C-Suite Network™

‘Crunching’ the Fitness Industry into Shape: Finding Opportunities In Unlikely Places

The fitness industry is one of the most lucrative worldwide with revenues of $87 billion – about $30 million in the U.S. alone.

COVID-19 not only changed business. It changed us, too. We’ve all had to accommodate to new demands and implement new business models.

With isolation and everything closing down, we became more sedentary, and our waistlines expanded. I actually lost weight during that time span, but it wasn’t because I had an exercise regimen I followed.

While many gave up their fitness routines, gym owners across the country have struggled to keep their doors open. In fact, many fitness facilities were part of the first wave of shutdowns in many states, costing the industry $13.9 billion from mid-March to August of last year.

“We were all kind of surprised to hear that,” Ben Midgley said. “We’ve never been faced with (a shutdown), so we had to get past that one hurdle before we could even think about opening new clubs again.”

Ben was the featured guest during a recent C-Suite Network Digital Discussion. He’s CEO of Crunch Fitness Franchise, a gym franchisor with more than 350 locations in almost 40 states and six different countries.

Despite the grim reality, Ben says his team was up for the challenge. The first order of business was keeping employees safe and then communicating to almost 2 million customers their new standards. With each state having different procedures and protocols, it became imperative to address all the concerns pertaining to safety, billing, installing air filtration systems, and more.

“We’re the health and fitness industry. The top priority is we’re here to help members improve their health,” Ben said. “If you can’t operate safely, then that you’re not really supporting that.”

He says it goes beyond supporting customers. He also had to look out for his employees as well and the lessons he learned during this time go beyond business.

“I think the importance of empathy and understanding and listening more to everybody a little more deeply, a little more intently,” Ben emphasized. “That wasn’t there in the workplace before, but I think everything that happened, honestly, made every everything about business a little bit more human, because we’re all in the same boat. We’re all doing the same things,” he added.

Even though teams that were once under one roof now found themselves working from home, Ben says there was an unexpected upside: his corporate team is now closer.

He says changing from an office environment to working from home was a real eye-opener for him.

“I’ve always been one of those believers that if you have a nice tight sort of office environment, you get those quick sidebar conversations. ‘What happened over here? What about this club?’ We had to get away from that,” Ben recalled. “You have to get used to this different form of communication, and you can’t approach business any differently than you did before. Right? And you’ve had; in fact, you have to be that much more supportive of your employees and the choices that they need to make for their own well-being and their own balance. You’ve got to keep them, feeling good, in order to keep the business running productively.”

The uncertainty of the pandemic created opportunities for Crunch. Ben says he’s seen more real estate open up for new locations and the pandemic isn’t the only reason. The trend of brick-and-mortar retail stores shuttering hasn’t stopped, and that’s brought with it new potential for new clubs in new locations.

“(Opportunities) are coming up left and right. We’re getting opportunities for sites that before turned us down or were impossible to get into,” Ben said. “We’re going to be getting more opportunities to have spaces and better malls or strip (malls) to get better traffic.”

Ben says Crunch Franchise has opened several new gyms during the pandemic, and with that success, it paints a bright picture for Crunch and the overall industry.

I’d like to thank Ben for his honesty, leadership, and insight into a multi-billion-dollar industry many of us don’t know much about. Listen to the complete conversation here.

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