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TALKBACK


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


Universal appeal R


esearch from Dr Paul Bedford indicates that the membership profi le across the private and public sectors is increasingly


similar (see HCM Sept 13, p64). A large proportion of members are from the middle classes and eight MOSAIC profi les are signifi cantly under-represented, with gyms struggling to lure the highest and lowest income groups. So why is this? Certainly there’s more


parity of offering between the sectors nowadays: the public sector has upped its game, offering high quality facilities at reasonable prices, while the private sector has struggled with ageing estates in tough economic times. Meanwhile,


the growing budget club sector, closer to traditional public sector offerings in terms of pricing, would logically appeal to those on lower salaries – but as with the budget airlines, in practice it appeals equally to gym-savvy, value-driven professionals. Another factor to bear in mind is the


high volume of casual users in the public sector – a group that can’t currently be tracked, as operators can’t provide data for them. It’s possible that public sector participation is broader than the research reveals, but it still suggests lower income groups only participate as and when they can afford to, rather than committing to a new lifestyle.


JOHN TREHARNE The Gym Group • CEO


“I


’m surprised at this research, because I think health club


membership has become less middle class. In the 80s and much of the 90s, a health


club membership was expensive and therefore a middle class badge: health clubs were associated with the nouveau riche. In my view, that has changed dramatically over the last five years. In the UK, Europe and the US, there has been a cultural change which has made health club membership less middle class. As the recession has taken hold, there’s been a shift towards


value for money in all areas of life and among all socioeconomic groups, whether that’s travel, flights or even daily necessities: 18.6 per cent of the AB socioeconomic group now shop at Aldi and perceptions are changing. Indeed, Aldi has as many products rated ‘high’ by its customers as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer. That shift towards value is evident in health clubs too: our


research shows our members are evenly spread across the socioeconomic groups – ABs as well as people on benefits – and the majority are new to health club membership. We believe our business model creates an inclusive


environment: once you’re on a treadmill, it makes no difference what the person next to you earns.





Research shows the middle classes dominate health club membership. How can we broaden the appeal to all socioeconomic groups – and how hard are we trying?


Bedford explains: “The retention-


focused research looked at who’s paying and how well we retain them. While we might be able to access wider populations by providing discounted/subsidised activities, we seem unable to fi nd ways of selling memberships to these populations.” If the industry is to tap into NHS


funding and play a part in relieving the obesity epidemic, engaging with a broader demographic is vital. Even acknowledging the direct debit-based sample of the research, the question still needs to be asked: are we engaging with a suffi ciently broad audience? If not, what are the barriers preventing lower socioeconomic groups from joining clubs?


IS YOUR CLUB ATTRACTING THE LOWER SOCIOECONOMIC GROUPS? EMAIL US: HEALTHCLUB@LEISUREMEDIA.COM


KAREN CREAVIN Birmingham City Council • Head of community sport & healthy lifestyles


40 per cent of the population registered and using our facilities – that’s more people than voted in the last general election. We’ve achieved this by identifying barriers and then removing


“W


them. Cost has proved to be one of the biggest barriers to attracting the lower socioeconomic groups, so since 2009 we’ve been offering Birmingham residents free access to our leisure centres at set hours during the day. Clubs in the most deprived areas offer the most free access. Following the success of this Be Active programme, we also


launched Active Parks in spring 2013. This offers free activities, such as Zumba, park fit and buggy fit, in parks. These sessions draw a lot of families: women tell us they don’t want childcare – they want activities they can do with their children. These services are funded by the NHS and independent


evaluation has shown that for every £1 spent, £21.30 is returned to the system. Our research shows we’re reaching all the groups, but are over-represented by those living in the poorest postcodes. People feel comfortable in the club when they’re among those who look and dress like themselves.


” 32 Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital March 2014 © Cybertrek 2014


e’re very proud of the fact that, in Birmingham, we have almost


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