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Fit for the new year: Three lessons fit­ness clubs can learn from Weight Watch­ers’ new busi­ness strat­e­gy

We’ve all been there. The hol­i­day sea­son is almost over and our social media feeds are cramped with new year’s res­o­lu­tions. As we’ve seem­ing­ly reached the peak of self-loathing, almost every post men­tions lifestyle changes, weight loss, sign­ing up for a gym and eat­ing more healthy foods. But where­as this might be off-set­ting for some, oth­ers couldn’t be hap­pi­er. Espe­cial­ly busi­ness own­ers in the fit­ness and health indus­tries view this time of the year as the most lucra­tive sea­son. Their under­ly­ing assump­tion: most peo­ple sign up for gyms or diet­ing pro­grams in Jan­u­ary. But is this still the case? We’ve checked and found that times are chang­ing and one par­tic­u­lar­ly well-known com­pa­ny had to learn this the hard way. But before we take a clos­er look at the busi­ness lessons for fit­ness club own­ers, we first want to con­sid­er this case in more detail.

The Weight Watch­ers case

Weight Watch­ers had been the most dom­i­nant play­er in the diet­ing mar­ket for decades but from 2011 until 2015 the company’s sub­scrip­tion num­bers were shrink­ing rapid­ly and its mar­ket val­ue declined from $6 bil­lion to $1 bil­lion with­in only four years. So the com­pa­ny sought answers as to why peo­ple were reluc­tant to join their pro­gram and iden­ti­fied an ongo­ing cul­tur­al shift, it’s name: diet­ing fatigue. Peo­ple no longer want­ed to hear about “diet­ing” or “weight loss” but were rather inter­est­ed in becom­ing healthy and fit. Clean eat­ing and ideas like “strong is the new skin­ny” also fig­ured heav­i­ly in this new mind­set.

As a reac­tion, Weight Watch­ers decid­ed to change its mes­sag­ing with slo­gans like “time to move beyond the scale”. The com­pa­ny also revamped its mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy and invest­ed in new tech­nolo­gies. And they did so suc­cess­ful­ly. Today Weight Watch­ers has gained new momen­tum as its stock mar­ket val­ue con­tin­ues to climb, which is not only due to endorse­ments by Oprah Win­frey but also thanks to the company’s open-mind­ed approach to solv­ing its prob­lems.

So, here are three busi­ness lessons for fit­ness club own­ers from this sto­ry:

1. Rec­og­nize cul­tur­al shifts: Don’t assume what peo­ple want! Ask them, then lis­ten!

The Weight Watch­ers case illus­trates that being in touch with your client base is essen­tial. This implies that con­tin­u­ous­ly mon­i­tor­ing atti­tude changes toward your prod­uct is key to stay­ing rel­e­vant as a busi­ness. When the com­pa­ny final­ly acknowl­edged that some­thing was off, they did not hes­i­tate to inves­ti­gate the prob­lem thor­ough­ly. They sent out inter­view­ers to recon­nect with their client base and dis­cov­ered that there were some fun­da­men­tal atti­tude changes toward diet­ing at hand. Diet­ing fatigue, not only was a trend, it pre­sent­ed a cul­tur­al shift, which Weight Watch­ers had over­looked for years. But now that they com­pa­ny had iden­ti­fied the core of the prob­lem, they were able to address and over­come it.

So what does this mean for fit­ness and health clubs? It is also essen­tial for them to be in touch with their client base and be aware of how their clients feel about their mem­ber­ship. This is why it is cru­cial to check in with your mem­bers reg­u­lar­ly. Don’t sim­ply assume what they want, actu­al­ly ask, lis­ten and then adapt. This will not only boost mem­ber reten­tion but also sig­nal to your clients that you val­ue their opin­ion.

lessons fitness and health club owners can learn for their business strategy

2. Adapt your mes­sag­ing: diet­ing fatigue can also become a lia­bil­i­ty for your busi­ness

It might sound obvi­ous for some but too many times the old “we’ve always done it this way” argu­ment trumps new busi­ness ideas and strate­gies. This is espe­cial­ly the case when it comes to mar­ket­ing, where it is essen­tial to stay up to date and rec­og­nize new trends and cul­tur­al shifts (see point one).

As we’ve learned from Weight Watch­ers, diet­ing fatigue for instance, can become a real lia­bil­i­ty.

As a reac­tion the com­pa­ny changed their mes­sag­ing to their more inclu­sive and less guilt-dri­ven “move beyond the scale” cam­paign.

Fit­ness and health clubs are also impact­ed by diet­ing fatigue. Yet they often-times still rely on old tropes in their ad cam­paigns and con­tin­ue to pro­mote the all too well-known new year’s res­o­lu­tion of “final­ly los­ing those ten pounds that have been bug­ging you for years”. How­ev­er, if there is any­thing we can learn from the Weight Watch­ers case, we need to acknowl­edge that peo­ple no longer want to hear that they have to lose weight. That’s also why slo­gans like “strong is the new skin­ny” are gain­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty.

So here’s anoth­er busi­ness lessons for fit­ness club own­ers: Instead of guilt­ing new clients into sign­ing a con­tract after the hol­i­days, fit­ness clubs could seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect with their clients. For instance, they could replace the old “final­ly lose those ten pounds with us” ad with new ideas and turn to a more pro­duc­tive mes­sag­ing that res­onates with their tar­get group.

3. Invest in new tech­nolo­gies

Anoth­er les­son fit­ness own­ers can learn from the Weight Watch­ers case, is that invest­ing in new tech­nolo­gies pays off. After their sales fig­ures had plum­met­ed, Weight Watch­ers decid­ed not only to rethink its mes­sag­ing but also to final­ly keep up with its fierce com­peti­tors and cre­ate an online plat­form and a new app. Espe­cial­ly because Weight Watch­ers joined in on the quan­ti­fied self move­ment, they were able to con­vince cus­tomers that their com­pa­ny also belonged in the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry.

As the world moves toward a ful­ly dig­i­tal econ­o­my, fit­ness club own­ers can ben­e­fit from new tech­nolo­gies as well and there­by increase their rev­enue. As we’ve already point­ed out in a pre­vi­ous arti­cle about bou­tique fit­ness, experts pre­dict for exam­ple that data-dri­ven work­outs are the future. So why not invest in solu­tions that will quan­tifi­ably improve the work­out qual­i­ty of your mem­bers, improve their expe­ri­ence and there­fore among oth­er things increase mem­ber reten­tion?

Busi­ness lessons for fit­ness club own­ers

So here’s what we’ve learned: First, it is essen­tial to be in touch with your client base and to always be on top of cul­tur­al shifts that also affect the atti­tudes of your club mem­bers. Sec­ond, always be ready to adapt your mes­sag­ing and don’t rely on old tropes. Be Cre­ative. Third, invest into the future of your busi­ness and and keep up with tech­no­log­i­cal and dig­i­tal inno­va­tion.

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