No Senior Executive can know the future. However, if someone had talked to you about the future back in 2017 and told you that in 2019 a pandemic was going to hit the world that would disrupt business as you knew it, laughter would have likely been the response.
Executives couldn’t have planned for the disruption to regular business because no one knew it would happen. And yet, it did shift the nature of your business. No longer could Fitness Club members come into clubs to work out. Establishments closed down due to government regulations for many months, longer than was initially anticipated.
These disruptions caused a great deal of uncertainty. Depending on the state you operate in, the rules around reopening have meant that there has been no end in sight to going back to ‘normal operations for many months.’ For some states, there are still limits in place for opening up again for in-person participation.
Uncertainties overwhelming affect
The thing with uncertainty is it builds, first one thing, then another, and another. Before you know it, you are standing feeling like the person drinking water out of a firehose. Drenched and having no idea what to do next.
A knee-jerk reaction is to go into fight mode, coming up with short-term tactics to deal with what is happening now. But, unfortunately, that response, while helping you feel as though you are making progress, at least at some level, isn’t a long-term solution.
Yes, you have solved an immediate problem, and how does that work long term? Especially in the current environment when there is so much unknown.
“Lots of organizations get stuck cycling between strategy and tactics. While that process might feel like serious planning for the future, it results in a perpetual cycle of trying to catch up: to competitors, to new entrants, and to external sources of disruption.” – Amy Webb HBR
You may have been a Club owner who did not become overwhelmed and thought things through with a clear head. As a leader, you made great tactical decisions and executed on them. Your focus during this time was to ensure the best possible experience for your members. Kudos to you. Now it is time to focus back on the bigger picture strategy.
A strategic review is necessary
While the uncertainties associated with the pandemic and how long it will continue aren’t over, Fitness Club owners have the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate their strategy.
The business strategy developed pre-pandemic may no longer work or may need considerable re-thinking. While methods for gaining and retaining members in previous years focused on look-good wellness, the shift has occurred in the marketplace that potential members now seek more holistic support.
Consumers are now looking for more than just physical well-being. With the increase in mental health awareness, especially during these changing times, it is now becoming a part of what consumers consider “well-being” for. As well, members want connection, and they want to be part of their social network even when they aren’t in the club. It won’t be likely that these points were being fully considered in the business strategy, but some were actually making inroads on these engagement opportunities.
In a 2020 article by Jess Cording titled “Covid19 transforming fitness industry, “Cording stated that since March 2020, consumers are working out even more than before, with 56% of survey respondents exercising at least five times per week.”
The shift that occurred is that most of these workouts are happening online, in virtual classes rather than in the traditional sense. And also not necessarily the regular classes are taken in person.
A strategy developed pre-covid would not have included a sizable virtual class component. That wasn’t the way of the industry back then. And yet, that is now where it is situated, and if you don’t shift the way your Club delivers services and adapt to the changing need, you could be left behind by those clubs which are more progressive.
The benefit of strategic focus
Due to the pandemic, the entire marketplace for fitness has shifted drastically. Already large numbers of Clubs have closed due to not pivoting to meet the changing times. And also their high overheads requiring strong participation and in club utilization. Likewise, due to the pandemic, the business routines needed to shift, but that alone would not keep the Club running long term.
The shift that is allowing Clubs to remain open and profitable is in better understanding the new marketplace. No longer is the target market only those with higher-end incomes.
A Forbes article states that based on their research, consumers are now happier because they can “just show up and have the gym experience in their own home” due to the shift to online fitness classes delivered virtually. “Consumers are also finding that they’re able to squeeze in those workouts between, maybe when work ends and when they have family responsibilities, in ways that they couldn’t before, due to no longer needing to commute.” Yes, there is good news for club operators as many members are saying that they miss the club atmosphere and look forward to getting back to their routines.
And perhaps the question is now how to deliver your brand experience both in club and on-demand.
And it won’t happen just by adding some recorded content. It requires a commitment to strategic investments, to building a true omnichannel experience, just as retailers have done. Can you imagine being in retail and not being online? Only a shift to strategic thinking will see your Fitness Club benefit and prosper in these uncertain times.
With the shift to strategic focus comes the ability to step back and view the bigger picture. To take an eagle-eye view of the changing landscape that now surrounds the fitness industry. Working from this angle provides the opportunity to see where the value add opportunities exist for potential new clients and how shifting focus from in-person to online will bring new members. And not just shifting from in-person to online but considering all possible channels that your members want to leverage to ensure that the experience for them is rich and impactful.
Longer-term thinking will allow plans to be put in place to mitigate future risks or shifts. Longer-term planning gives us the perspective to consider scenarios so that the business isn’t caught without contingency plans. And while there is no certainty around the future, you can try and anticipate and plan for scenarios. A classic PESTLE analysis can give you some indication of the external factors in your strategic planning that may need to be looked at.
Consider a full review of the Strategic Plan developed by your organization. Stop and take a big picture view. Then, shift your strategy to match the changing times and reap the benefits. What steps have you taken to ensure you have time to be in strategy mode?