Feature Article - November 2011
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Alive & Well

Fitness Clubs Still Thriving, Moving Forward

By Rick Dandes

Call it survival of the fittest: Despite a slowdown in the U.S. economy, all evidence indicates that the health and fitness club industry has maintained a steady growth pattern over the past 10 years, with membership rates growing consistently, and profits remaining solid.

Even the most conservative experts believe that the demand for gyms and health and fitness facilities will increase over the next few years, as the public becomes even more health conscious and the aging "boomer" population places a greater emphasis on staying fit and healthy. Companies are also boosting demand, realizing that promoting wellness leads to more productive employees—and fewer sick days. Additionally, the amount of leisure time and growth in household incomes will positively affect businesses, leading operators to expand into larger facilities.

All this is very good news for fitness clubs—but there are still challenges ahead.

Like most sectors of the economy, health and fitness clubs are under pressure, and part of that pressure is due to the recession. Certain business sectors have been under siege for years now. Individuals and families are uncertain about their future and the consistency of their income, and nominal wealth is volatile, along with our highly unpredictable Wall Street markets.

Still, facts don't lie: The fitness club category has posted annual gains during the past five years, the worst years of the Great Recession, with revenues increasing from $15.9 billion in 2005 to an estimated $20 billion in 2010, according to a study conducted by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Fitness club membership, the IHRSA study noted, has similarly grown, from 41.3 million members in 2005 to an estimated 50.2 million members in 2010.

But beyond the ups and downs of the economy, there are other trends—from design innovations to new programs and marketing techniques—that are affecting the way fitness clubs do business.