15 Apr 2024 World leisure: news, training & property
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Leisure Management - This is not a drill


This is not a drill

The last year has been a washing machine of chaos, and although there’s room for optimism, we can’t stand still and as the world changes, so must our industry. Emma Barry gives her view on what’s coming and how to face the challenges ahead

Claims that 30 per cent of our market is being shuttered are only the tip of the iceberg Photo: shutterstock / shootsroom
Real life classes have made a comeback over digital, winning out 60 to 40 Photo: shutterstock / Bojan Milinkov
42 per cent of US workers are at home some of the time Photo: shutterstock / Green Elk
The rise of neigbourhood micro-gyms is one of many trends shaping the industry Photo: shutterstock / Gajus
Gen Z has me-first wellness priorities Photo: Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com
Girls who lift are driving an upsurge in strength training Photo: shutterstock / Photology1971

All the willpower in the world can’t out-muscle the seismic and subtle shifts currently shaking the global stage of fitness as we reconcile change, while expanding our wingspan to include wellness.

There’s more going on under the hood than we realise. Overzealous projections by F45 et al, the rollercoaster of crypto and non-fungible tokens, and connected fitness – drafting behind Peloton – made for interesting headlines and funding headwinds. Claims that 30 per cent of our market is being shuttered are only the tip of the iceberg.

Memberships are skewing younger, some members are attending more, others less. High Value, Low Price (HVLP) clubs are experiencing the ‘Roaring ‘20s, well-capitalised brands are scaling, big brands are buddying up and technology is stacking as we carry-on and consolidate. Expectations are transmuting and more organisational carnage will occur before we nestle into a new norm.

Boundaries have blurred. With geopolitical issues bleeding through continents. The work-life balance has melted and gender-fluidity has found a new era of acceptance. Real life experiences are back beating digital classes at a 60/40 split. Equinox is mixing things up with ‘omni-multi-channel’ with 30 per cent of its digital content being consumed by members while inside the clubs.

Atomic habits
As an industry we’re running a marathon, so draw your shoulders back, keep your eyes on the road ahead, carbo-load for the long haul, celebrate your milestones, and remember that tiny changes in foot strike and mindset can yield remarkable results at the finish line. If you need some pep in your step, inhale the 2021 bestseller, Atomic Habits by James Clear to appreciate the impact of little things done daily.

Take the lessons from the last 36 months of high winds and uncertainty. Look beyond the correction of the next 12-24 months. Lean into efficiencies gifted by technology and expect tech to start bringing real change. Modern medicine has extended our life, but we have not extended our health and the former without the latter is an expensive exercise in existing.

Lock arms with your colleagues in business and industry. Chase change with the same ferocity it seeks you. Unlock latent value to serve your members in new and interesting ways. In the end, we all need to belong, and we all want to matter.

Set your sites on the horizon! If you shoot short, you’ll end up sitting on your meaningless milestone while the rest of the cavalry gallop by.

Workplace shake-up

The gig economy, fractional roles, hybrid and work-from-home are now established. Last year 83 per cent of Americans said they’d prefer to work a four day week – even if that meant longer hours – and 42 per cent of people now work at least some of the time, leaving work culture evolving at a canter. Mass layoffs litter LinkedIn, sending the pendulum back from a candidates’ to an employers’ market.

Is the chequebook closing on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives? Or worse, were they never opened? Are all colours yet represented at the top tables of fitness? Will a white man of a particular age ever be hired again? With so many societal norms under renovation, you wouldn’t be alone in feeling as though you’re riding a massive ripple in time.

McKinsey’s report on future-ready business exemplars treats purpose, values, and culture as supreme, along with radically flattened structures, accelerated learning, turbo-charged decision-making and investment in data-rich tech platforms.

Innovation time

While we’ve been toying with third spaces for the last decade, arguably we’re becoming a second space and what new variations are emerging to whet our local appetite? Working back from a boutique to a multi-experience facility with additional services, under a membership model? Or big boxes buying in boutiques? Micro-clubs close to home? Asia-style lock and leave digital fitness booths? Budget boutiques?

Good things come from downturns - cue Uber, Airbnb – so expect new brands we haven’t heard of to start emerging with great ideas, while the rest of us run in circles debating the recession.

The future is partnerships. If Apple and Strava can do it so can you. If Apple and their US$3tn can’t own the entire ecosystem, neither can you. Look over the wall for inspiration to meet the unmet needs of those you serve. Expect a shift from concepts and relationships being tangentially interesting, to highly relevant.

Hello Gen-Active

Move over Boomer wallets – there’s a new handbag in town as millennials trade money for purpose and Gen Z trade it for freedom. Together they assert their me-first wellness priorities, demand transparent and sustainable practices, hold zero tolerance for corporate BS in favour of peer chat channels, and exercise cancel-culture toward brands which cross their moral threshold.

Kids are yearning for a past they never had and we can’t stop talking about how things were. Either way, all roads lead to digital detoxes, going dark on social media and blocking the blue light for scientifically proven, sanity.

Now phones are becoming our digital companion they risk being locked inside other technology to force a tech hiatus. Using technology to limit technology use? When will the irony stop?


• Service is the new battleground.

• Build community first, commerce second.

• Move from being transactional to transformative.

• Use tech to personalise, automate and predict future needs.

• There is no silver bullet. There is no perfect playbook. Try stuff.

• Deal in the currency of human connection. Foster love and loyalty.

• Move beyond omnichannel. Don’t just recreate an old world in a digital format.

• UX is the differentiator. Experiment with how your club can enhance socialisation.

• Be curious. Invite change.

• Stay in action.

• Stop saying ‘best’. It’s fleeting. It’s finite.

• Play the long-game.

• Adopt an infinite mindset.

Market segments

Pilates is on fire and strength has muscled its way up the rig to be worth its weight in kettlebells buffed up by ‘girls who lift’.

Active ageing and exercise for older adults mark the continued investment in Boomers as we breathe quality into extended life expectancy.

Finding the niches and serving the underserved is big business. From Barbara Chancey’s architectural team designing CYCED the first indoor cycling studio with customised bikes for riders with physical limitations to, Thomas Drew – cofounder 1and1 Life, focusing on mental health, and Corey and Kiara Johnson creators of Atl Kula serving underserved BIPOC communities in NYC and Atlanta respectively.

The graduating class of NARPS (non-athletic regular people), has become the 80 per cent we struggle to attract. As we find ourselves in the business of motivating the unmotivated it’s time to open our arms wider and become non-judgmentally, non-denominationally welcoming.

"Chase change with the same ferocity it seeks you" – Emma Barry

• Emma Barry is co-founder of executive search agency Good Soul Hunting and author of Building a badass boutique – your 10-touch journey to designing a fitness studio that rocks. The Audiobook is now available

Originally published in HCM Handbook 2023 edition

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