Your health club’s success depends largely on your relevance.

Tim Rhode – Club Industry CEO Summit Director | Dec 13, 2018

Nearly every topic and every discussion at the recent Club Industry CEO Summit in Chicago revolved around the issue of relevance. What choices should you make and what actions should you take to increase the relevance of your business in an increasingly competitive market?

Relevance is the goal. Not sales or growth. Those are effects. They happen because your business is relevant.

Multi-purpose clubs are scrambling to remain relevant amidst the escalating presence and popularity of boutique studios and a growing number of high-volume, low-price (HVLP) competitors.

Boutiques are jockeying for popularity among the many, and increasing, studio alternatives.

And HVLP operators are competing with similar models to offer the fewest frills or most attractive facilities and options at the lowest or most attractive price.

So how can you gain or regain relevance? You have many ways to do so, especially if you look at it from the customer’s perspective.


Convenience (in the form of location) is still the No. 1 reason people select a fitness center. Your location is not easy to change. So, what can you do to improve convenience without moving? Take inventory of your facility and operation, not just from your perspective but also from your customer’s. How convenient is it to park, put the kids in childcare, find a locker, get a towel or get help if necessary? You can go to a great restaurant, but if the help is slow that day, it ruins the whole experience. Convenience wins. Make things convenient for your customers and you’ll win, too.

Ease is a subset of convenience. Amazon has built its entire business model on making it easy for you to find and buy the things you want — and sometimes even things you didn’t know you wanted. How easy is it to try and buy your club? How easy is it to join or quit? Yes, quit. The old easy-to-join, hard-to-leave model lost favor years ago and continues to plague the reputation of our entire industry. Market leaders have found that the real goal is the lifetime value of a customer. Making it easy to leave and return offers more value and favor over time than enforcing contracts and antagonizing customers.

How easy is it to check-in, to get information or to register for a class? If you want to tackle more challenging issues, how easy can you make it for members to eat clean or get results?

People favor the path of least resistance. Making it as easy as possible for them to use and enjoy what you offer will improve your club’s relevance in their lives.


Experience sometimes trumps convenience. People will drive right past more convenient options if a worthier experience is found elsewhere. People drive right past public schools to get to private schools or past neighborhood grocery stores to get to Wegmans. To get to the few locations that offer the Disney experience is far from convenient for many people, yet every year millions of people bypass dozens of more accessible and far less expensive vacation options to experience the “Magic of Disney.” What is the magic that your operation offers? How can a visit to your club be the best part of your member’s day? Do they just get through their workout, or do they look forward to the energy, motivation and inspiration they experience when they arrive? Is the member experience at your club smooth and invigorating, average or filled with hassles?


Another way to gain relevance is to get results. How far will you drive and what will you pay for something that you know works? The knee surgeon with the best reputation, the soccer coach with the winning record or the cancer treatment center with the best recovery history. If members of your health and fitness facility actually get healthy and fit, word will spread. People will pass-by other health clubs to get to yours like their life depends on it … because it does.


A fourth way to gain relevance is to innovate. Change things up. Become the disruptor. Doing so could be as subtle as following the sound advice of industry pioneer Red Lerille to “change something every month.” The change could be fresh paint, new programs or re-bundling your membership benefits. The next level would be a renovation or expansion. Maximum shock and awe would come from blowing up your old model and taking a different approach altogether. This doesn’t mean your facility, but rather the way you are doing business.


Your club won’t be relevant because you say so. It happens when the market says so. You have to earn that reputation with one or a combination of the items above. But you can help to spread the word. Today’s many electronic communication options and social media channels offer you more ways than ever to get out the word. The key is to engage your members. Nurture and encourage your brand advocates to like and comment and share the news about how great it is to be a member. Market chatter is both a cause and effect of relevance. Can you drive market chatter? Yes. Does good market chatter convey relevance? Yes. Is it worthwhile to get good with this? Yes.

Achieving or regaining relevance is not a one-shot project. It takes a smart strategy and disciplined execution over time.

I challenged those attending the CEO Summit in October to apply what they had learned to make their clubs more relevant in the year ahead. What will you do? How relevant will your club be one year from now?