Welcome to the latest edition of our e-newsletter

June 2009

'F'is for Fitness

David Minton states exercise may be the best investment consumers could make in a recession

The late firebrand MP Tony Banks famously declared in 1997 that he understood what the F stands for in FIA. Banks was embroiled at the time in the political controversy over the Labour Party’s policy on tobacco sponsorship for Formula One. When Banks said the FIA, he was in fact referring to Federation International de l’Automobile and not the Fitness Industry Association although, if he was alive today and still Sports Minister, he might well use the F word when thinking about fitness.

David Minton

The Fitness Industry Association meet this week for their annual Summit but political presence and industry numbers will be down this year. Politicians need to be close to Westminster and operators find three days away from the business, two too many.

That said the FIA is meeting at a time when the latest figures from the FI, that’s Fitness Index not Formula 1, show the fitness industry has been more resilient to the downturn than most thought.

Unlike many sectors the Fitness Industry has not gone cap in hand to the Government but instead has been developing partnerships that matter. The NHS Change for Life campaign is an excellent example of how people’s behaviour can be nudged, slowly, towards better choices.

This campaign has been adopted to enhance local initiatives that link health and some form of activity. Private hospitals and health insurers are involved too. Nuffield’s purchase and refocus of the former Cannons brand, BUPA has linked with David Lloyd Leisure and Fitness First, while PruHealth has been rewarding around 200,000 policy holders for engaging in healthy behaviour.

Exercise is an investment

In the public sector many have embraced their local Primary Care Trust and its money to deliver GP referral schemes, Swim for Free and Healthy Heart initiatives to name but three.

It seems many of those who are participating are now viewing exercise as an investment, possibly the best sort of investment in a recession. So now the fitness industry has embraced the health care business, the time line is changing from quick fix to long-term care so maybe the vocabulary should change too. Let’s talk about; ‘care pathway’ instead of gym induction, ‘quality time with core experts’ instead of meet your PT, ‘support and recovering health’ instead of here’s your programme. These new phrases, of course, are there to support the majority who go to the gym, not the minority, who are already self motivated. In supporting the majority think how the fitness product will change.

So finally the figures from the Fitness Index for 2009 show, on a like-for-like basis, that membership numbers have grown by 0.82% and the total market value has grown by £108m to £3.7bn. The number of new sites opened between April 2008 and March 2009 was 114 which expanded the membership base by 118,978, a number which will continue to grow as each club matures. Many public and private sites have not only registered like-for-like increases in memberships and income but have also seen the number of ‘active’ members growing too. Yes, footfall has increased in an economic downturn. It seems with continued support from our partners more people will understand the F word means fitness.

Budget Gym Charges Premium Prices

Dr. Paul Bedford discusses how members of premium clubs may be paying for a budget gym experience

I have spent much of the last six years standing in gyms talking to members about their expectations and the realities of their health club experience. In the week leading up to Easter I was once again on the gym floor.

Dr. Paul Bedford

Three days of interviewing in three sites across the country. Whilst the interviewing had a specific focus, much of the insight gained from members has remained the same over the six years: too few interactions, if any, with the staff; little support on the development of exercise programmes and the beginnings of a trend amongst members to look to the internet for support on exercising rather than from a member of the fitness team.

Day one: whilst interviewing a gym member I asked one of my standard questions, ‘When was the last time an instructor spoke to you?’ The response was somewhat alarming. ‘You were the last person to speak to me, the last time you were in the gym doing this stuff.’

They were right, I had been in this particular gym four years ago and I had spent time interviewing members. I was astonished firstly that they remembered me but more importantly that for this member, who trains four mornings a week, not one member of staff had made any effort to speak to them in the four years.

Day two: 250 miles away I began again. 12 hours on the gym floor hearing again and again the same answers I had heard the day before and for the past six years. Today I also intended to interview staff regarding the recent changes within their facility and how these changes affected their member’s experience. Wow, bigger surprise today! What staff? Only one member of staff had been allocated per shift to the gym. That doesn’t surprise me in a small to medium size site but this was a premium brand club. This single member of staff spent their entire shift behind the gym reception except for the small period of time they spent chatting to one of the personal trainers. Members gave me their phone numbers wanting to book a review of their programmes and asked me to pass this onto the staff.


At lunchtime in the restaurant, within a couple of minutes of my order arriving, a member of the F&B team came over to check if everything was okay, the same way they do in all restaurants nowadays. This made me wonder, if we can get restaurant staff to interact with customers why not fitness staff? With all their technical training it seems almost impossible in some gyms to be able to get a simple ‘do you need anything’ from fitness staff.

Day three:  Simply added uninspiring responses from the personal trainers who were working that day.

When writing my report for the client my thoughts began to make comparisons between the three clubs I had visited for them and the budget sites I had been to the week before. While my client’s facilities were at the premium end of the market, their offer in the gym was no different from the budget gym. Both sets of gyms were populated with state of the art equipment, limited fitness staff and, if you required it, personal training. The only difference in the premium branded clubs was their gyms were hidden between a restaurant, spa and the other expected facilities. As a member experience the premium brand club’s gym was the same as a budget gym but members were paying a premium membership for this!

To discuss any issues to do with member retention and understanding members more please call Paul on 07956 311899.


Retain and Gain: Keeping Your Members Engaged


For those who didn’t get to the IHRSA convention earlier this year here is your chance to view Dr. Paul Bedford’s presentation ‘Retain and Gain: Keeping Your Members Engaged’ 

In the presentation Dr. Paul Bedford reviews what we know about retention and how member retention varies by age, gender and membership contract. He also highlights how members can be retained for longer time periods by getting the right induction process and regular staff interactions, each of which has a positive impact on the member and their likely referral of friends.

To view the full presentation please click here 


ISRM Regional Seminar


What is member retention and how does it differ from other membership value systems? How do you measure retention and what do the indicators tell us about how well we are doing for our customers? What specific practices can we employ to positively affect member retention? These and many more urgent questions will be discussed at the Retention CPD training event as part of ISRM’s regional seminar at The Oval, Wirral on Thursday 18th June. This is an ISRM event which is now also being offered free to TLDC invitees. 

If you, your staff or colleagues would benefit from the event please call on 020 7379 3197 to confirm places or email jenny@theleisuredatabase.com