IHRSA plans council to grow fitness industry

In letters hitting CEOs' desks around the country is information from IHRSA about a new "Industry Growth Council" to run under the umbrella of the non-profit club association. Its goal will be to get consumers to join and stay members at health clubs through broad consumer outreach campaigns.
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After listening to fitness leaders discuss the need to spark industry growth, IHRSA has decided to pick up the baton.

In letters hitting CEOs' desks around the country in the last couple of weeks is information about a new "Industry Growth Council" to run under the umbrella of the non-profit club association. Its goal will be to get consumers to join and stay members at health clubs through broad consumer outreach campaigns.

"It's a long-term play," Chuck Leve, IHRSA director of business development, told SNEWS. "We're going to take a shot and see what happens."

In the last couple of years at CEO forums run at IHRSA's meeting and trade show in the spring, the topic of some kind of way to reach out to consumers as one entity -- rather than each manufacturer doing its own thing -- has come up as an industry need. In addition, Leve said, the topic also comes up casually -- in hallways, show aisles and during telephone conversations. Finally, they said it was time to take action.

"We wanted to pick up on the emotion and the desire of everybody," Leve said. "We're all trying to do the same thing."

In the letters, IHRSA has asked companies to pitch in at one of three levels -- as a Premier member for $20,000, a Sustaining member for $10,000, or a Contributing member for $5,000. IHRSA will match all funds received for the council, he said, and the hope is for about 500 supplier-members to join the effort. The group is looking to know how the push shakes out by late summer.

Current plans -- still rough and in draft form -- include three ways to spend the funds with the goal of club membership, club awareness, and retention:

  • New members -- Get new people into clubs to join and try to help them stay.
  • Consumer outreach -- Enhance desirability of club membership with public campaigns yet to be determined. "We don't have a 'got milk' kind of budget," Leve added.
  • Market research -- Find hard data to help clubs grow by doing research (in Europe to start) on numbers of clubs, membership, member demographics and other basic information.

Final determination of how to spend the money will be done with suppliers that have contributed; IHRSA will retain 50 percent of the vote because it will contribute half the money, he added.

"We want to do it with you, not to you," Leve said.

Studies show that people get it when it comes to the health benefits of physical activity, but now he added they just need to figure out how to break down barriers and get the inactive to make that step.

"We want to see if we can make a difference," he added.

SNEWS View: This is one step toward creating more consumer awareness of fitness, and a commendable one at that. We just wish it weren't limited to promoting health clubs, but fitness in general, although we understand that IHRSA must focus on its membership. We also wish the price of participation weren't so high so smaller suppliers could also take part. But this is indeed one piece of a larger puzzle, and you have to set one on the table first to create the whole picture. Despite an emphasis on getting consumers to join health clubs, any consumer campaign could also have spillover benefits that could help the inactive decide to become active in some way even if that doesn't mean -- at least initially -- at health clubs.

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