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The Theme Park Club


Screams from all around. The sun beating down, intensifying the smell of greasy food. Creepy oversized stuffed animals. People hunched over garbage cans just outside the exits to a ride. Alright you get the picture – Theme Parks.

Disney, Six Flags or whatever is located in your area, are all destination hot spots for families looking for a memorable experience — current pandemic aside. Theme parks also provide us with a great model of how to structure our clubs. It’s time to look outside the fitness industry for inspiration and ideas. If not, we all just are doing the same things slightly differently and telling people, “Well, our treadmills actually go up to a 15 incline. Theirs only go to 12.5.”

To create a theme park model, we need to build out a multifaceted experience for our members.

Theme parks get their customers in the door through charging admission. You have to buy a ticket if you want to get in. Gyms charge admission for members to get in the door in the form of memberships. However, just like with theme parks, simply charging admission is not where it should stop. Especially in today’s competitive market with many low-cost options, other sources of value are necessary to thrive.

When you go to purchase a ticket to a theme park, they will undoubtedly try to get you to upgrade to some type of fast pass to skip the lines, cutdown on waiting, and ultimately, experience more during your time visiting. Personal training is our industry’s fast pass. Once a prospect becomes a member and buys their ticket, we must focus on trying to upgrade that ticket to a higher value package.

Theme parks are one of the biggest creators of lasting memories. How many people have special childhood memories tied to a theme park? While we most likely aren’t going to create an environment where, 20 years down the road, someone is telling a story that starts with, “When I was a kid, my parents took me to this gym one day,” we can still attempt to create a shareable experience on this level.

People love to document their trips to theme parks by posting on social media, writing reviews and telling any of their friends who will listen how awesome of an experience they had. We need to create a culture, as well as moments and events that are shareable for our members.

When your members have a culture and shareable experiences that are memorable to them, they will be more loyal to your brand. This allows for improved merchandise sales. We won’t be sending our members home with Mickey Mouse ears, a souvenir cup and a polaroid photo with their favorite trainer. However, building loyalty and having creative merchandise people want creates another source of income.

Theme parks also are great at always having something new to keep you coming back. If they didn’t, when you went once, you would be far less likely to go back. We can do the same to aid in current member retention, attracting previous members to return or catching the eye of a new prospect by constantly having new offerings.

New elements to the training program, new supplements and snacks, new events on the schedule, and new charitable causes in the club will give you something to be constantly talking about and creating hype around.

Theme parks provide a great model for gyms. You could even change your name to Gym Land and see what happens — actually, maybe don’t do that.

Ryan O'Toole

Ryan O'Toole is the regional manager for Anytime Fitness Cheswick, Leechburg and Kittanning, and the founder of Culture First Fitness. He can be reached at ryan@culturefirstfitness.com.

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