Our fitness fanatic German Account Manager, Christian Reinhardt, has hit the books this week to investigate the inner workings of the fitness industry. Drawing from critical global research, there is so much for both the sports marketing and fitness industry to learn.

Winter is coming and the fitness clubs are preparing for the season. Questions like “How can we attract new customers?” or “How can we retain the existing ones?” are resurfacing once again. Are these questions exclusive to the fitness clubs or does the entire industry grapple with them? In recent years, a wealth of research has been carried out and this blog will explore what fitness clubs can gain from it.

Recent developments in the industry are promising; with over 52 million members and annual revenues of €26.7 billion [1], fitness in Europe is a huge industry and is steadily growing. Within each country the fitness market is slightly different and should be approached on an individual level. For example, Germany has the highest membership rate but the most money is earned in the UK. Research found that there is a linear relationship between income (measured in GDP per capita) and fitness market penetration, which means the higher the income, the higher the membership rate. Countries with a higher GDP are increasingly likely to spend more money in the industry.

The industry is controlled and dominated by the top operators from the low-cost sector that use their low membership fees to attract customers by the dozen. FitX in Germany and Basic-Fit in Belgium are examples of these, with the latter owning 53% of Belgium’s market share, the highest in Europe [2]. When it comes to the equipment inside the clubs, 72% of it is provided by five major brands. Life Fitness (24%), Technogym (17%), Johnson Health Tech (13%), Precor (13%) and Cybex (6%) [2].

“Germany has the highest membership rate but the most money is earned in the UK.”

What do these fancy statistics tell us as marketers? First of all, it should point out the huge potential in the sports industry, and secondly that understanding your target market is the key for sales and retention management. A deep understanding allows you to adapt campaigns and ensure customer satisfaction, because after all, a satisfied customer is the cheapest and most effective resource a company can have. Further international research has generated interesting results surrounding marketing techniques within the fitness industry.

Understanding the target market

A study [3] with over 4600 participants across 13 countries found that 27% of adults, with Millennials as the largest group, have a fitness club membership. Another study [4] confirms this and describes the most common customer is a young female academic with a good disposable income with the main motivation to enhance their fitness state. Interestingly, despite the common perception that women shy away from weight training and despite the female dominated sample, the study stated that 82% of the women use weights whereas only 54% attend group workouts. Further research asked why people did not own fitness club memberships with the most common excuses were that they felt too tired, they have a busy schedule, and they lack motivation.

How can fitness clubs attract new customers?

A recent global study [5] found that convenience of location is the most important factor for fitness club participation. It also found that fitness enthusiasts are not extremely price sensitive, they appreciate a great club atmosphere, and are attracted by fitness equipment within the club, especially Millennials. While the clubs themselves can handle a lot of these key factors, it challenges equipment manufacturers to think about the structure of their marketing. A focus on B2C marketing could potentially influence customers (especially Millennials) to join a particular fitness club that offers their brand of equipment.

How can fitness clubs retain existing customers?

The University of Liverpool examined the customer satisfaction of fitness clients in Canada [6]. They found that the fitness clubs with the highest customer satisfaction employed knowledgeable, well trained, and customer orientated staff. The best clubs offered a variety of high quality services in an appealing service environment that prioritises the maintenance and promotion of customer satisfaction.

“Further research asked why people did not own fitness club memberships with the most common excuses were that they felt too tired, they have a busy schedule, and they lack motivation.”

“A recent global study found that convenience of location is the most important factor for fitness club participation.”

Another study [7] dives deeper into trainers’ minds, revealing that there are some fundamental psychological needs that must be fulfilled before exercise resolutions become habits. Professor Stuart Biddle identified the key components of customer satisfaction. Firstly, the client must have a perception of personal growth; this requires the trainer to provide encouragement to client and to reaffirm progress and competency. The client must have a sense of autonomy in their training; feeling like they having a choice of what they are doing and not feeling pressured into it. The client must lastly feel a sense of belonging and feel comfortable in the surroundings in which they are training.  

Research takeaways

From these few insights, a rich understanding of the client is vital when deciding how to market to them. By identifying four categories of customers, fitness clubs can tailor their packages to each category in a time-effective and straightforward way. Each category should be approached differently both in terms of fitness package content and training methods.

Example categories include:

1) The health-oriented consumers. Mostly represented by mid-aged women who follow a strict diet and like to attend to group classes.

2) The athletic consumer. A young male who views exercising as fun and a part of their lifestyle without having a strict training schedule.

3) The doctor referral. A pressured consumer that has joined a gym as a result of ill health. Economic factors influence their choice in fitness club as they want the best services available.

4) The sports-savvy consumer. A young single male or female with a medium to low income that wants to achieve new fitness goals and likes to wear athletic clothing.

“Another study dives deeper into trainers’ minds, revealing that there are some fundamental psychological needs that must be fulfilled before exercise resolutions become habits.”

This knowledge of the customer allows the fitness club to customize a package that aligns with the goals of that customer. Catering the training package and instruction methods to the customer will positively increase sales and retention rates of the club.

A lot of the research highlighted the importance of the equipment and the classes in a fitness club when considering a membership. It is understandable that a fitness club manager is keen to keep the costs low and to get the most valuable contract with a manufacturer or service provider. However, according to these research results, there should be more of a focus on the brand itself. This was true in my own experience. When I moved to Munich I was addicted to the Les Mills BodyPump program, so much so that I cycled to the other end of the city just for that class. A brand focus is also a great opportunity for the manufacturer and service provider to strengthen their brand image on a B2C level for customers seeking out a fitness club with a specific brand. This in turn increases the attractiveness on a B2B level, and provides a stronger negotiation position when dealing with fitness club managers.

Another interesting topic is the opportunity to connect an activity tracker, sport watch or smartphone with the club’s equipment. Tracking your lifestyle is a huge trend at the moment and is reflected by the skyrocketing development of Fitbit and other recent mergers (e.g., Under Armour bought MyFitnessPal and Adidas bought Runtastic) [8]. The big players like LifeFitness, Technogym, Precor and Johnson Health Tech (Matrix) are already offering different solutions to connect various devices to their products and communicating these possibilities on a B2C-level. Innovative ideas like these are making fitness brands more attractive to both the clubs and the consumers.

Christian Reinhardt

Author Christian Reinhardt

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