Merriam Webster defines the word “competition” as, “The effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party, by offering the most favorable terms.”
The health club industry is no stranger to this concept, as multipurpose health clubs face increasing competition from one segment in particular: boutique studios.
JoAnna Masloski, the COO of Wellbridge, sees this increased competition as a good thing. “We are using this more competitive environment to push each other to host better experiences, be more creative with workouts and make fitness a part of more people’s lifestyles,” she said.
This influence is being seen in three main areas of Wellbridge’s business: Its facilities, programming and marketing.
Concerning its facilities, Wellbridge has made a number of tweaks to its existing studio fitness rooms to improve the member experience. “For the majority of our clubs we only needed minor cosmetic changes,” explained Masloski. “Inexpensive items like painting and lighting have helped us bring in that night club type of environment members see in studios.”
For new clubs or clubs that have the opportunity for more extensive change, Wellbridge has incorporated one of two studio formats.
“Our Atlas studio is a cross between HIIT and CrossFit, coached by a certified personal trainer with unlimited monthly classes under one fee,” explained Masloski. “In other clubs we have put in a studio we call Trinity. It’s a mind-body fusion workout with everything from aerial yoga, power barre, InTrinity, and any other fusion class requested by members or created by instructors — also offering unlimited classes for one monthly fee.”
In addition to the physical transformation of its clubs, Wellbridge has also changed its promotion strategies in response to the rise of boutiques.
“We have more offers that contain programming credit to achieve the accountability consumers are thinking they receive with boutiques,” explained Masloski. “We are testing ‘membership’ offers that are focused on personal training or programming, versus the entire club facility. In-club, we have changed our terminology from group fitness to studio fitness.”
Lori Lowell, a Gold’s Gym franchisee with clubs in Virginia and Wisconsin, also sees the boutique studio trend as an opportunity, versus a threat.
“Instead of saying we have everything the boutiques have, we just have our programming and we make sure that we have anywhere between 25 and 30 percent of our members using group fitness,” explained Lowell. “We’ve changed our whole attitude about it. We embrace what other studios are doing, but we have so much available to us that we’re thriving in those areas too, especially in yoga.”
According to Lowell, the key is to lean on your group exercise instructors and managers to stay abreast of industry trends and ensure an optimal member experience.
“Keep your eyes open,” added Lowell. “Go and take classes and see what other clubs and studios are doing and what it feels like.”
One area boutiques excel in that other clubs can learn from, said Lowell, is the strong sense of community they foster. “The one thing boutiques have an advantage in, is being able to bring people into their family,” she said. “If someone dies in a member’s family, everyone knows about it and flowers get sent. If somebody has a birthday, everyone knows about it and a birthday card gets sent. That’s what you have to be mindful of, because at the end of the day, it’s about members feeling like they belong to something.”
As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” With this in mind, both Masloski and Lowell agree operators should be encouraged by the popularity of boutiques, and embrace the increased competition.
“Just as in any competition, as a player you can either be the one to point fingers at the other team or the refs, or you can be the one playing harder and being more creative and strategic in your plays,” said Masloski. “Be the latter. Be open to why your members might consider a boutique. Take this opportunity to improve your core business and take strategic chances to see how you can capture the market with this new light shined on it.”