The Fitness Industry's Digital Divide - Leadership Should Embrace The Future

I visited with a well respected health club owner and fitness industry leader recently.  During our meeting the person commented that IHRSA "wants to remain a bricks and mortar association"; this in response to my many calls for the extant fitness industry to open its eyes to the opportunity new business models and technologies will offer, enabling it to reach its promise.

In this person's defense, the facility orientation of the industry is not uncommon; I speak with many health club owners and leaders who share this view. Change is hard and I know of many good people with good intentions who work hard at IHRSA and in the fitness business in general to forward the cause of prevention and wellness. However, this "bricks and mortar" emphasis is the same view many leaders in other industries had, before the future happened to them - think clothing and entertainment to name a few. It is the reason, I worry, that some existing business models in fitness are going to have increasing difficulty surviving.

To illustrate my point, think of the retail industry by comparison. From 2000 until 2007, online retail sales grew at an annual 20% clip. From now until 2014 sales will grow at a slower 10% rate, still well exceeding the "bricks and mortar" counter part. However the important thing to note is that by 2014 53% OF ALL "RETAIL" SALES WILL BE DELIVERED VIA THE INTERNET according to Forrester Research. You see it isn't about bricks and mortar; its about delivering things customers need the way they want them and doing it in a sustainable fashion.

Reading the WSJ article today, on my IPad none the less, I came across Eileen Gunn's article titled, "A Personal Trainer in the Palm Of Your Hand." By my estimation, now over 3 million people in the U.S. alone are using mobile technologies to guide them as personal trainers could or used to. Similarly, consider the explosion of wellness platforms and devices that provide low cost means of enabling people to improve their health. Point is: there is a lot changing and the customer is at the center of it - not bricks and mortar.

As with all businesses, leaders need to open their eyes to what is happening and prepare by driving innovation and evangelizing the benefits of an unavoidable future. The fitness industry is no exception - less we fail to reach the promise of making a real impact on health via prevention.

What are your thoughts on the fitness industry ? Contact me, Bryan O'Rourke, or share your views here and tell me what you believe about the bricks and mortar, IHRSA and the orientation of the fitness industry.