Despite another year of economic slowdown, gyms are continuing to stand strong with both private and public fitness sectors enjoying record numbers of members. Gym memberships in Europe hit 63.1 million in 2022, a 12.3% increase on the previous year, just over one million shy of the all-time 2019 high1. For those looking to invest in the growing fitness industry, understanding evolving consumer demands and how this plays out in gyms is essential.
Here, Andy Peat, Global Chief Product Officer at Snap Fitness, discusses some of the developments within gyms, highlighting the key areas to focus on to build a successful and sustainable fitness business.
The fitness industry is evolving, driven in part by the technological advancements which were accelerated by the pandemic but also a change in people’s fitness motivations. Embracing change and enhancing the core tried-and-tested proven model of operation, a gym franchise can gain competitive advantage - remaining relevant, establishing itself as an industry leader and, importantly, maximising revenue opportunities for their franchisees to drive long-term success.
Move over aerobics, make way for weights
Whilst high-energy cardio is still a core staple within the industry, members are increasingly less focused on weight loss as their main goal and more focused on building strength to improve their overall health. Over the last three to five years, there has been a notable shift in the awareness of the benefits of strength training, particularly for women who were once almost entirely the mainstay of the aerobics workout crew. The rise in fitness influencers and online communities dedicated to promoting women's strength training has provided more education on the benefits of incorporating it in workout routines. Recognising the demand for strength training programmes, fitness facilities and gyms can offer specialised and inclusive sessions. However, ensuring that the demise of “gymtimidation” within the weights area of the gym is crucial too, the days of the “men’s only” weights areas will have to be a thing of the past for large-membership gyms. And, there is no doubt that gyms who work to create a welcoming environment for everyone new to strength training will be more successful in retaining members.
With this rise in popularity of strength zones, it is crucial gyms respond by ensuring there is enough strength-based equipment and weight racks for members. At Snap Fitness, we recommend to our franchisees that any new gym opening has around 50% of space dedicated to weight training. And for gyms that are due for a refresh, removing a percentage of the traditional cardio machines to allow for the inclusion of more popular equipment such as squat racks is the new norm – whilst allowing more people to workout at one time, there are cost benefits too with this configuration.
Digital solutions driving membership retention
Cardio equipment has come a long way in recent years. The latest machines connect with tech wearables enabling members to track their indoor cardio workouts in the same way they would an outdoor run, keeping health data all in one place. They also offer training programmes on the consoles or the option to login to members’ streaming services. Ensuring that you offer members access to high-spec equipment enhances the experience and supports in driving retention.
The pandemic had a profound impact on the fitness industry, leading to a surge in demand for online fitness options. While online exercise platforms and virtual training became the primary source of exercise for many people from sheer necessity, the shift provided increased accessibility and convenience. Online fitness also fostered virtual communities, where individuals could connect, share their fitness journeys and find support. The adoption of online fitness as a way to stay active and connected during pandemic lockdowns arguably allowed gym owners time to innovate and diversify their online offerings. At Snap Fitness 41% of members have told us that they still want at-home or OnDemand workouts to support their in-gym experience.
At Snap Fitness, we utilised the time over lockdowns to further develop our member app - the Snap App – with the simple aim to keep our members motivated on their fitness journey and connected to the brand. One of the key features is our member onboarding where they are asked a few questions which determines where they are in their fitness journey – from being new to fitness through to experienced. Members are then provided with workout programmes relevant to them with instructional videos that can either be used at home or as a prompt while training in the gym. Crucially, they are able to track their progress through recording elements such as the weights and reps each time, keeping them motivated.
Fitness is progressing from exercise as merely a means to physical gains to a more holistic approach that incorporates wellbeing and feeling good. We are also focusing on educating members and promoting wellness, providing digital content that covers stretching, recovery and tips and tools for staying happy and healthy, offering members an all-encompassing wellness solution.
A focus on building customer relationships
A dedicated app also allows for enhanced communication - members can book classes or sessions and the brand can engage members via notifications. By utilising reminders and motivational messages, members are more likely to stay committed to their fitness goals. Notifications can also be used to provide updates on progress, celebrate achievements and motivate users to keep going. As we develop the Snap App further, personalised recommendations, tailored workout plans and nutrition tips will enhance members’ experience and add value to their membership.
But the app is only part of the story – it is personal face-to-face connections that are key to a gym’s success. The continual discussion on the benefits of staffed versus unstaffed gyms raises its head once again as we look at what’s next for the fitness industry. Only the most motivated and focused gym member can maintain consistent visits and progress at a gym; everyone else needs a source of encouragement and who better than a trained fitness professional or a friendly club manager? Making your fitness business part of the community it serves through providing a truly supportive service is the best way to build relationships.
The gym industry continues to thrive despite economic challenges. Embracing industry trends and striving to create opportunities for innovation and diversification is crucial to becoming a leading fitness brand. By being proactive, a franchise can anticipate market shifts, identify new opportunities and adjust its strategies and offerings accordingly. In today's fast-paced and competitive fitness industry, innovation in line with a strong central model is key to long-term sustainability for gyms.
1 2023 European Health and Fitness Market Report (EHFMR), Europe Active and Deloitte