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Fitness In Australia And New Zealand: Shifting Member Behaviour

Leading fitness industry experts in Australia and New Zealand share what club owners need to do to build a successful and competitive business.

The following is a summary of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speakers

Scott Hood is the Operations Director at Virgin Active Australia. He oversees acquisitions and organisational operations in the Australian head office.

Meredith Littlefair is the manager of Health and Fitness at VenuesWest. She has over 30 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She is also a certified personal trainer, group instructor, and wellness coach.

Darren Bain has over 30 years of experience in the industry and is the Owner of Function Well, a results-based training facility in Australia.

Gregory Will was – at the time – the chairperson for Fitness Australia (note: the current chairperson in 2016 is David Allen).

What Consumers Want from the Fitness Industry

In Australia, 18 per cent of the population use fitness services. The issue is how to keep this group motivated and encouraged as well as determine why the other 82 per cent are not interested in gyms – we need to find ways to raise that level of interest.

Typical members join gyms to better themselves. What that means and requires differs from person to person. Older members tend to look for low-intensity fitness programs, such as aquatic fitness, for medical reasons. Younger members, females in particular, tend to look for group fitness classes. Group exercise should be a huge consideration within every facility.

Why People Use or Do Not Use Facilities

A 2014 Ezypay fitness survey found that the three most common reasons people join fitness facilities were: proximity, value for money, and variety of exercises offered. Factors that impact long-term commitment include the location, the facility’s atmosphere, personal motivation, professional and engaging staff, working machines, and cleanliness.

Critical Factors That Make Members Want to Interact with High-Priced Clubs

Darren Bain’s Function Well is a high-end and high-priced facility, and yet has consistently experienced the lowest attrition rates within his area. His team represents a vital business component.

Without an outstanding team, you can never be successful. Understanding your core values and your mission is fundamental for success. Personalised and friendly member service provides an environment where your club may well be the best part of a member’s day.

Investing in your team is about more than building your business. It is about building passion and producing results. Cultivating a sense of community with your members encourages relationships and engagement with your staff and with other members. Customer service is ultimately the determining factor in client retention.

Quality Improvement

Many components influence customer satisfaction, such as:

  • A friendly and approachable staff
  • Trust and confidence in the staff
  • The facilities and services provided as promised
  • Safety of the equipment and facility.

Fully explain the terms and conditions of membership. Customer satisfaction includes the comfort level of the gym, cleanliness, and the extent to which members feel pressured by sales staff. Convenient access to the gym is important, whether it’s the location or the operating hours of the facility. The showers and other amenities provided at the gym also impact customer satisfaction. Customers want a variety of services, convenient opening hours, instructors on the floor, variable payment options, and ease of cancellation.

Barriers to Joining

Two significant barriers to joining a gym, apart from personal indecision, are the clients’ inability to cancel from other facilities and their desire for amenities that you may or may not provide.

The most common reason for not engaging more with fitness services is people do not want to pay for something they can access for free, such as jogging and other functional forms of exercise. They are concerned about being locked into contracts, and they do not have time or do not believe the gym will help them. The notion of not “helping them” can be wholly attributed to the image of the fitness industry.

Marketing campaigns showing super fit, good-looking models can deter unfit people who may feel intimidated. Use images of normal people in your marketing; include testimonials to demonstrate you are a welcoming facility where they can feel comfortable and fit in.

It is important to communicate that gyms are not just for already-fit people. Get out into the community and become involved. Demonstrate your interest in the community and show you can make a difference in their lives.

What is going to change in the future? New disruptive business models are going to pop up everywhere. Fitness will become low pressure and lead to greater engagement that is supported by expanded follow up. Make sure your facility has a competitive advantage by hiring a high-quality staff, making your club a welcoming environment, and providing convenient access and service to your members.

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