Workouts Aren’t Enough. Your Gym Must Provide an Experience

Beat the brick-and-mortar blues with a “dynamic moving space.”

The health club industry has always faced competition from home equipment companies. Until recently, it wasn’t much of a contest. Before the age of digital communication and mobile technology, the home workout experience too often followed this pattern:

  • Treadmill is purchased.
  • Treadmill sits in living room or den.
  • Treadmill is used once or twice.
  • Treadmill becomes a clothes rack.
  • Treadmill moves to garage.
  • Treadmill is featured item at garage sale.

Successful health clubs and studios provide elements not easily attainable at home: motivation and community; a sense of purpose; atmosphere; and social connection. Arrive at the gym, and you’re surrounded by the energy of other exercisers. You’re in an environment that should inspire and motivate. You’re focused on the workout.

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Courtesy of Aktiv

The same is true for strength training. It can be a more enriching experience in a health club with the sheer diversity of equipment and a personal trainer or expert instruction at your election.

But, it’s a different world now. Expert instruction is available on thousands of apps, with some estimates as high as 250,000 fitness-related apps to choose from. For virtually any type of exercise, there are seemingly infinite YouTube videos that provide instruction.

With connected home equipment, such as Peloton, you can be put into a virtual cycling or treadmill class with a live instructor. And taking home workouts to the next level is a new product called “Mirror.” It’s a full-length mirror-like screen that streams virtual exercise classes to people’s residences for a true interactive home experience.

There’s that word again: experience. Providing an experience makes your club a destination that motivates consumers to walk through your doors. Your physical doors.

Market forces are pulling people away from brick-and-mortar businesses of all types. While the health club industry isn’t in the same position as retailers who are reeling from the massive disruption of Amazon, health clubs and studios alike must learn to adapt to the new marketplace.

So, what’s your plan to ensure that your facility remains a destination worth the associated cost and effort of showing up?

Serving a Demand-driven Environment

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Courtesy of Aktiv

Overall, the health club industry has made strides serving the new demand-driven environment by co-opting the tools of cloud-connected fitness to their advantage. Some clubs have taken the lead in developing virtual fitness options within and outside of their club.

According to Bryan O’Rourke, president of the Fitness Industry Technology Council, these virtual capabilities keep members in the fold. “The member’s activity still takes place in the club’s own space, whether or not they’re in the club.”

Gyms are finding measured success with apps. Mobile technology can reduce costs, and maintain brand connection while giving members the convenience and familiarity they are accustomed to.

While technology will increasingly create pathways to connect with clients in new and different ways forward, a health club is still a business that requires members to visit the physical building. And that means, yes, providing an experience that attracts and retains them. According to Forbes, today 89% of companies compete primarily on the basis of customer experience and that’s up from just 36% in 2010.

Providing a stimulating and results-driven experience is largely credited as the heart of the success for boutique studios. According to the 2018 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, membership of boutique fitness facilities grew by 121% over the last five years, while industry-wide the increase was 15%. In fact, health club members are more likely to belong to a boutique club than any other facility, and boutiques attract a significantly larger percentage of Millennials and Generation Zers than other clubs.

It’s instructive to look at the fitness trends boutique studios are serving:

  • A more intimate social environment
  • A focus on functional training
  • Results-driven group training and small group training
  • Increased personalized attention from a coaching perspective
  • A more crafted, energizing, and themed space

Most boutique studios have a combination of some of the above. If you get the formula right, you’re creating a training experience that members will love.

How to Design an Exercise Experience

IHRSA’s Guide to the Boutique Studio Phenomenon stresses the need to create an ideal space for a studio-like training environment. Experts suggest four rules to keep in mind:

  1. Ensure programming dictates design
  2. Maximize space to drive revenue
  3. Use spatial creativity to enhance member experience
  4. Keep support and operation needs in mind

For existing health clubs, this can seem like a tall order. In a sense, you’re looking at a complete overhaul in fitness programming and physical renovation of a sizable portion of floor space. Essentially, you’re opening a gym within a gym. As a Wall Street Journal article about the trend states, “The idea is to blend a boutique’s allure and expert instruction with the foot traffic and existing infrastructure of a larger facility.”

Designing a premium exercise experience is something you don’t want to rush or piecemeal out to different suppliers. It cannot simply be solved by the purchase of new equipment. You need a unifying vision that works for your member demographics, your facility culture, your physical space, and, of course, your budget.

Aktiv Solutions is one company solely dedicated to the entire task. Their mission is to design an exercise experience from the floor plan to fitness programming. They understand the importance of partnering fitness concepts with design considerations, and tailoring them to the specific needs of a club’s membership and budget.

It begins with the space itself. Aktiv Solutions has their own planning and creative design division more widely known as FitnessDesignGroup. They are experts in spatial planning, theming, and technology integration. Using Aktiv’s model: The Functional Training Ecosystem, their design pros offer a variety of training modalities that build dynamic movement spaces designed to fit your business goals.

Bryan Green, founder and CEO of Aktiv Solutions, says the goal is to design an exciting exercise experience that motivates your members to make your club a valued destination. “We're consulting in a plethora of active adult environments where people don't want to just stand on a treadmill and go. They want to be social, they want to be engaged. At the end of the day, people are not going to visit your club, regardless of what you charge, unless you're creating a compelling results-driven, energetic environment.”

It’s about getting every element of the formula just right for each club’s particular situation, no matter the limitations involved. Aktiv converts former racquetball courts into dynamic studio spaces for some clubs. For others, they update large, multi-purpose spaces or small, underutilized studio rooms. Whatever the need, Aktiv will optimize the conditions necessary to maximize membership retention and recruitment, while offering plenty of opportunities to boost non-dues revenue.

For more information on how Aktiv Solutions can design the perfect exercise experience for your club, visit their website or call them at 888-895-0547.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org