Coopetition: More Fitness for Everybody

Posted December 17, 2018

I would advocate that the fitness industry is one of the best industries to enter into as an entrepreneur.  There are many obvious reasons, but what I will focus on for this article is  popularity and population growth. 

When I opened my first gym back in the 80’s only 10% of the U.S. population was a member of a health club.  Since that time it has doubled to 20% and the U.S. population since 1987, when I opened that gym, has increased by almost a third.  Back then the population was 240 million and today the U.S. population is 326 million.  The industry has grown from approximately 24 million health club member participants to 64 million in that period of time which is an increase of 30 million customers.  The population continues to grow, and so does the popularity of health clubs.

It is clear that the industry is very strong and continues to grow world wide.  According to the recent IHRSA Global Report report: The State of the Health Club Industry, the value of the  U.S. industry is now over 30 billion per year.  The U.S. leads with the highest number of health clubs at 38,477 with Brazil a close second at 34,509. ¹

As people become more and more health conscious, and as the average life expectancy continues to gain years, the demand for fitness will continue to grow.  Twenty percent is better than the 10% of the 80’s but it leaves a long way for us to go to achieve 100% participation in fitness by the population.  The point is that there is plenty of room for industry expansion for many years to come.

Not only has the industry expanded by number of participants and by revenue, it is growing by level of participation as well.  What I mean by that is that people are doing more.  For example, many health club patrons now are becoming members of more that just one club.  In many shopping centers and in tightly developed business corridors throughout the country, boutique and specialty fitness clubs are opening everywhere to offer more and more options for the discerning health club goers of today.  Many of those patrons are maintaining more than one membership too.  It is common now that a health club customer will hold a cross-fit membership, a multi-sport and/or large facility membership, and an infrared fitness membership or some other mix of club participation.

I have watched successful development of shopping centers that have three or more types of clubs within them including boutique, plyometric oriented national chains next to a big box club and  HOTWORX within the same center.  The best advice I have to the owners of clubs in these types of centers is to practice coopetition over head-to-head competition.

This multi-membership trend should be capitalized upon by fitness club entrepreneurs.  The way to do that is through coopetition.  Instead of bashing the competition, they should maintain a unique identity and cooperate with other clubs as opposed to head on competition.  Customers want more options and we can improve their experiences while we improve our bottom lines if we encourage multiple club use and embrace the fitness movement as a whole.  Lift up all clubs, so as to raise the tide for all boats in the fitness ocean!

Coopetition will encourage an even higher level of industry participation and that is good for every fitness brand!


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Stephen P. Smith, MA

CEO and Creator of the HOTWORX
Former National Collegiate Bodybuilding Champion and Arena Football Player
Certified Professional Trainer