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.
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.