Fitness United launches today. HCM talks to founder, Neil Harmsworth
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Fitness United launches today. HCM talks to founder, Neil Harmsworth

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A new industry support association, Fitness United, launches today (1 June) to bring suppliers and operators more closely together, HCM talks to founder, Neil Harmsworth

Fitness United is launching today, can you tell our readers a bit more about the organisation and what it's seeking to achieve?

Fitness United is a collaboration of suppliers supporting fitness facility operators through the provision of innovative new services and discounts on existing services to improve the trading environment for operators as the fitness industry bounces back post-lockdown.

The campaign has been developed as a collaboration between seven founder suppliers including my own company - Hussle – alongside Technogym, HCM, Core Health & Fitness, Wexer, Love Recruitment and Learn Direct.

Since the announcement of the campaign, dozens of other suppliers have added their support including Service Sport, ClubRight, TRP, Precor, Jordan, 4Leisure, ProInsight, Big Wave Media, Cap2 and many other amazing and generous companies.

The list continues to grow daily and it's humbling to witness the unprecedented level of collaboration we're now seeing between suppliers for a specific cause.

What inspired you to start the organisation?

I strongly believe fitness facilities will remain the heartbeat of the industry post-COVID and this is a sentiment shared by the founder suppliers.

Whilst the acceleration of digital services is a welcome and much-needed development within the sector, the physical fitness facility and the community it creates will remain fundamental to the core of the fitness industry.

The success of facility operators has a direct impact on the success of suppliers – we need each other – and it's that interdependency which inspired the Fitness United campaign.

We want to do what we can to promote collaboration, dialogue and anything else that can support the overall fitness industry ecosystem.

What will Fitness United contribute to the industry?

Fitness United will be the driving force behind supplier efforts to support fitness facility operators in any way they can post-lockdown.

Whilst the platform itself will promote new services, special offers and helpful content, the ethos of the campaign will hopefully resonate even further with greater collaboration and dialogue between suppliers and operators to grow together post-lockdown.

What are the outcomes the organisation is aiming for?

It is difficult to put tangible numbers or targets against a campaign like this, but obviously we would be thrilled if we could encourage more than 100 suppliers to contribute. That would be a very satisfying, albeit a rather arbitrary, landmark!

I think ultimately the founder suppliers would simply like to know they'd created something that provided real value to operators at a time of great uncertainty, that they 'did their bit' in supporting the industry rebound. It's a tough environment for operators at the moment, and if Fitness United can provide any kind of relief or support, then our objective will be met.

Longer-term it would be nice to imagine that the campaign could evolve beyond its original purpose and perhaps become a totem for ongoing collaboration within the sector, but for now, the focus remains very much on this being an effective, short-term initiative.

Who can join?

Any fitness facility operator can register with Fitness United for free to receive updates on the latest supplier offers and services with more than 50 operators immediately registering with the platform after the previous launch announcement in HCM.

For suppliers to participate they must be willing to provide either a genuinely new service to support facility operators, a discount on an existing service, or content which is useful to operators post-lockdown. The campaign is entirely voluntary, but we are doing our best to screen offers and services to ensure they meet the supplier participation criteria and are genuinely useful to operators.

Will you collaborate with other organisations and if so how?

The ethos behind Fitness United is entirely driven by collaboration, initially led by the seven founder suppliers, but continued by the dozens of companies that have subsequently joined since we announced the campaign. We need to put aside all competitive considerations over the next six-months and all pull together.

That collaborative ethos will continue and we would absolutely welcome the involvement and input of even more suppliers, operators and other organisations that support the sector. I'm completely open-minded on how we develop the Fitness United campaign so please do get in touch if, having read this, you are inspired with ideas on how you can help!

Why are you disbanding at the end of the year?

The initial plan is to run Fitness United until the end of 2020 with the specific short-term goal of supporting operators during the immediate post-lockdown trading environment.

We will reassess the campaign objectives at the end of 2020, seek input from participating suppliers and operators, and then make a decision on what the future looks like for Fitness United.

I'm open-minded about what happens next and this could involve handing the platform over to others to run if there continues to be a need for such a service beyond the end of the year.

What shape do you think operators will be in this time next year?

I think it's inevitable there will be some operators that struggle to recover from the disruption caused by COVID-19. Not all will be able to adapt to the operational changes required to remain viable.

The biggest unknown is going to be consumer confidence and the impact it has on overall demand and how high or low that will be. Depending on your perspective you can find data and surveys to support your perspective either way at the moment but the answer is, no-one really knows.

My personal view is that after an initial burst of activity post-lockdown, it will be a challenging second half of the year for most operators with 'normal' trading levels not returning until early or even mid-2021. If that's the case, it's even more important for collaborative campaigns like Fitness United to be there in support of the sector during this period.

However, if you look beyond the immediate aftermath I can only see a positive outcome for the vast majority of operators in a world where health and fitness becomes a much higher priority for more people than ever. I don't think it's unreasonable to predict unprecedented growth for the sector from the middle of 2021 onwards and it's likely we will see gym membership penetration rates in excess of 20 per cent for the first time in the UK. I will defer to David Minton for that kind of insight, however!

What shape do you think suppliers will be in this time next year?

It really depends on the type of service they supply. There will certainly be some suppliers that will be in higher demand than others as a direct result of changes to the trading environment and the operational needs of facilities.

Companies that provide digital fitness services, hygiene and compliance and marketing solutions to bring customers back into gyms and health clubs will all be in high demand over the coming months as the industry rebounds. I suspect it might be a tougher period for companies that require significant capex from operators who may be more cautious in how they invest, although I am sure they are working out how they can structure deals differently in future and that should lead to more positive outcomes.

As with operators, the big unknown is going to be customer demand and the speed at which the industry can ramp-up again post-lockdown. The faster the recovery for operators, the faster it will also be for suppliers.

What other messages would you like to send out to readers of HCM?

It's taken a number of years for me to fully understand the depth and importance of personal relationships in the fitness industry, which is one of the tightest-knit I have ever worked in. The Fitness United campaign has been an amazing experience for me personally to work so closely with other suppliers in support of the facility operators that we all want to be successful.

With that in mind, I can only really echo some of the sentiment we have seen across the wider population during this challenging period. Continue to be kind to one another, support those around you both personally and professionally, and if we all do that we can only hope to leave 2020 in a far stronger, healthier place than we entered.

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A new industry support association, Fitness United launches today (1 June) to bring suppliers and operators more closely together, HCM talks to founder, Neil Harmsworth
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