Franchise Development

How to adapt health club models to meet changing consumer needs.

By Adam Sedlack, UFC Gym

Prior to the pandemic, the fitness and health club industries were facing an abundance of growth. In fact, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) reported the global industry revenue for 2019 totaled $94 billion and, as a result, health clubs were on pace to reach 230 million members by 2030.

The industry was braced for success in 2020 when COVID-19 forced closures and turned our industry upside down. Many questioned if gyms would make it on the other end and, unfortunately, not all have. During these challenging times, our industry has shown resilience and stuck together, innovating, adapting and implementing new initiatives in order to evolve alongside our consumers. Our consumers are still very much interested in their health and fitness. If anything, the past year has reminded society of the importance of maintaining their health, both physically and mentally, due to the threat of COVID-19. Especially during these times, where individuals are facing economic hardship, social isolation, and anxieties around the pandemic, mental health overall has been impacted drastically. This reality has unfortunately resulted in an increase in suicide rates, lack of prevention screening for underlying health conditions, increase in substance abuse and more. In California alone, Emicity Research found that 86 percent of Californians reported negative health impacts from gym closures.

The consumer understands training can combat the destructive measures of mental illness, obesity, heart disease, etc., which can lower one’s immune system and make one more susceptible to illness. This logic is shared by the CDC, which recommends via their website, boosting immunity through attention to mental health and physical fitness to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, society’s hyper focus on wellness sheds light on the continued importance of the fitness industry. The clubs that can adapt to provide consumers with what they’re looking for out of their future fitness experience will continue to not only survive past the pandemic but also thrive in the new age of fitness.

Flexibility Remains Top of Mind

The events that unfolded in 2020 taught every industry to become comfortable with remaining flexible. The first priority being the evaluation of safety practices and cleanliness. The fitness industry has always prioritized cleanliness because it is the nature of our business. Therefore, for the UFC GYM team, it has been a matter of enhancing what we already have established. Safety protocols can include detailed cleaning of surfaces, again something we have always prioritized, socially distanced equipment, signage to communicate safety practices, self-check-in, temperature screenings for guests, mask mandates, etc.

During these challenging times, our industry has shown resilience and stuck together, innovating, adapting and implementing new initiatives in order to evolve alongside our consumers.”

In addition, brands rolled out new initiatives from online enhancements to outdoor workouts, in order to keep members engaged. These adaptations may become more integrated in day-to-day operations as the future of fitness is still evolving. As a result, we’ll need to meet consumers where they’re heading and not leave behind the innovations made, all the while continuing to diversify offers among the digital age.

Facilitating Community 

As discussed, health clubs are doing what they can to implement best safety practices, keep members proactive in their fitness goals and have them remain an integral part of their tight knit fitness communities. Community being the key word here. While fitness and health clubs running on moderately priced memberships seemed to thrive prior, the pandemic has now exposed the Achilles’ heel of this business model. What’s drawing members back into gyms is exactly what they realized they craved while working out at home online and through apps — a sense of community, in-person support, expert knowledge and an overall fitness experience. As we look ahead, community-based fitness is evolving out of the traditional fitness space and drawing the eye of members and guests. Qualities like experienced staff, likeminded and mission driven individuals, and access to equipment, all create a unique environment from check-in to check-out which cannot be received online or through moderately priced membership models alone. Guests dedicated to their fitness journey and returning to gyms are willing to pay more for a more premium training experience.

…society’s hyper focus on wellness sheds light on the continued importance of the fitness industry.”

Value Proposition 

The interest in community-based fitness is so strong, even prior to the pandemic, it propelled the boutique fitness model’s rapid growth for some time. Back in 2018, IHRSA reported through its Health Club Consumer Report that membership of boutique fitness facilities grew by 121 percent over the previous five years. Of course, group-based fitness will look different today, but the popularity and desire for class training is still there.

While there is a time and place for each health club model, gyms can increase their longevity by going beyond just a one-dimensional space and tapping into trends to create a one-stop-shop experience. Adding value proposition to a health club speaks to guests’ range of interests and entices them through premium facility offerings and groupbased fitness classes. In particular, UFC GYM offers an exclusive community of fitness enthusiasts the opportunity to empower the fighting spirit within by providing a full range of group conditioning and technique focused classes, functional training, personal training, traditional martial arts coaching plus fitness, youth and family classes — all in a supportive and motivating environment. The consumer fulfills their fitness goals and their sense of community all in one, creating a more dynamic brand.

Adam Sedlack is the president and co-founder of UFC GYM, the first major worldwide brand extension of the premier MMA organization. For more information and franchise opportunities for International Franchise Association (IFA) franchisor member UFC GYM, visit