Nearly two-thirds of gym and health club members in the US (65 per cent) are planning on returning to their club once lockdown measures allow, according to a new study out today (15 June 2020).
The What members say matters when it comes to getting them back report from ClubIntel also shows that around a fifth (19 per cent) of members are undecided, while 16 per cent say they’re ‘unlikely’ or ‘very unlikely’ to return.
The wide-ranging study, which surveyed 2,000 adult gym members in the US, explores the behaviours and experiences of fitness consumers at different age stages, examining sentiments pre-COVID-19, during lockdown and finally, their feelings about returning once clubs reopen.
In terms of the pace of return, third (34 per cent) indicated they intend to return within the first week, while another third 34 (per cent) said they would return between weeks one and four of reopening.
A quarter (25 per cent) said they’d wait for one to three months after reopening.
“What this tells us is that membership ramp up will not be immediate,” Club Intel’s Steve Tharrett told HCM. “Instead, it will be progressive.
“We estimate that facilities can expect 20 to 25 per cent of their members back in the first week, another 20 to 25 per cent back by week four and by the third month see membership levels at 60 to 80 per cent of their pre-closure levels.”
Men are more slightly likely to return than women, with 42 per cent of men saying they’d be “very likely” to return, compared to 33 per cent of women.
When looking at age, researchers found generational concerns, with Baby Boomers most likely to return – and return faster – and Millennials and Gen Z more hesitant – 74 per cent of Baby Boomers and those older said they are very likely/fairly likely to return compared to 59 per cent of Gen Z and 61 per cent of Millennials.
“While it’s encouraging that the older generations are more enthusiastic about returning, it sounds an alarm bell when it comes to the hesitancy of Millennials and Gen Z,” says Tharrett. “Millennials comprise the largest generational segment of the industry are its bread and butter and Gen Z is the industry’s future.
“The greatest challenge may be facing fitness studio owners (boutiques), as their membership base is predominantly comprised of Millennial and Gen Z, not to mention being predominately female.”
Commenting on this finding, Phillip Mills, founder and executive director at Les Mills International and sponsor of the report, said: “There’s a major risk identified here of losing our crucial 18-39-year-old market. Whether this is driven by fear of infection or – as I suspect – more by financial insecurity, the way to retain them is to provide such value that they will prioritise us, as they have during previous recessions.
“Having witnessed our industry’s response to five past economic crises, I’m sure we will again rise to the challenge.”
Researchers found that member usage prior to closure is a powerful predictor in relation to the likelihood of members returning.
More than half (52 per cent) who visited their facility on average 12 times or more a month indicated they were very likely to return, compared to around a third (37 per cent) of those who use their facility 8 to 12 times a month and 22 per cent who use it once or fewer times.
Mills said: “Frequency of attendance is a seminal metric for our industry that’s powerfully associated with customer retention and delight.
“We are in the motivation business as much as that of exercise prescription and need constantly to find ways to inspire.”
ACTION POINTSWhen it comes to the actions that facilities can take to encourage members to return, the top 10 things members would like to see include disinfecting equipment after each use, members having immediate access to hand sanitising stations and facilities enforcing limits on the number of members allowed in the building and also in group exercise classes.
The report also provides six recommendations for facility operators to consider, as the sector emerges from lockdown.
These include a call to “think and plan differently” for the next 12 months, as the data points to a ‘new era’ for the industry – framed by lower membership numbers, slower ramp-up periods, and more scrutinised business practices.
According to the study’s authors, authenticity and transparency will also take centre stage during the reopening phase. The survey showed that members want operators to be honest about what’s happening with respect to the virus and their facility – and that it’s important to hold staff and members accountable when it comes to reinforcing policies, even if that requires taking a stand.
There’s also a call to take into consideration the effects of the fitness industry having pivoted to digital during the lockdown and operators seeking relevance among the Gen Z and Millennial generations will need to commit to providing virtual fitness content.
“If your business model is designed to attract these two generations, be prepared to integrate virtual fitness into your value proposition permanently,” said Tharrett.
For the study, ClubIntel and its research panel partner Dynata (formerly Research Now) surveyed 2,000 fitness facility members over the age of 18 from 20 major US Metropolitan statistical areas distributed across each of the US Census Regions – including Boston, New York, Atlanta, Orlando, Houston and Seattle.
Participant responses were monitored on a regular basis throughout the survey period from 11 May to 17 May 2020. The study was administered by Dynata and managed by ClubIntel and Dynata and sponsored by Les Mills and Life Fitness.
You can download the report free of charge here.