This week was something of a red-letter one; I had two phone interviews regarding where I think the fitness industry is headed. One was with a national newspaper and the other was with one of the 'big four' accounting firms who were preparing a report for their investors about what sector of the fitness industry they should stick their large bundles of cash into. Quite apart from the bizarre thought that somewhere in the future there might be a bunch of high-powered people sitting around a mahogany desk making million-dollar investments based - in part - on my ramblings, I was struck by the sheer open-endedness of the question.
Where did I think the fitness industry was headed? It's not a bad question, but it's not a good question either. It's too large, too bulky, and in answering it there are too many ifs and buts. However, having experienced frustration more times than I care to recall by poor interviewees, I did my best to offer them my opinion, interspersed with as many facts and statistics as I could provide.
And that's part of the problem - it's pretty difficult getting accurate and meaningful statistics from the industry. There are some organisations, such as the International Health, Racquet and Sportclub Association (I know, what a name, right?) that provide international and American statistics, ukactive sometimes provide data, and there are some individuals and bodies that do as well but, as a general rule, the actual health clubs rarely release data.
In a way this is understandable - these clubs are businesses. Suppose a national club chain had a bad six months in terms of retention and new members - do they want this information in the public domain? The other side of the coin applies as well. A chain might not want news of a bumper quarter announced for fear that its competitors will drop their prices or take a closer look at what they are doing and copy them. So, for the most part, they act in isolation and it's made increasingly difficult to draw conclusions about the industry and its future.
Of course, being your friendly neighbourhood journalist and a consummate professional (quiet down there at the back), I was able to offer some opinions on the state of the industry. I believe that, in terms of clubs, the UK is polarizing and - at the risk of sounding like a politician - the middle is being squeezed. The last five years has seen the rapid growth of budget gym chains and an increase in the number of high-end boutique offerings. This will continue.
I also have good news for the fitness customer; you have more power than ever before. The rise of the internet (as an aside, someone looking to be published in Fitpro recently referred to the internet as the 'complex high-speed information highway'. Seriously?) brings with it easy access to fitness information and the opportunity to watch fitness exercises on YouTube. The issue that some - if not the majority - of these articles and videos are displaying poor form is neither here nor there. Fitness professionals are no longer the gatekeepers of information. This, aligned to the fact that in the near future gyms shouldn't be able to lock down their clients into long-term contracts, plus the rise of fitness crazes that occur in places other than gyms, such as Zumba® and PX90, and it should be clear that the fitness consumer now holds a pretty good hand. Certainly one with a couple of face cards in it.
As I mentioned before, it's impossible to accurately predict where the industry will end up. It's still a relatively new industry and one that is small and impressionable enough for a chain that displays vision and purpose to seriously shake it up. If I could tell you exactly where the industry was headed, I would be in the money myself, rather than simply help to contribute a report for the money men.