As we reflect back over the last century and, specifically, the last 30 to 40 years, we can be proud of our industry, which literally created itself. Some of the highlights we should note over these recent years include:
1) Attracting Greater Numbers: The industry has grown to 29 million members, with more first-time joiners than ever before.
2) New Fitness Facilities Increasing: This includes commercial clubs, apartments/condos, corporate facilities, non-profits and hospitals.
3) More Talented Staff: Developing more degreed and certified staff supplemented with more club training programs.
4) Advanced Equipment: Cardiovascular fitness equipment was developed with more software capabilities, and a wide assortment of weight resistance equipment emerged.
5) Greater Variety of Classes: The range of classes now include less dance, more exercise, more mind/body, the use of equipment and various intensity levels.
6) Diversity in Clubs: The concept of a multi-sport club was developed, along with niche facilities (e.g., women-only, spas, corporate executive-based, 50+ age group, medically based).
7) Better Club Designs: Club-experienced architects have advanced fitness facilities.
8) EFT System: Clubs were able to attract more members with the use of a monthly dues payment system and electronic banking.
9) Better Management: Professionally educated and trained managers were developed, with some coming from outside the industry.
10) More Multi-Club Ownership: Many club owners grew from their entrepreneurial one-club start, and more than 100 club groups grossed over $3.5 million per year.
While our industry has accomplished much, I expect more for the future. Clubs will lower attrition rates with better new member launches, more customized programming and more direct communication. The industry will focus on introducing seniors to the club experience in greater numbers. Outreach techniques involving community meetings will become more important than mass media and direct mail as sources of marketing.
The industry will see an advancement of technology. The Internet will take on a major role as e-mail to members will be the standard, as will members using it to register for programs and to communicate back to staff. Billing will be introduced over the Internet, and e-commerce will reach this industry.
There will be more group exercise classes involving other types of equipment. A lot more social interaction will be the rule with much greater member-to-member bonding.
Clubs will invest in real staff-retention programs, even for part-time employees. Club groups will grow as more "smart money" enters the industry. Consolidation will continue to be significant - both among club ownership entities as well as among the industry's manufacturers and suppliers.
HMOs and insurance companies will finally see the light and treat the industry as an equal partner in offering real joint-venture relationships and discriminatory rates for exercisers vs. non-exercisers. The medical community will continue to embrace the club industry and develop seamless ties for its patients to be part of clubs.
The future is exciting for the 21st century as the challenges are a sign that the club industry is maturing and ready to become an even more significant fabric in the lives of all.
- Rick Caro is chairman of Spectrum Clubs, a new company formed to acquire clusters of existing club groups and develop them into even more significant regions. It is already the 10th largest club company after only 90 days of existence. Rick is a 26-year veteran of the club industry as an owner, operator and consultant. He is a well-recognized speaker and writer for the industry and a founder of IHRSA.