As a fitness entrepreneur, you know that the latest trends can suggest important—and lucrative—additions to your basic products and services. But as a fitness entrepreneur, is it a good idea to build your business around them?

“Most fitness pros fall into two categories,” says Tricia Murphy Madden, American Council on Exercise faculty member and the fitness director for four health clubs in Seattle. “There are people who create and drive trends, and those who respond. Neither is bad, but what’s important is that when you’re responding to a trend, you need to be truly passionate about the concept and already an expert in the area or willing to become one.”

Madden—who co-created Barre Above™ with Leslee Bender, a finalist for the 2010 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year—says one of her main motivations for creating a barre program for traditional health clubs and facilities was to help them retain members when barre studios opened up next door.

“It wasn’t about not having members take barre classes at the studios [next door],” she explains. “I wanted to offer just enough on our schedule so that I could retain and grow the membership. I also absolutely loved the concept, and my experience and passion aligned with it. I was first a barre fan and then a program creator. When riding a trend wave, you can’t just knock off the concept. You have to see where the disruptor is. Where can you make an impact that helps drive the trend forward?”

Sound Principles

When considering whether or not a fitness entrepreneur should build a business around a trend, June Kahn, 2009 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and founder of June Kahn’s Bodyworks LLC™, says she has mixed feelings. “When trends become popular, it seems to be common to see fitness pros build their businesses around them,” she says. “While this is a good thing, as businesses tend to thrive when demand is high, trends tend to eventually level off. If longevity in the business is the goal, the fitness pro should be proactive in creating some diversity around the trend in order to allow the business to thrive.”

Doug Holt, owner of several companies, including Branded Innovation and Conditioning Specialists, feels that fitness professionals should not build their entire businesses around trends and fads. “But it is very important,” he says, “to always look at industry trends and see if you can capitalize on the [ones] within your existing business.”

As examples, Holt points out personal training studios that start outdoor boot camps or add 30-minute express workouts to accommodate busy professionals during their lunch breaks. “The core of the business should always be founded upon sound principles, not fads.”

Built-In Safeguard

One way to play it safe is to incorporate current trends into your offerings, rather than making them the foundation of your business. In this way, you build a cushion of protection if and when the trend fizzles out. Innovation, says Holt, is a must. “The key to ensuring that your business is around after a trend fades is to make sure you’re always innovating. It’s been said that business comes down to two things: marketing and innovation. If you’re continually innovating and adding to your core business, when one trend fades you’ll still have ancillary products and services to offer your clients. The businesses that fail are the ‘one-trick ponies’ that offer only one service around something that is a flash on the fitness scene. The businesses that have been around for years have always stuck to the basics as part of their core offering—weights, cardio and great customer service.”

Kahn adds that creativity and expertise are essential. “When you’re committed to a trend, you should be willing to gain as much education and as many credentials as possible—in and out of the trend—to create variety. In doing so, you offer programming that complements the trend you specialize in.”

“Or,” interjects Madden, “align yourself with other programs that aren’t in that same category, so that you can help your clients be well-rounded. For example, if you are a barre studio, rent the space next to a cycling studio, because your consumers need to be shown that they need more than just barre.

“The human body responds to something new very well,” she continues, “but we know as fitness pros that if all that the customers do is one fitness component, their bodies will stop responding as well, and they’ll no longer believe the workout is benefiting them in the same way. If you have very keenly aligned yourself with studios or programs surrounding your services which provide the component of fitness that you don’t, you’re less likely to lose those customers, because they will know the value of a well-rounded workout plan.”

Additional benefits of aligning yourself with other studios include networking and referrals. If you’re referring your clients to other businesses, they are likely to do the same for you. Take it one step further by teaming up with specialty studios and co-creating challenges or fitness fairs.

Madden adds that larger clubs or multipurpose studios should avoid allowing a trend to dominate the schedule. “Don’t react to a trend by oversaturating your group schedule with it. If you’re trying to meet consumers’ expectations, your on-trend classes have to be amazing! Sprinkle them in, making sure the instruction is the best of the best you can offer, and then encourage your team to educate your members about the value of balanced training. If you do this, the trend is never a bad investment. It’s also important that you’re authentic in your approach. Respect what’s been created by the trend drivers, and then find your own footing.”

To Trend or Not to Trend?

How do you know if a trend is worth investing in? “There have been numerous moments in my career,” says Madden, “when I have had to seriously evaluate whether or not I should take on a trend. And I have avoided certain trends because they didn’t align with my core values and skill sets.”

When deciding whether or not to add a trend to her offerings, Madden asks herself a few questions. “Is the trend safe and effective? If the trend isn’t both, it’s a no-go for me. And if the workout isn’t going to drive both physical and mental benefits, it’s also not worth my time. Can my team exquisitely respond to the education and launch? And lastly, is my membership going to respond and find the workout appropriate and inspiring?”

“Trends come and go,” concludes Kahn. “If longevity is a goal, develop a business plan and review and adapt it consistently. Stay up to date with industry standards, as well as what else is offered in the community and industry in general. This will allow you, as a fitness pro, to make the changes you need to keep your business on track now and beyond.”

Carrie Myers Smith

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