Key Trends in Membership Disruption Part 1

What's disrupting memberships v2 blog image

Disruption is a buzzword that identifies people or products that shake up existing paradigms. Techcrunch describes a disruptor as anything that meets a need or “market that could previously not be served,” or which now “offers a simpler, cheaper or more convenient alternative to an existing product.”1

In our recent blogpost on the future of memberships, we pointed to author Sarah Sladek’s book, The End of Membership as We Know It 2 to open a conversation with those in our community who have relied on memberships as a vital leg of their structure. Ms. Sladek’s position is that several cultural disruptions have changed the landscape that made memberships valuable.

Disruptions force organizations to compete in ways they’re often not initially prepared for, but that doesn’t mean they can’t adapt. In this series, we’ll continue to dig deeper into the factors that threaten the membership model, in hopes of helping membership organizations survive and thrive in this disruptive climate.

The Impact of Millennials

Disruption of membership is tied directly to millennials and several other concurrent and related factors. Millennials have taken a lot of heat in the press over their generational characteristics, but the reality is, they now make up the largest portion of the U.S. civilian workforce.

Majorities always have the ability to disrupt! And this particular majority prefers:

  • Fitness (more than other generations) – Their spending on fitness outpaces their overall consumption level, but 72% think gym memberships are too expensive.3
  • Convenience, choices, low-cost, and experiences over traditional motivations for purchasing or joining.

The Changing Times

According to Sarah Sladek, memberships thrived in times past because they were the best way for consumers to access more value. By paying a monthly fee, members of the Silent and Baby Boomer Generations could access something exclusive. It worked for them.

That’s just not true anymore.4 New, cheaper, more flexible options for fitness, playing, learning, and social connection once offered solely by community fitness organizations like the YMCA are popping up all over. Millennials are creating new ways to get what they want, and all the generations are getting aboard with the new options, such as ClassPass, a type of membership that provides access to multiple organizations’ fitness offerings, and a plethora of fitness and wellness apps.3

Disrupt Your Own Membership Model

If millennials believe a gym membership is too expensive but are willing to pay a premium for health, think about what you could add to update a traditional gym membership:

planks gym1. Develop partnerships to offer more…and reach more. An organization like ClassPass could be your first step in expanding your options. Your YMCA partners with ClassPass, and gains these benefits:

  • Introduce your classes, instructors, and space to a new, engaged audience of fitness lovers.
  • Fill empty spots in your program and ClassPass pays you directly for every reservation.
  • Take advantage of ClassPass’s reach, which helps consumers find and book classes in their area, facilitating over 50,000 reservations each week.

You could also partner with a local healthy cooking class, delivering a discounted package that crossmarkets to each others’ audiences.

2. Enhance gym memberships with a wider range of offerings, like access to a nutritionist (live or by Skype) or health and fitness data tracking software, such as this one by iHealth Labs.

“Start with a basic body-weight scale (that is connected to the internet), add a fitness tracker (steps per day), a blood-pressure cuff (connected though a mobile phone) and even a glucose monitor and you have a very powerful data collection toolkit,” says Ted Vickey, M.S., Senior Fitness Consultant at Emerging Technologies for the American Council on Exercise and president of FitWell LLC.5

3. Add more value-based options. Precor fitness equipment manufacturers provides this list of 10 Ways Operators Can Build Community in the Gym, by providing the value members need to make fitness a priority, including childcare, discounts, and more compelling class options. Or consider a self-designed membership that allows participants to add the features they want to achieve a price they can live with.

4. Explore ways to create social settings (i.e. HIRE MILLENNIALS!).  Even when they runner being applaudedwork out alone, millennials are connecting – via music, social media and television. More and more, however, even their social meetups are fitness-based.

According to GBrief, millennials disproportionately dominate group classes, which have increased 20-30% in recent times. “Globally, 46% of Millennials are partaking in these community-based fitness courses versus 39% of those aged 35-54 years old and 27% of those 55-plus according to Nielsen’s data.”6

You might also want to see what the 28 most innovative gyms are doing, including Daybreaker parties (super fun 6 a.m. workouts in a dance-party, club-like atmosphere), hiking yoga, and mood-lifting rooms.

Bottom line: Hire millennials who can keep you in touch with new ideas about how to offer social fitness (connection vs. competitiveness) to take advantage of GBrief’s observation, “See, it’s about more than just the workout. It’s about who’s there with them and who knows it happened.” 

How Millennials Changed the Fitness Landscape

It won’t surprise you to hear that technology plays a huge role in the power of the millennials. The sheer numbers of this generation–the largest in history–armed with a new set of values and 24/7 access to the Internet of Everything, is a disruption of unseen magnitude.

As I stated in my earlier post, there are 5 important mindset changes YMCAs and other membership organizations need to embrace, but there are a few tactical steps you can take, as well.

The reality is: Technology got us here – technology is how you will keep up.

Join us for Key Trends in Membership Disruption Part 2, where we’ll discuss 2 key aspects of technology YMCAs can understand and implement to reach this historic generation and maybe do a little disrupting of their own!


1Techcrunch: What Does ‘Disrupt’ Really Mean?

2The End of Membership as We Know It, Sarah Sladek

3A Sweat Life: Millennials and Fitness

4Millennial Marketing: The Millennial Work Out

5ACE Fitness: 5 Tech Tools to Enhance Your Fitness Business (and Increase Your Bottom Line) 

6TheGBrief: Millennialsin the Gym; How do they Play into the Remodel?