The Lifecycle Exercise Bike was
an invention way before its time. Initially, it was floundering and sure to enter the scrap heap, then came along a hard driving visionary entrepreneur to catapult it to the icon status it enjoys today. That man was Ray Wilson. Can he now fulfill his next destiny to turn the Titanic club industry 90º in the totally new direction?
IHRSA has a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal from the book Built to Last) of achieving 100 Million worldwide members by the year 2010 and Ray Wilson wants contribute with his own BHAG of 10,000 new health clubs -- no, not siphoned from existing clubs but a totally new audience left behind by existing multipurpose clubs.
By his own recollection, Wilson has had 5 successful "career phases" as he calls them. As a club chain builder, he is probably best remembered for his European Health Spa chain that be began around 1960. Just ten years later he and his partners sold out that chain to U.S. Industries for $46 Million, a rather substantial sum 30 years ago.
Wilson's latest undertaking has a lofty goal of launching 10,000 new health clubs … by simple math, Ray plans to increase the installed base by 42%.
The Success of the Lifecycle
Probably most notable of all his achievements was his involvement with the perennially favorite Lifecycle cardio bike. If you rewind to the late 1970's, you would understand that this was a totally new product that nobody appreciated its value and nobody was buying. In fact, it had failed in 3 previous marketing launches.
Wilson then teamed up with Augie Nieto, put the bike on a road show using an RV to prime the pump and ultimately gain traction. Years later, after a brief interlude with Bally, Lifecycle was finally sold to Life Fitness where it remains today.
The success of Lifecycle and European Health Spas would ordinarily be enough for most business people to retire to the Caribbean and have umbrella drinks for the rest of their years, but as a serial entrepreneur, Wilson is ready to extend his streak and move on to phase 6.
Latest Club Venture Into an Underserved Market
Wilson's latest undertaking has a lofty goal of launching 10,000 new health clubs. This is rather swaggering given that the latest figures in January, 2004 by American Business Information is that there are only 23,497 health clubs listed in all the U.S. So, by simple math, Ray plans to increase the installed base by 42%.
He has developed two niche concepts for his new nationwide club chains, Ray Wilson's Healthy Exercise For Men and Women and Figure Magic Express For Women. They are a decided departure from the full-featured multipurpose clubs that have done so well thus far (and which Wilson in the past was a main contributor in developing), the Healthy Exercise chain will consist of relatively small, 1,400 to 2,400 ft.2 facilities targeted to be non-intimidating so that the vast number of deconditioned people will join.
In essence, Wilson sees this Healthy Exercise phase of his career as the greatest opportunity for both himself, and for the worldwide health club industry, in his entire 53-year career. With most club owners, either purposely or unwittingly chasing after the same 18-34 year-old hard-body market, there is a danger of supply outstripping demand. A far better tactic is to seek out the open market of the deconditioned, women, and seniors.
30-Minute Workouts Within Existing Clubs or Totally Freestanding?
To their credit, many of the progressive health clubs are installing special rooms containing circuit training equipment in an attempt to attract this deconditioned market. However, Wilson maintains that although having these sections within a club is commendable, it's not as effective as a freestanding club -- many of the deconditioned are too embarrassed and intimidated to even walk into these large imposing clubs. Secondly, they are culturally at odds with the established mindset of the 1 ½ or longer workout crowd, two different peas in two different pods.
In the past, this same syndrome has resulted in millions of member dropouts in the health club industry. By installing small satellite Healthy Exercise clubs strategically placed … the bigger clubs will have even greater results
Under one roof, there is a temptation for the 30-minute deconditioned crowd to move up to the larger equipment before their time thus causing injury, burn-out, or turn-off. He recommends a minimum of 6 months of 30-minute "Healthy Exercise" workouts before thinking of moving on.
In the past, this same syndrome has resulted in millions of member dropouts in the health club industry. By installing small satellite Healthy Exercise clubs strategically placed around their bigger clubs, Wilson says the bigger clubs will have even greater results with the vast untouched deconditioned markets because everyone will be doing the same half-hour circuit program and nothing else.
Enter The Satellite Club Concept
Instead of the giant mall concept where people drive many minutes to get to the full service health clubs with or without a special deconditioned room, the idea now is to bring the club to the people, that is, within a 10-minute drive radius of their residence. Wilson beta tested this idea at his first club in Temecula, California with great success.
He believes strongly that Healthy Exercise is exactly what the deconditioned masses need and the health club industry needs to adjust to changing times. He envisions the North American health club industry being able to attract 25% of the American and Canadian population thus doubling the estimated 34 million that are now members of commercial clubs, YMCA and JCCs.
A Stepping Stone To Multipurpose Clubs
Multipurpose clubs won't go away, they are just no longer a one size fits all. Wilson strongly emphasizes that involvement in membership in a "Healthy Exercise" club is just the critical first step. He is convinced that a significant percentage of these deconditioned members will lose weight and get in good enough shape that ultimately they will want to graduate to a big club that offers the full lines of cardio, selectorized strength and free weight equipment.
A New Member Pipeline - A Feeder System
In effect, Wilson believes that Healthy Exercise clubs can serve as the new member pipeline to large clubs for years and years to come. The gap is just too great for a total deconditioned novice to enter a traditional health club, but after say, 6 months at a Healthy Exercise, that gap will be narrowed to an attractive point of entry.
One other major benefit of the movement is that the health club industry worldwide will finally be fulfilling our purpose of making a real impact on the health of many millions of deconditioned people -- the ones who need it the most.
The Industry's Fulfillment of a Promise
One other major benefit of Ray Wilson's "Healthy Exercise" movement is that the health club industry worldwide will finally be fulfilling our purpose of making a real impact on the health of many millions of deconditioned people -- the ones who need it the most.
With 64% of the American adult population being either overweight or obese and the prospects for our children are even worse, we need to fundamentally change the current health club system to adapt to these social conditions.
The industry needs to deploy these stepping stones that are sanctuaries for the intimidated deconditioned masses. The clanging weights and flexed muscles appeal only to a shrinking market of the 18-34 hard-bodies.
The strategy is to also bring back many former health club members in the U.S. who dropped out because they could not relate to a "hard-body" environment. Wilson estimates that number to be at least 40 million people.
A Call to Arms
Wilson is inviting all established club owners North America to consider boosting their club's success through the installation of supplemental "Healthy Exercise and Figure Magic clubs. These would be far enough from existing clubs so that they dot encroach on the primary club's performance, but enhance it. Plus it will give these clubs a competitive edge in their overall marketplace without requiring an investment of one, two or three million dollars to tap into this underserved market. He's inviting interested parties to franchise or joint venture with him.
Ray believes this latest undertaking will be the "greatest phase" of his distinguished career and will become the greatest success in the history of the health club industry. These are pretty bold words, but them come from a person with a very enviable track record.
Spread the wellness.
About Al Valente
Go to About Al Valente for more of his articles and his bio.
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