Many people in the fitness industry are scratching their heads. How can someone build a 100,000-square-foot-club that costs more than $10 million in a prime location and make it work?
Anyone in the fitness industry who works in a major market is aware of the growth of super centers. Bigger clubs are seemingly opening as fast as they can be built.
Is this phenomenon similar to what has happened in so many other industries with companies such as Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe's and Home Depot? Will super fitness centers eventually “own” most of the fitness market?
Maybe history can help predict the future. In the 1960s, fewer fitness centers existed than today, and fewer people were obese or overweight. In 2007, there are more than 20,000 fitness centers of some type, and 65 percent of the U.S. population is obese or overweight.
According to USA Today, recent studies by some government groups predict that by 2030, 85 percent of the population will be overweight or obese, meaning fit people will be an even smaller minority. With predictions such as this, it is interesting to imagine what the fitness industry will look like in 20 years. Will it be filled with a few large chains with large clubs, or will there be a lot of players of all sizes and types?
If the predicted number of overweight people in the future holds true, the out-of-shape market will grow from 195 million to more than 255 million people. Obviously, these people will be the potential market for club owners, but keep in mind that the 15 percent of the “fit” market already represents 45 million people. Even after taking out the young and old, the total market of members and potential members is still gigantic — and growing.
All of these numbers indicate one thing: The demand for clubs will continue to increase. Yes, the super-center chains will play an increasingly powerful role, but they will not dominate the market to the same extent that Home Depot and Lowe's have dominated in their industry. Smaller clubs will still have a place in many markets, but the larger chains are raising the bar and forcing most other clubs to become better in every way, especially in the experience they provide to new and potential members.
Clubs would do well to realize they are selling an experience from the moment a person walks in the door to the moment they walk out it. The experience provided can give any big or small club a competitive advantage.
Now and in the future, generic, bland, non-inspiring clubs will not survive. Clubs that focus only on fitness will give up market share to clubs that appeal to the non-fitness needs of a broader market segment. This larger market segment wants to know about more than a club's equipment and facilities. They are looking for an experience that is fun and will improve their life mentally, physically and socially.
Projecting this is what super centers are inherently better at doing because of their size. An average person not astute in all the specifics of personal training, exercise and clubs will walk into a super center and be quickly impressed by the size, variety, energy and crowds.
Therefore, the challenge for smaller club owners is to create a positive emotional experience for members from beginning to end. Small club owners need to think along the lines of the smaller retailer that successfully competes against larger chain stores. These small retailers have learned, as many club owners have, that excitement and fun can come in big or small packages.
Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.