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Community Building with Special Populations: Change Your Business Model to Grow Your Bottom Line

Many fitness facilities, whether large box gyms, small mom-and-pops, or even community centers, run on an archaic business model whose foundation has begun to crumble in the 21st Century. Gone are the days of bait and switch advertising, coercive sales tactics and tepid customer service.

Even used car dealership are beginning to realize that relationship-building and over-the-top service go much farther than old-school tactics in building a loyal customer base that brings in new and repeat business. And employees fare better as well, as cut-throat competition among sales staff is phased out in favor of a collaborative team approach.

One of the key features of the emergent collaborative business model is community building, wherein members form sub-groups that provide a social platform, making the gym their central meeting place. Strong communities within a gym transform its culture from a strictly commercial enterprise to a true club, where members enjoy a status that supersedes that of mere customers.

In truth, the YMCA has been using a community-building model for decades, posing a competitive threat to gyms who operate strictly for profit.

The Communities Under Your Roof

In most gyms, member communities already exist, yet business owners and managers overlook this potentially lucrative niche, focusing instead on new memberships and bleeding retention stats. Find any popular group exercise class, and you will find at least one community of loyal members who have formed strong social bonds.

Special populations offer a unique opportunity for gyms to transform themselves into clubs whose loyal members bring in new business on a consistent basis. By fostering social engagement among members, you cultivate an environment within your facility that serves existing members, and you foster relationships that play an important role in building the greater community outside your walls.

Special Populations as Communities

To transform your business model and redefine the culture of you gym, special populations are a good place to start.

For example, the older adults in your Silver Sneakers class often linger to chat after class, and may even regroup at a local coffee shop. Why not offer a gathering place and provide coffee and bagels? The same goes for those moms-to-be in your pregnancy yoga class, or the weight loss group in your morning aqua class.

Get your staff on board to identify communities that already exist within your club, and devise creative ways to foster those relationships. Transform your gym into more than just a sweat shop. Make it a community-building center where members become an active part of your organization. You will find your member retention stats rising, and new business walking in your doors.


The important thing when thinking about taking on special population clients is to broaden your base of knowledge about their particular needs. WITS has you covered with dozens of certifications and courses to address the needs of special populations. Lay the foundation with a certification, like Lifestyle Fitness Coaching, Older Adult Fitness Specialist, Youth Fitness, or Certified Personal Fitness Trainer. Follow up with continuing education courses like Exercise Programming for Special Populations, Pregnancy Fitness, Youth Fitness Foundations, and many more!

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