I love listening to all of the discussion about “disruption” in our industry. In my opinion, much of it is conjecture, but I also believe there are many disruptive forces that are affecting our industry. We need to adopt new technologies to better serve our clients and remain a sustainable and viable option for our consumers. We must also be careful not to mistake change for growth.
We all know the history of innovation creating obsolescence: the horse and buggy, travel agencies, video stores, pay phones and the list goes on and on.
For a long time, I have tried to predict what will change in the future. This has proven to be somewhat of a fool-hearted endeavor. Who could have guessed trends like CrossFit, where many operators create their club from a garage, are able to charge a premium for this experience. It is one thing to admit we do not know the future, but if we are blind to new trends and technologies, we run the risk of becoming obsolete. When we look at the “disruptive” innovation in our industry, it has not been driven by technology. All things considered, it has been based on serving unmet needs in the marketplace, and at times, technology has had a role to play.
There hasn’t been a lot of disruption in our industry that can be directly attributed to technology. Most disruption has been innovative… based on progression. This is not to say there won’t be in the future, and of course there are a limited amount of exceptions. For instance, Peloton (www.pelotoncycle.com), is a truly disruptive technology changing the way people consume fitness. I know there are other “on demand” and virtual fitness offerings out there, but Peloton is the first piece of commercial grade equipment with a scientific, interactive user interface creating a great user experience, which in turn, has created a community of zealots. It is a game changer. It is still virtual and won’t meet the needs of socialization around other humans, but it solves the problem of proximity, something a health club cannot do. That is disruption.
How many health clubs/gyms have added 2 – 4 Peloton Bikes in private areas for members who like virtual fitness and don’t want to be in a live class? It might not be a bad idea. A member who loves this but also wants other attributes of your club/gym might stay and not quit. Embracing new versus denying or ignoring is going to be a key to progression. This goes for all virtual fitness offerings.
I think virtual fitness as a whole, along with public access to fitness spaces (e.g. the success of the November Project, www.november-project.com) and increased fitness offerings in hotels, companies and residential complexes will have a dramatic impact on the industry as a whole. The private sector must acknowledge these trends, or better yet, embrace them, in order to compete.
While we all get hyped about the things changing around us, as well as the latest things in technology, the truth is there are some things that innovation will change and some things that might not. For example, the way people want to enroll is changing, but the need and desire for human contact has not.
Let’s look at how the sales experience has changed due to technology:
- Clubs/Gyms have got to be price transparent – Your prices can’t be a secret; post them online. Share them during the telephone inquiry after one or two simple redirects. Be upfront and don’t create friction during the customer journey. Never create ill-will on sharing your pricing. You should not be embarrassed by what you charge.
- Make it easy to join. Period. Remove hassles. If prospects don’t want to deal with a salesperson, provide them an “Online Join Button.” If I want to purchase online, let me.
- Use electronic agreements in-club – Get rid of paper. This makes it easier for the staff, members and the back office.
- Use the latest in CRM technologies to capture leads and continue the customer/member relationship. GymSales.com pulls in the prospect’s social media feed with their profile photo, giving you a wealth of information before the prospect even shows up. This solution is one of the lowest-priced CRMs currently on the market. It’s brilliant and integrates seamlessly with your MMS. It also has an amazing dashboard for reporting on each membership representative’s activities.
However, what I have seen as the constant among all the perceived “disruption” with technology is our members valuing the experiences they receive and the results through relationships they achieve.
Think about pubs in the Northeast, bars everywhere and saloons in the Old West. People don’t go to drink virtually. Most who drink do so with family and friends. The pub, bar and saloon industry still exists today as it always has and shows no sign of extinction. Why? Human contact, socialization and experience. This is what we can never relinquish as an industry. This is why hiring authentic, friendly, social, nice and caring people must be part of our secret sauce. You cannot marginalize or take your eye off the ball on hiring the right people. Creating a tailored experience through socialization and friendliness is our sustainable position with expertise, environment, etc.
Everything I shared above holds true for restaurants. We can pick up dinner “to go” from the finest restaurant in town. We can even have UberEats deliver us our favorite food from their app. Why do we still go to restaurants? Because we like to get dressed and go out. We want the experience. We want to see and be seen and interact with human beings. We are social creatures.
There are some emerging provocative technologies that will challenge the status quo:
- For instance, imagine tracking every member from entry through every aspect of their workout through facial recognition… It’s here!
- Imagine a member walking by the front desk without stopping, in full stride, and their check-in is captured (without a smartphone or need for a membership card)… It’s here!
- Imagine calculating working heart rate without a chest strap or arm band… It’s here!
- Imagine on-demand group exercise classes available in every modality whenever, wherever the class is needed… It’s here.
The technology that will augment the member experience in the future is already being tested today and already making headlines. You might have read that you may no longer need a boarding pass at Logan Airport because JetBlue can use your stored passport photo to check you in as you simply walk on the plane. As these types of technologies get more pervasive, privacy issues will get resolved and fade away. What once was perceived as a violation of privacy will likely be openly accepted as a member solution enhancement.
For instance, think of the convenience of self-check-in at airports. When gate agents began to disappear, it was met with a lot of resistance like most changes do. However, can you imagine a world where we reverted back to standing in line to get our boarding passes and check our luggage? It would be horrendous.
A lot of technology and innovation in our industry is hype. However, there are a lot of players that are less about hype and more about reducing friction and augmenting the member experience. These are the players to watch because when you reduce friction and improve a member’s experience that’s when you see growth.
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