An apple a day…

A recent post by Lou Schuler on the future of the fitness industry and my recent purchase of an iPad2 got me thinking about parallels between the technology and fitness industries. The release of the iPad brought the tablet computer from an obscure segment of the PC market to the front of the pack, selling faster than electronics stores could keep them on the shelves. Apple’s rivals (Samsung, HP) quickly followed suit and upped the ante with a slew of similar offerings to compete with this new piece of must-have technology. As any anti-apple, PC purist will be quick to tell you, many of the non-apple tablets boasted superior specifications: faster processors, more ram, better battery life, bigger (or smaller) screens, higher resolutions, operating systems free of strict development criteria and so on. Did any of this worry Apple CEO Steve Jobs or affect iPad sales? Did Apple quickly redesign the iPad and cram as many pieces of metal and silicon behind that beautiful glass screen as they could? No. Steve Jobs held steadfast in his commitment to the model; the tablet buyer wasn’t interested in the fastest computer with the greatest specs, just the best experience. Jobs knew what consumers were looking for: a tablet that would do what they wanted, when they wanted, and look damn good doing it.

So it appears that the booming tablet market has sparked somewhat of a revolution in the PC market, at least as far as the average consumer is concerned. With the aim of creating a model to top the iPad, the PC industry created products with higher specs than the iPad in the hopes that faster performance would entice new customers. Problem is, it doesn’t matter how flashy your performance measures are, if it doesn’t have the software and operating systems in place for a smooth user experience, people won’t buy it. So there was a disconnect between how the manufacturers and end-users defined performance (specifications vs actual function). The fact that iPads continue to sell despite the “higher performing” PC options that are available leads to the conclusion that PC manufacturers missed the mark, actual users measure performance by the usability of the tablet and not by the specifications listed on the box.

Performance vs Specifications in the Fitness Industry

Contrast this with the fitness industry, where the dominant force, at least in terms of market share, is the big-box fitness centre. The strategy is simple and played up in cities across the continent. Rent a big-box store sized location, fill it with shiny machines (at least two of everything), add flat screen TVs and spa-like change rooms and you’re set. Have people stop by, get their down payment (on a gym membership of all things), banking info and lock them into a yearly contract. Unfortunately this model has worked for years, but this specification-driven approach is starting to fade from the lime light. The large gym with ‘superior’ equipment should be able to provide the level of performance you require to meet your goals, right? Surely lots of machines and a spacious environment (specifications) will provide a great user experience (results). But unfortunately they don’t, and while the big-box gyms know this, it’s OK with them as long as your cheque clears every month.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the new, up-and-coming service based facilities springing up, highlighted in Lou Schuler’s recent post on the future of the fitness industry. These locations, often crammed into areas only as large as the change rooms of some of the big-box gyms (less than 6000sq ft) cannot offer anywhere near the ‘specifications’ of the big box. They don’t have two of every machine, they don’t have fancy lockers or tanning beds in the change rooms; in fact, you’d be lucky if some of them have change rooms at all. They don’t have enough parking for everyone, but that’s not important because the parking lot isn’t for cars anymore, it’s another place to push the prowler or drag a sled. Gone are the treadmills, replaced with lanes of turf for sprinting, sled dragging and various other drills. Performance at these gyms is not measured by ‘specifications’ like rows and rows of fancy machines; the measure of a great gym has changed. The focus has shifted to the level of service provided, the training expertise of the staff, and ultimately the real user experience, which is getting you the results you require.

While the PC market may have been transformed in under a year, the fitness industry will take longer. Apple had a significantly greater safety margin when they released the iPad. Had it flopped, it wouldn’t have made a dent in the company as it had other successful endeavours to fall back on, and a mountain of cash to soften the blow. The same cannot be said for the lone personal trainer or strength coach looking to start their own small facility. Despite this, as time goes by, more and more small facilities will pop up. Just the simple fact that the ‘big guys’ are cutting prices is a sign that tides are turning because, as every business school teaches, the only winner in a price war is the customer. Lets hope this signals that the future of fitness is coming and it’s full of smaller gyms with simple equipment getting everyone spectacular results.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few of the prominent smaller gyms that I think represent the future of the training industry:

Have your own training centre? Feel free to mention it below so I can check it out.

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