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Kath Hudson • Journalist • Health Club Management EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT . . .

Beyond 12 per cent I

n the UK, the fi tness industry has been hovering around 12 per cent population

penetration for years. Why can’t we push beyond it? John Treharne, CEO of the

The 12 per cent market penetration figure gets bandied about, but how accurate is it? What figure could the sector reach, and what does it need to do to achieve this?

Gym Group, says 35 per cent of its users have never been to a gym before. But if low-cost clubs are attracting a new demographic, why are we still stuck at 12 per cent? Are we haemorrhaging members as fast as we can sign them up? Or is the 12 per cent fi gure out of date, simply repeated out of familiarity rather than being accurate today? Or is the static membership fi gure due to a growth in casual users, who might account for another few per cent? The ongoing problem of retention of course lies at the very heart of this:

penetration levels are always going to be plagued by members lapsing. What more can we do? Of the non-user groups, lapsed members are generally recognised to be the easiest sell, so are clubs fi nding out why people have left and making efforts to win them back? And how good are clubs at welcoming new members, setting them off on the right track and keeping them motivated – and returning regularly – by making sure they’re achieving their goals?




he 12 per cent penetration figure is fairly accurate, although it only

covers those with memberships, not ‘pay as you go’. However, even if it’s out by 2 per cent either side, it’s still not good enough. I think it’s realistic to double this figure in a fairly short space of

time, but to do so we need to change the focus of the sector. We assume everyone wants what we offer, so we don’t change our offering – which means we’re always knocking on the same doors. We need to focus more on the people who should be users

but currently aren’t. This requires operators to move from fitness delivery to health delivery. We need to show we offer programmes to deal with diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and we need to actively welcome these people. The sector needs to develop partnerships with healthcare providers and use the statistics available to back up their programmes. Staff need to be trained not only to deliver specialist programmes, but also to interact with people who are very different from them. None of the current non-users are easy to reach, but those

on the cusp of needing medical assistance are a good group to aim for and will be the most appreciative of the intervention. However, to do this as a sector, we need to prove that we can make a difference.

DAVID MINTON The Leisure Database Company • Director

cent, which is a result of the expansion of low-cost clubs. However, low-cost isn’t an innovation to genuinely grow the sector. It just means we’re virtually giving away memberships and lowering the value of the industry, as seen in the drop in yield. The industry has so far benefited from the low-hanging


fruit, and isn’t catering for the largest demographic: older and deconditioned people. To grow penetration, we need innovation and better leadership. Clubs need to change the message and nudge people – people currently believe they don’t have to join. We also need to keep the members we have by helping them

achieve their goals. Weight Watchers received £4m from the Department of Health because it has systems in place to prove how many people it helps each year. By contrast, I recently asked four health club general managers how many of their members were training for a personal challenge. None of them knew. Too few clubs know how often members are attending the gym and what they do when there. Turning gym instructors into PTs is also a backward step unless everyone gets a PT: clubs rely on members to find the motivation themselves, and there’s too little engagement when the members get bored.

” 30 Read Health Club Management online at August 2013 © Cybertrek 2013

his year, the penetration figure has risen by 0.5 per cent to 12.6 per

Non-gym based activity is

another issue: fi ndings from YouGov’s SixthSense survey suggest that many people prefer to exercise outdoors, using cycling, walking or gardening as their mode of fi tness. Can the fi tness sector drive penetration by connecting

with these people, offering outdoor activities as well as the more traditional indoor alternatives during winter? How much appetite is there in the

industry to change the status quo? What percentage penetration could we actually get to, and how? Who is it we’re not currently getting to – who are the other 88 per cent, and how likely is it that they’d join a gym? What’s the true potential for the health and fi tness sector? We ask the experts...

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