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Expect the best from your health club, Part 1

5 Jul 2011

Club Industry recently reported that Gold’s Gym is in talks to buy Bally. Although the sources of this rumor are not clear, this claim is enough to make heads turn. It’s the story of a successful business in a position to acquire what could be considered a long-time rival. Growing up with an interest in fitness and health clubs, this story triggered some early memories of both brands.

Years ago, before I even considered a career in fitness, I remember my first impression of Gold’s being one of intimidation. To me, it felt like a gym where meat-head, Y shaped devoted bodybuilders could gather to lift, walk around with chalky protein drinks, and exchange workout tips. I felt out of place. When Bally emerged, the club company seemed to carry a more holistic, balanced approach to fitness. Bally Total Fitness appeared to emphasize personal training and group exercise instruction. This approach probably appealed more to female and older demographics. Those early impressions stayed with me for some time–after all, it’s tough to change first impressions.

One of the reasons consumers most frequently cite as a barrier to joining a health club is feeling out of place. As difficult as those first impressions are to change and as intimidating a gym can be, through the years Gold’s has emerged to be a health club organization that responds to consumer needs and wants along with industry trends. This is impressive  because this sort of collective flexibility can be tough to put into practice when you are a franchise company overseeing hundreds of franchisee owners that often differ greatly in their individual backgrounds in business and management. Let’s face it, sometimes a passion for an ideal like fitness doesn’t always translate well into running a business. Resources like financing, business education, and training in customer service are critical in order to make your health club stand out in this business.

How does Gold’s go about accomplishing this at the franchisee and industry levels? Thanks to a recent conversation with Jim Snow, president of Gold’s Gym International, IHRSA’s Club Business International magazine covered this topic.

First, through Gold’s Gym University online, the franchisor provides an educational component instructive to running a profitable business. There is also a financial arm to help franchisees with capital needs. More recently, Gold’s launched an Express club concept for consumers looking for a lower price point for membership and to provide another business opportunity for existing and potential franchisees. Their current male: female membership ratio — 47% : 53%.

Now that we’ve seen a health club business once associated with the bodybuilding scene now more concerned with empowering franchisees and reaching a wide array of consumers, we’ve seen Gold’s redefine their brand and re-establish themselves as an industry leader. What example has Gold’s set or new standard have they established that may have an impact on the industry? Stay tuned for part 2 later this week.

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