Loyalty is the great management challenge for fitness centers

La fidelización es el gran reto de gestión de los centros de fitness

Johan Cruyff Institute invites three industry experts to a panel discussion to delve into the management of fitness centers, an increasingly global business where customer loyalty is the great warhorse

In a society where the culture of healthy habits has more weight every day, member loyalty is the great warhorse in the management of fitness centers. There is an offer for all tastes and pockets, models that respond to the heterogeneity of an increasingly numerous and long-living public, from low cost gyms, to premium, municipal, private, boutique or franchise centers. For the students of its programs in Sport Management and Sport Marketing and Sponsorship, the Johan Cruyff Institute brought together three fitness center representatives to examine the trends of a sector clearly on the rise.

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The international sports center organization IHRSA reveals in its annual report on the fitness business that Spanish facilities generated a business of 2,410 million euros as at the end of 2018. Regarding infrastructure, Spain ended the year with 4,650 clubs, encompassing municipal centers, and clubs from 200 to 15,000 square meters managed and promoted by private companies. Worldwide, the sector generated 94 billion dollars in revenue, to which 210,000 clubs and 183 million users contributed. The United States remains the king in terms of body culture, generating five times more than the second and third placed, Germany and the United Kingdom, respectively.

Loyalty is the great management challenge for fitness centers

According to Albert Villon, director of operations at Sintagmia, a service company like his adapts to the broad demand “looking at the environment, detecting the profile of the population and getting to know the client”. For Albert, “the treatment you offer, the confidence you transmit and your proximity are basic elements for creating a brand.” Sintagmia is made up of a group of companies dedicated to the management of sports facilities and the organization of physical, sports and leisure activities.

“The fitness culture has evolved as a reflection of people’s awareness,” says Albert. “Before, people were not so concerned about following a vegan, vegetarian or organic diet, but leading a healthy lifestyle is much more important today, although there is still a long way to go. If there is demand, many valuable proposals appear for each of the segments. In the end, the entire sports offer has been getting more concentrated, from the concession model, to the public service model a city council can offer through an operator that wins a public tender, or even a private operator, for example, the typical boutique gyms that focus on a very specific segment of the population.”

As its name suggests, Anytime Fitness has gone for a model of gym open 24 hours 365 days a year, and boasts of being the largest gym franchise in the world, with more than 3,000 centers and 5 million users. Adrià Santamaria, director of the center in Terrassa, believes that “there are many ways to differentiate from the competition. There are very diverse user profiles: those that prioritize belonging and the attention they receive, those that go beyond the technological aspect, those that value the equipment most. One of the great gurus in this sector told me: ‘Either you have a cheaper gym or you have a gym that people fall in love with’. Right now, there is no middle ground. I think we should differentiate ourselves and each one choose something. For example, we are a local gym open 24 hours a day; that is what differentiates us the most.”

Every day, there are more apps that invite us to get fit without going to the gym, although that is not a real alternative to fitness centers, according to Adrià Santamaría. “We have also incorporated an app, but we believe that at no time does it replace a real coach. In fact, by having more exercises and routines via the app, people go to the center more so their coach can guide them and advise on how to use the app. I don’t think these apps have a negative effect on subscriptions to sports centers.”

At GEiEG (the Girona Excursionist and Sports Center) you can practice almost any sport and the secret to customer loyalty is “the quality we offer in sports training,” says its sporting director, Pau Serra. “We have 21 sports sections and we give comprehensive training. We like to say that at GEiEG we do not train athletes, we train people.” This year, the center is celebrating its 100 years of history and the most significant changes that the club has experienced have derived from its professionalization. “We are still in the process, but we must not forget that until recently the club was run altruistically. Managing a club with 12,500 members and three sports facilities is very complex and requires professionals,” recognizes Pau Serra.

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