Fitness center marketing, an outsider perspective

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news, I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

One of the things you can’t help but do if you truly love marketing is playing the “what if” game: What if I knew enough about the business model to suggest changes in their marketing plan, what would I recommend?

As news of Equinox fitness chain’s opening in Houston makes the news,  I find myself pondering what I would recommend to my fitness center chain.

First, some caveats/assumptions:

  • I don’t think my fitness center will be impacted that much, the price points are vastly different. But any time is a good time to assess your current market strategy, right? So why not now?
  • I’m assuming that my fitness center wants members to actually come regularly. In comparison, inexpensive gyms don’t want you to come.
  • I don’t know anything about my fitness center’s goals, revenue structure, etc. A review of these would probably completely change my recommendations, but it’s a fun mental exercise anyway and these may be good ideas for other fitness centers.
  • There’s a lot of things I think my fitness center does right, which is why I’m a loyal member. For brevity’s sake, this post will focus only on improvements.

Maintenace and equipment

Maintenance of equipment and new equipment has to be a huge line item in any fitness center’s budget and, unfortunately, I think it needs to be a much heftier part for most gyms. Nothing frustrates a “regular” more than broken machines. On Monday, I jumped between four treadmills before I found one that worked. Sadly, not as gracefully as the video below.


As I’ve written about before, facilites can really impact your marketing.  When thinking about location, you have to think beyond the interior of the walls. My fitness center’s locations are very convenient, but parking is usually a huge nightmare (especially at peak times) and the lots aren’t well-lit or very safe (said the warning poster at one of the local center locations about crime in parking lot).

Insert Fun

Fitness centers often try to insert fun into the atmosphere by getting members to dress up (i.e. “wear your Halloween costume to the gym”). These efforts usually fail because a) employees don’t participate b) I’m here at the gym at 6 am, what more do you want from me? c) My workout outfit cost over $100 already and I have several of them. I’m not spending any more money.

Instead, why not do something that involved the employees having fun and the customers just being part of the experience? Every day I walk in to a stack of square towels. Boring. I so desperately want to stealthily sneak a creative towel folding book onto the employee front desk and watch the employees take initiative and get creative. Imagine the impact. Social media posts, selfies, and “I have to get up and go to the gym to see the towel of the day” motivation. This may also increase employee retention.

A towel animal, possibly a ray, hanging from a ceiling with sunglasses on it
“Towel animal” by Klobetime, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Review System for Classes

We can review items we purchased on Amazon, we can review businesses on Yelp, how about being able to review classes and read other member’s reviews of classes offered at our fitness centers?

There have been several times I’ve walked out of a class and thought, “That was a waste my workout time.” If a review tool exists that showed me the difficulty level, intensity level, and attendee comments about classes, I’d not only use it, but contribute to it too. And be more likely to attend classes. It may also make instructor evaluation for the fitness chain easier and more efficient too.

Revise the Trainer Model

So far, my suggestions have been pretty simple. Here’s my radical one: Somehow, I’m not sure how, but somehow, change the personal trainer model.

Opposite goals are not ideal, but tolerable in a short term seller/customer relationship (such as a car sale); they never a good idea to create long-term relationships. A client’s goal is to reach their goal as fast as possible. In contrast, a trainer’s reward system is to have the client improve just enough to make them want to come back, but not enough as the client no longer thinks they need them.

This also usually means the trainer is solely focused on their clients (they are paying by the hour), usually at the expense of treating other gym members as potential clients or potential referrers of clients, which is ultimately bad for the gym and for the trainer’s future business.

What would you add? How would you revamp the fitness center business marketing model?