How to Offer Your Members Experiences Fitness Apps Can't

Commercial Fitness

How to Offer Your Members Experiences Fitness Apps Can't

How people consume fitness has changed dramatically in recent years.

From videos and streaming services to fitness apps and wearables, people have numerous ways to get fit outside of the gym. These changing dynamics in the fitness landscape will significantly impact your business and what you’re trying to accomplish within the industry, but there are steps you can take to stay ahead.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speaker

Bill McBride is the President and CEO of Active Sports Club & BMC3. He has more than 25 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. He has served as Chairman of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), and has served on the Industry Advisory Board for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). He is a recognized author and speaker within the health and fitness industry.

The Changing Landscape

How do you make these changes work for you? Take a look at the current state of your business and define your core. The core of your business should be clear and specific, while allowing for dynamic business strategies. It is important to identify your target audience and the kind of community you are trying to serve. This significantly simplifies your marketing campaigns and retention strategies, making your business more successful overall.

Pinpoint the exact space that your facility seeks to fill; not every fitness club has the same goals or target market. Chasing an old business model because it has worked in the past is a common trap. Technology has created new ways of consuming content, so sticking to an old model can be detrimental to your business. Success requires you to be unique and forward thinking. Spending more money is not a business strategy, but spending money on the right things for your business is fundamental to growth and survival.

Passionate individuals who help people achieve their goals and improve their health drive the fitness industry. Helping people equals selling more memberships, so if you're able to positively impact your community, you're guaranteed to make good profits.

The Threat of Substitution

With the ubiquitous nature of technology and the many ways in which it has changed how people exercise, the threat of substitution emerges more frequently. Self-directed virtual training with training apps and videos represent a major threat to fitness facilities.

Other substitutions for visiting the gym include:

  • Public fitness access equipment around trails and other free forums
  • Residential community expansion of services – apartment complexes provide residents with intricate fitness offerings, boutique studios, and other opportunities
  • Medically-based wellness centers
  • Corporate fitness and wellness centers
  • Community fitness centers and nonprofits
  • Parks and recreation

These substitutions are appealing to people because they provide a level of convenience and often come with lower prices than fitness facilities. In order to face this threat of substitutes head on, fitness clubs should develop people-oriented services. Human contact in fitness is important to people, and is something technology cannot readily provide. People want variety and personalization in their experiences beyond what apps can generate. Be sure to offer programs that have multiple touch points for clients so they feel important and connected to their trainers. The broadest appeal to the consumer base is derived from being unique and different. Provide services they cannot obtain elsewhere.

Trends, Fads, or Final?

Within the industry, there are always going to be four modalities that will remain constant. They hit a broader section of the population and can be mixed up and tweaked but remain the same at their core:

  • Mind/Body
  • Dance
  • Cycling/Cardio
  • Functional/Strength

If you keep your programming focused on one or more of these industry modalities, you should avoid the pitfall of fads and be able to sustain your members' interest. Also keep in mind that the need for human contact and affordable quality exercise will not change, so those features should always be present.

Exercisers are always looking for more fun, more wellness, and an emphasis on the importance of nutrition. In the future, you can expect an increased focus on functional training programs, such as boot camps, body weight classes, and strength training, so consider adding these to your programming. If you keep these guidelines in mind and offer an experience that can't be substituted by an app, you should thrive in the changing industry.