Pivot Now or Fail Later

Gen Z

Why will Gen Z and those immersed in youth culture wait in line for hours at Supreme for a new product to drop? Because they want to be in the line. The line is the new community and those who wait in line earn a seat at a very elite table. For brands to succeed with Gen Z, they need to create a sense of belonging or their competition will.” ― Gregg L. Witt

Let’s start with me telling you how this blog ends. It is critical to your future success that you create community and connection when and where you can. Investing today’s capital without also weaving an intentionally designed experience into tomorrow’s plans is a recipe for mediocrity, or worse.

There are four dominant fitness business models in the industry right now. Those four buckets are:

  • Boutique experiences (i.e., Orangetheory)
  • Big-box, low-cost (i.e., Planet Fitness)
  • Mid-market (i.e., La Fitness)
  • High-end, amenity-rich (i.e., Equinox)

Just a few years back these boutiques and low-cost big-box gyms didn’t exist on the global scale like they do today. This development has, in turn, squeezed the mid-market clubs. Many mom-and-pop businesses are struggling, and some closing daily. Even the larger mid-market chains are now faced with having to collect on annual enhancement fees to survive or by reducing value adds that do not show a return. Things like reducing childcare hours.

So the big question is, why is this happening, and how can I recalibrate my business before it’s too late?

Here is what the IHRSA data is telling us:

  • The only generation for which small group training penetration exceeds that of personal training is Generation Z.
  • Members in the 18-24 and 25-34 brackets engage in yoga overwhelmingly more than other age groups.
  • Yoga – 33%
  • HIIT – 28%
  • Dance /Step other choreography – 20%
  • Cross-training style workout – 16%
  • Generation Z and Millennials are drawn primarily to boutique studios (60% to 70% of boutique studio membership comes from these two generations).

We all need to stop using the mantra that youth are seeking “experiences.” What we should be saying is that youth are seeking “shared experiences.”

Here is where we are now as an industry:

  • A recent study by Neilson, titled the Total Audience Report, indicates that, as of the summer of 2017, Millennials comprised approximately 22% of the U.S. population and Generation Z 26% of the population. This is in comparison to Generation X, at 20%, and Baby Boomers, at 24% and fading. Contrary to these numbers, the fitness facility industry as a whole remains grounded in serving mostly those of Generation X, while underserving Generation Z and Millennials.” – IHRSA Consumer report.
  • Members of boutique studios pay, on average, $35 to $40 a month more than members of commercial fitness-only, nonprofits, and YMCA/YWCA/JCCs, despite using their fitness facility less often. 

I believe the data above is self-evident and telling us exactly where we need to go.

Let me leave you with this: In a recent Wall Street HALO industry analysis, non-boutique facilities that have the square footage to provide a dedicated boutique experience at a monthly rate that is in some instances significantly less than outside offerings, are not only surviving the boutique crush, but doing well because of it.

Success isn’t a happy accident, my friends.


Jason R. Stowell is the division director of fitness and wellness for JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. He is an award-winning fitness leader with over 20 years of successful experience providing strategic planning, talent management, and expert-level sales training in the health and fitness industry. Connect with him on LinkedIn here

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