio, was established in 1929 during the Great Depression.

In times of stability, managers' and owners' desire for innovation is prioritized under the need to maintain operations. Due to limited resources, including time, discovering new income streams is not nearly as imperative as finishing the pile of daily non-revenue-generating tasks that must be done for a fitness club to run efficiently. Now the industry, and many other industries, are experiencing massive business interruptions. It's time to innovate or fold!

Shifting into Innovation Mode

Innovation sounds great, but it can be an elusive activity amid panic and desperation. When you are in a sinking ship, are you thinking of how the ship could be upgraded in the future, or are you focusing on patching holes? This current fight for business relevance will require club owners and operators to do both—patch holes while redesigning their ships!

Leadership 20 CV Crystal Washington column

Shift from panic mode to mental resiliency. Consider a wind-up toy that hits a wall, flies backward, then careens into the wall again, involved in a cycle of futility until it's tiny motor winds down. When we keep trying to control the uncontrollable and attempt to recreate past results using methods not adequate for current times, we become that unfortunate toy.

Shifting from fear-based thinking to strategic is not new-age mumbo jumbo. Your amygdalae (yes, you have two) are the almond-shaped structures in the brain that are responsible for fear and irrational thought. When we experience an amygdala hijack, our thinking becomes irrational and panic-driven. However, when we focus our thoughts and breathe deeply, we can shift back to leveraging our frontal cortex for rational and strategic thoughts.

If you cannot operate your business as you did in February 2020 and stay afloat, go into observation mode. Notice the product and service gaps around you that 2020 events created. Therein lies your opportunities. Fortunately, health clubs already possess the number one ingredient needed for a successful pivot—community!

Your staff and club members are your primary assets for idea-generation and backing of new products and services.

Potential Opportunities for Health Club Businesses

Expanded Youth Programs

Parents are overwhelmed and need safe spaces for their children and activities to keep their children healthy and occupied. Crafting on-site classes and activities while maintaining strict cleaning schedules would be a welcome opportunity for parents with children. Virtual classes for kids, live or streaming, would add value to parents whose children are in virtual school. Additionally, a 30-minute Zoom martial arts or dance class can provide parents with an additional 30 minutes to be productive from an adjoining room!

Senior Programs

Seniors in need of both exercise and community have been hard-hit by current circumstances. Offering special gym hours, similar to what we see with grocery stores, would allow seniors concerned about transmission to have an extra layer of security. Online classes, especially live ones that allow participants to communicate with each other, will allow this important group to socialize and stay fit. Lastly, pre-recorded on-demand classes, specifically for senior needs, are in high demand.

Subscription-based Online Classes

Rather than offering online classes with individual drop-in rates, focus on selling subscriptions or packages. If you do not have the infrastructure or resources to quickly provide a platform for subscribing to and watching your classes, partner with a company that provides this kind of offering.

Government Partnerships

Cities and other government entities are offering fitness programs at public parks and on government websites. Paid or unpaid, this may be an opportunity to earn additional income and recruit more people into your club's tribe!

“If you cannot operate your business as you did in February 2020 and stay afloat, go into observation mode. Notice the product and service gaps around you that 2020 events created. Therein lies your opportunities.”

Social Media Classes

Whether you decide to offer free classes as a public service or "taster" classes that will tease people into purchasing more in-depth classes, tools like YouTube and Facebook offer options for uploading a video or even offering live classes. Classes may be actual workouts, or you may even explore other aspects of fitness like food preparation.

Leverage Gamification

Gamification is the process of incentivizing people to take action based on things like earning badges or seeing their rank against other "players." Create your fitness app or leverage an already-existing one to keep your members engaged continuously.

Subscription Boxes

Create your subscription box! Fitness clothing, food, or workout gear all provide opportunities to shift your club from location-focused to a lifestyle brand! The best part is you don't have to put your things in the box! You can curate the contents, finding the best products to put together for the benefit of customers.

Meal Prep/Delivery

With more people working from home, snacking and weight gain are weighing heavily on the minds of your fitness-loving clients. The added weight of virtual schooling and caring for immunocompromised family members makes eating healthful foods a considerable challenge.

Fitness Products

Marketing your brand of fitness equipment, apps, or clothing can provide an additional stream of revenue that isn't dependent upon anyone visiting your health center.

The Future of the Industry is Bright

Looking beyond fitness clubs, the fitness industry's future is promising. Not only will we continue to see more people trickle into locations for live classes and workouts, but the desire for at-home options will not go away. Even with a second wave or an entirely new virus, the need for health solutions is here to stay, as are those clients who value your brand and expertise.

You can view Crystal’s IHRSA Innovation Summit keynote presentation, “Imagine the Future,” by purchasing on-demand access to the Summit. Her presentation was generously sponsored by Club OS.

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Crystal Washington

Crystal Washington, CSP, is a technology strategist and one of Forbes Top 50 Women Futurists in 2020. She works with organizations that want to leverage technology to increase profits and productivity. She is the author of the books "One Tech Action" and "The Social Media Why."