Michael Clark is the Business Development Director at Swimming Nature, the largest provider of premium swimming lessons in the UK. Michael has over 25 years of experience within the sector, which include senior positions at Living Well and Leisure Connection (1Life), and two years spent at Fitness First heading up innovation and development. With experience in creating the ultimate customer experience, he is the driving force behind Swimming Nature’s business growth.
We spoke to Michael about:
- The trends he’s seeing within swimming and fitness
- The opportunity for operators to capitalise on this trend, and
- The commercial opportunity of introducing new kinds of pool based fitness
What trends are you seeing within swimming and fitness?
In recent years, there has been a tremendous uptake in water-based fitness like triathlon, stand-up paddle boarding, water polo or even pool-based yoga. However, many pools are underused and offer little innovation. The ability for the average person to find gyms that offer new sorts of pool-based activity is limited. For the most part, pools are still offering the basics: aqua aerobics, lessons and lane swimming. The opportunity here is huge, especially because pools are often the most underused and expensive piece of real estate in a gym. Ignoring the innovation potential in the pool is a missed opportunity but operators often don’t know where to start or don’t have the same in-house expertise as they would Group Ex or fitness so it remains overlooked.
What do you think is driving the trend of pool-based fitness?
Traditionally swimming was for “swimmers” and people were either swimmers or fitness enthusiasts. Now cross-training is more widely recognised as beneficial and exercisers are more willing to get in the pool. With the right programming, operators can start attracting new people beyond the traditional swimmer into their pools, and do it in a way that doesn’t alienate or annoy the traditional swimmers. It will take some creativity, and it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, but there are ways to maximise private sector pools.
How can operators capitalise on this trend?
As I’ve said, aquatic innovation is often something that is overlooked by private clubs. Without a dedicated Aquatics Manager, there is no focus on the water. The pool is just not considered in the same way the rest of the gym is. Programming for the pool is really in its infancy. My advice to operators is to think about how you can make your pool experience different. For example, at Swimming Nature we are working on a Water Fitness product that is sold like a PT for the pool. We would white label the product, provide trainers, or upskill and train PTs to deliver the sessions.
The water is a fantastic place to condition, get fit and lose weight, but a regular person may not know anything other than to swim up and down the lanes. In the water, you can do functional training with weights, and add bits of small kit to add resistance. It’s very low impact, but it’s a real challenge. The water is a tough place to train and it gives members a totally different experience. The benefits of this model are immense. An offering like this allows an operator to be seen as a real innovator. It is also a great development opportunity and differentiator for PTs. And, it offers members something different which aids in engagement and retention.
Who is the audience for a product like this?
Operators need to expand their view of the audience for water-based activity. It’s not always the triathlete. It might be that mainstream member who just wants to lose half a stone. They aren’t likely even considering the pool as a part of their fitness programme. The biggest opportunity is to partner with a specialist and educate PTs and members to view water as a credible way to meet their fitness goals.
What are the commercial opportunities?
The growing interest in pool-based activity presents an exciting opportunity for operators. Imagine you have 10 PTs doing sessions in the gym, and that space is full. Expanding into the water allows you to add more PTs with more room and more time available, but at the same rate as a gym-based PT session. For members, they now have an opportunity to escape the gym floor by adding more variety to their sessions. This can help with retention of both members and PTs, and potentially attract new members with a different, innovative offering.
Ordinarily, when operators think about adding something new, they think about the costs involved. But adding more pool-based programming doesn’t have a similar cost because you’re not having to build or buy anything. The investment is reasonably small, but the ROI is huge.