There’s good news, bad news and more good news for the fitness industry. The good news is that people are concerned about their health and are interested in adopting amore active lifestyle. This is illustrated by the increase in health club memberships, which have almost doubled from 17.3 million in 1987 to 33.8 million today (2003 IHRSA Trend Report).

The bad news is that, along with an uncertain economic climate that is made worse by the constant threat of terrorism, fitness facility owners are experiencing an influx of new competition. Colleges, YMCAs, hospitals, community recreation centers, fitness videos and even the Internet are all battling for the attention, and discretionary income, of the would-be exerciser.

But just when it appears that all of the worthwhile markets have been saturated, there is more good news. There is a growing interest among the members of ethnic communities to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Business owners who invest in ethnic customers refer to this window of opportunity as cross-cultural marketing.

Cultural identification

Cultural factors often exert the broadest and deepest influence on consumer behavior. Culture is one ofthe most fundamental determinants of a person’s wants and behavior. Each culture consists of subcultures, and within these subcultures lie smaller ethnic communities. These communities provide more specific identification and socialization, and marketers in various industries often design products and programs tailored to their specific needs. For example, Glaxo SmithKline, the market leader in HIV drugs, targets African Americans because of the high incidence of HIV infection among their community. This drug manufacturer took into consideration the cultural identity of its target market when it selected the former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson as the campaign representative. Johnson shares the same medical condition and, most importantly, is of the same ethnicity as the target market. His image will be displayed on billboards, subway posters and full-page ads as part of the marketing campaign.

According to Peter Hare, vice president of GlaxoSmithKline’s HIV business unit, targeting this specific community is a business decision that is advantageous for society as a whole. “More African Americans are dying from AIDS than white people,” he explains. “So, from a business perspective, … you have to focus on the African-American community.”

By adopting a similar business perspective, fitness facility operatorscan increase their chances of remaining competitive during these challenging economic times, and provide a valuable service to their communities. Ethnic consumers often experience higher levels of obesity, type2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, so investing in these communities is both socially worthy and good business.

Implementing a cross-cultural marketing plan

Fitness facility operators considering cross-cultural marketing need to determine how incorporating cross-cultural marketing techniques affect the manner in which they construct new facilities and manage existing clubs.

Recently, a well-known fitness organization entered the ethnic market because it fit the company’s business model, demographic analysis and individual initiative. Mark Mastrov, president and CEO of Fitness Holdings Worldwide (FHW), based in San Francisco, Calif., added to the 24 Hour Fitness domain by creating a new ethnic brand called the “Magic” clubs, in association with Johnson — the same celebrity pitchman as for Glaxo SmithKline. The first facility opened in March 2001, and there are currently four locations.