A category by yourself, but not alone
Private club fitness has been a trending new amenity amongst clubs for nearly a decade now. There are no signs of slowing.
The clubs early to the game benefited by striking when the iron was hot. Prospective members interested in modernized country clubs who valued the interests of all members (not just the golfers) found homes at these first-to-market country clubs.
For those of you later to the game, don’t worry—you get to stand on the shoulders of the most successful operations
Private clubs are in a category by themselves known as private club fitness. It is different than the commercial industry in that a healthy bottom line is not usually the primary driver of business decisions (though it is sometimes appreciated by member leaders sensitive to such things).
Private club fitness is also different than the municipal fitness industry (think YMCA, JCC, and your local rec center). These operations can receive subsidies and may even be non-profits. Their focus is on budget friendly access though, and not usually service or quality.
The private club fitness industry is more similar to the commercial boutique fitness industry than any other sector. The blended focus on quality, access, and service are well matched here.
It is still a lot of noise though. Instead of sifting through the data, private clubs tend to look to each other, membership organizations (e.g., the Club Spa and Fitness Association), equipment vendors (e.g., Advanced Exercise), or consultants (e.g., 1000 Hills Fitness) to help guide their fitness operation decisions.
Here are 7 tips to help get your private club fitness center operating well:
Branding is the tip of the spear. Yet, it is the number #1 overlooked aspect in private club fitness. Answer these questions and you’ll be off to a better start than most:
Our facility is____.
The staff are____.
Our programs are____.
Our services are for members who believe____.
Invest in varied programs and quality staff. Most country clubs have 40-60 commercial fitness centers within a 5-mile radius. The newness of your facility will be compelling, but the polish will eventually wear off. And when it does, you’ll need varied programs run by quality staff to keep members coming back year to year.
Compete for members’ attention. Remember those 40-60 fitness centers nearby? They are all competing for your members—on price, access, quality, service, innovation, equipment, etc. You should too. Have a strategic plan, set performance expectations, know your competition, and above all, evolve!
Just right management. If you want your fitness center to operate like a hotel’s fitness center (i.e., self-serve), then you do not need a fitness director. If you want a fitness department capable of attracting and retaining members, then you need a director. The two are mutually exclusive. Anything in between requires specialized know-how. If you don’t have it, then don’t do it.
Fitness equipment: variety, quality, and branding matter most. Let’s start with variety. You don’t need every piece of equipment to be manufactured by the same company. Some equipment vendors don’t like to hear that, because they only sell one manufacturer (and no equipment vendor sells all equipment). Next up, quality. Don’t buy residential equipment, and light commercial equipment isn’t quite right for a club who intends to run a full program. Commercial equipment saves money in the long run (repairs, preventive maintenance), looks and feels better, and comes with more features to help round out your programming calendar. And finally—branding (see #1 above). Your equipment selections should match your brand.
Fail-friendly culture. It is not unusual for country clubs to allow poorly attended classes to stick around too long. Change is not easy, but it’s necessary in fitness. Give your classes no more than 8 weeks to get off the ground. Warn your members that the class is about to be cut—they may rally their friends to save the class.
Don’t try to be everything for everyone, it’s the kiss of death especially among boutique fitness operations. Instead, focus your attention on 2-3 niches, and no more. Personal training and yoga are likely good starters. Pilates, spinning, and youth fitness are programs you probably shouldn’t start with.
The business of fitness used to be much simpler. Build it and they will come. On rare occasion does that work anymore. The updated cliché is: Build it and they will come—for a while. When the polish wears thin is when the strong operations separate themselves from the mediocre.
About 1000 Hills Fitness
Founded in 2011, 1000 Hills Fitness is a leading private club fitness operations manager and consultant, combining more than 40 years of operations excellence with private clubs and luxury commercial clients. The company has the expertise to cover every aspect of delivering a high value fitness and wellness experience for Members while reducing the high costs and stagnation often associated with the industry. The firm can provide an operations evaluation, staff development, strat