This blog post was written by Caroline Murray, Payments Portfolio Manager at Zen Planner and Phil Morton, Partner Relationship Manager at Zen Planner.

The fitness industry is changing faster than ever before. As the industry at-large continues to change in 2020, so will the affiliate gym market. From merging of business models to shifting customer motivations, we expect 2020 to be an exciting year of evolution for box owners everywhere. Beyond our roles at Zen Planner, we are athletes, coaches and even box owners ourselves. These are our predictions for 2020 from those perspectives.

Merging of Affiliate and Commercial Models

You would think that tons of open space, state-of-the-art affiliate equipment and a tight-knit community would be enough for you to reach your fitness goals, but that’s not necessarily the case. What we’re starting to see is affiliate gyms navigating away from the garage gym setup to a more well-rounded, expansive model in terms of physical layout and services offered. Going to an affiliate and working out can be more of an experience than arrive, sweat and leave.

Health and fitness is becoming a more central part of daily lives, so providing additional offerings for your affiliate to be a “one-stop shop” is becoming more and more paramount. This can include things like standard commercial gym equipment. Machines can certainly add another dimension to an athlete’s workout routine, especially those who want to focus more on bodybuilding to couple WODs. This hybrid movement can also help mitigate the  hesitation a new member may feel switching from the “globo gym” they’ve  attended for years to an affiliate gym by lessening the intimidation factor.

More so than equipment is a shift to offer more services. This can include nutrition offerings, one-on-one personal training (which we’ll get to in a moment), a health coach on staff or even part-time work from physical therapists. Interaction with people of different disciplines can help address not just the whole athlete but the whole person from a holistic approach. Luxury services can also be offered to create a better overall experience at an affiliate gym, such as childcare, saunas, showers and towel service. Even baby steps in this direction can make or break someone’s decision to join or stay at the affiliate gym over “commercial” locations.

More One-on-One Training

While the community aspect of affiliate gyms is an element that has been coveted by athletes since the industry’s inception, there are times when sweating it out with the group just doesn’t cut it. Whether you’re an expert amongst a novice-friendly gym or a novice at an elite, competitive affiliate, your environment as an athlete can sometimes hold you back. As both younger generations and older generations dabble in the sport, there is a higher demand for more individualized attention when it comes to training. This will appeal to a wide array of athletes, from those who are looking to build their form foundation for Olympic lifts to those who need that specialized, competitive approach to gaining an edge in their game. Aesthetics, conditioning, strength, power and mobility are all disciplines present in a trainer’s repertoire. Furthermore, the general population is beginning to focus more and invest on their health and mindset, realizing football coach Chuck Pagano’s wise words, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” Expendable income is being allocated more and more to health and fitness, and this includes personal training. One individual who can focus on your unique bio-individuality and help you be the best version of yourself is what folks are starting to realize is worth the investment.

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Exercise as Medicine

The Exercise Is Medicine Initiative (EIM) focuses on encouraging health care providers to include exercise in treatment plans for their patients. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) launched EIM with the American Medical Association in 2007 with the initial goal of promoting scientifically proven benefits of exercise using evidence-based strategies within the US health care system. As with any big initiative, the trickle-down effects can take time (often many years) before their effect is felt by the patients or the facilities providing the services.

HQ has long spoke about the reality that what we eat and how we exercise are the variables we control which impact our likelihood of being affected by chronic disease. Exercise is increasingly not only being viewed as a preventative measure to chronic diseases, but also part of the treatment for those that suffer from lifestyle-related conditions. As such, the population we are seeing take an interest in affiliate gyms is no longer just the seasoned athlete or competitive individual, but those seeking a way to a happier and healthier life. With that, the regular WOD is probably not the best environment (at least initially) for those being referred from a GP. These people require personal training and a heavily customized and individualized program, so if you don’t offer these services that is something to consider. Along with that you have to know how to advertise and appeal to this section of the market; pictures of topless guys crushing 225lb snatches is not going to do it! Find out what problems this market has (issues of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes etc.) and show how you can help solve their problems.

Active Aging for Baby Boomers

The “baby boomers” generation can be broadly defined as including those born between 1946 and 1964, which as of 2020 makes them around 56-66 years old, aka retirement age. This population represents around 30 percent (75 million people) of the American population and they are the wealthiest generation. As with the section of the market battling chronic disease, the baby boomers are not searching for the common affiliate experience. They are likely looking for a similar program as the chronic disease group, one that focuses on improving health markers and decreasing risk of chronic disease.

This is where we see the industry going from our perspective. Which trends do you think will gain traction in 2020? Let us know in the comments!


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