Designing a Fitness Centre: from Geo-marketing to Business Plan

It was the 80's when, in Italy, the first basements were transformed into amateur gyms frequented mainly by bodybuilders, physical fitness fanatics fed by the myths of famous movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno.
Since then, a lot has been done in the gyms, but there is still a way to go.
Analyzing the subject from a strictly managerial point of view, it is evident that, in the area of services dedicated to wellbeing, the constant growth of the sector was not followed by a parallel evolution of managerial skills.
While, on the one hand, the speed of the increase in demand and its relative transformation have strongly attracted investments, on the other hand, it has not happened as much with the development of the relative managerial skills.

History and marketing for the fitness centre

Tracing the evolutionary phases of the "gym" management model over time, three main stages are synthetically recognized.
Initially, "management" is represented by the entrepreneur who, having had "technical" training, has an equally "technical" approach to service management.
It is typical in this first phase the "product orientation" and the characteristic passive connection to the market: products of acceptable quality and at low prices can only find the favour of buyers.
The second phase of "sales (or market) orientation" comes at a distance of time, due to the progressive saturation of the market, thanks to the gradual spread of specialized consulting companies and through the process of imitation activated by small operators against the main big players.
This phase saw the birth of the commercial figure as a new professional figure to be combined with the technical figure and mainly dedicated to the activity of sales consultancy.
In the short term, this transformation, which is based on precise commercial procedures and aggressive promotional policies, has led to a long-term sustainability problem.
Poor customer behaviour is unintentionally encouraged: a limited level of loyalty, which corresponds to a high turnover rate, a high number of early school leavers and a high price sensitivity.
This is the lever that moves towards the third evolutionary stage of the management model, that of "marketing orientation", characterized by a shift of attention from sales to relationships, in the conviction that success depends mainly on the satisfaction of the needs (more if latent) of the consumer.
In this scenario, the concept already expressed by one of the leading scholars of commercial strategies in 1960, Theodore Lewitt, is as topical as it is often disregarded.
According to his study "Marketing myopia", having ascertained the existence of customer needs to be satisfied, the company operates backwards, first deciding how to satisfy the needs themselves, then realizing the products or services that will allow such satisfaction.
It is clear how important it is in this context to define with precision the profile of the customer in order to be able to identify specific needs, even before idealizing the business model.
In this regard, it is crucial to note that those provided by a fitness centre are defined as proximity services for which the customer is not willing to travel long distances.
Even in the presence of high purchase costs, which would imply an expansion of the commercial area, travel times are in fact relatively limited due to the high frequency of use.

Geo-location of the fitness centre

It follows, therefore, that the definition of the catchment area is strongly correlated to the location of the activity and that the typical user to be profiled, is strictly related to it.
In the definition of the entrepreneurial project aimed at creating a fitness club, localization is therefore considered one of the most important variables, to all intents and purposes, the first act of the project.
It is a rigid choice because it generates stranded costs and involves a high investment.
By influencing the market of reference, i. e. the demand segment to which the Club is directed, the choice of location has then a considerable impact on all the elements of short and long term planning, including architectural design itself.
Developing different types of geo-marketing analysis becomes therefore a key factor: ex ante analysis, which can be carried out in the mapping of the territory or part of it, and ex post analysis, following the identification of a site with a view to a new opening.
In the latter case, operationally the most frequent to develop, the objective of an ex post survey can be twofold: on the one hand the validation of the location in terms of commercial potential, and on the other hand the collection of information in order to adapt the structural characteristics and marketing mix of the new company to the demand of the area.
The correct relationship between the size of the structure and the catchment area, between the type of structure and services and the profile of the typical user, thus become essential elements for the profitability of a newly opened Club, whose accurate definition is, in fact, the second act of the project.
It is here enclosed a fundamental step for the financial and management solidity of a modern "gymnasium", that is the need for the characteristics of the Club and the elements constituting the marketing mix to be perfectly aligned, all the more so in an area of relationship marketing in which the relationship with the customer is decisive and the experiential dimension of consumption is acquiring a growing importance for the consumer.
In this context, the synergy between consultant and designer becomes particularly valuable for the entrepreneur, better if they are specialized in this specific sector.

Definition of the Business Plan

Assumed that the ultimate aim of the business activity is, by definition, the realization of a profit, the entrepreneur's objective must be to create a Club in which functionality and emotionality are in perfect balance aimed at maximizing the experiential value of the offer, in full respect of the budget considered financially sustainable.
Once again, the design process must operate backwards, starting from the definition of the budget identified through the Business Plan tool.

The ideal process involves recursive consultant-designer interactions and proceeds with subsequent refinements.
Thus, once the location has been identified, both its commercial potential (by the consultant) and structural potential (by the designer) are validated in advance.
Summarised as a first business model and its services, the suitability of the environments from a regulatory, functional, distributional and technical-economic point of view is verified, highlighting any critical points.
The creation of a system of the services potentially offered by the structure, the costs underlying their provision, as well as the maximum estimate of the construction cost (deducted synthetically compared on the basis of historical data derived from interventions with characteristics similar to those under examination), contribute to the elaboration of the first draft of the Business Plan.

Already in this first embryonic form, the Business Plan is an indispensable tool, a real compass able to direct the project in the most appropriate direction of development.
Interpreting with awareness and knowledge the different variables within the market scenario previously analyzed, in some cases it will be possible to validate the Club model hypothesised for the specific context under analysis, in others to diversify the characteristics of the offer and positioning, until arriving, on some occasions, to recognize the non-sustainability of the business activity in the specific location.
It is clear that at this stage of the process they will be sufficiently clear: the Club's target group, its positioning (low, mid, premium band), the menu of services to be offered, the sustainable budget for each item of expenditure (real estate investment, current costs, etc.).

Gym design, the final look of the gym

It is only from this moment and within the perimeter defined by this series of financial, management and marketing constraints that the first phase of architectural design is launched.
This first phase of space modeling and optimization of flows from a functional point of view will be followed by the internal concept phase.
Reference has already been made to the increasingly important role, also from an exclusively commercial point of view, of the context in which the service is used rather than just the service, of the type of experience experienced in the use of the service rather than of the specific attributes of the same.
The ultimate goal of defining the Club's image must be the integration of all the stimuli that reach the client in the areas in which he or she comes into contact with the company, the involvement of the member in highly symbolic experiences that can stimulate him or her emotionally, physically and intellectually, adding new dimensions to the offerings of products and services.
On the one hand, this will make it possible to differentiate the offer from that of its competitors and, on the other hand, to increase the level of shareholder satisfaction and attractiveness towards wider and more diversified market segments.
Architectural (and plant engineering) design will then culminate in the executive design, the outcome of which will be the exact definition of each specific component of the Club (whether it be a finish, a lighting body or a piece of furniture) and consequently the exact definition of the construction cost in a phase necessarily prior to the actual construction and in which it will still be possible to intervene on all the parameters that contribute to define the cost of construction in order to eventually realign it to the budget initially established, preserving sustainability.

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