So, I was talking to my long time friend Norm Cates at IHRSA. I always enjoy his passion for the fitness industry. In the course of our conversation, he says, “Our industry should be more important to America.”

A very profound statement, one that caused me to reply, “How, ‘ bout if I tackle that subject in my next article for you?” Our beloved Publisher & Editor welcomed it with great enthusiasm.

What echoes in my mind since that conversation, is what my creative director friend Jack Fund said to me, “Cool people like cool things.” So I had to ask myself, is the health club industry a “cool thing?” I first had to define, what is a “cool thing?”

I started writing things down that I thought was cool when I did it: Riding a dirt bike in Australia. Skydiving. Making a hole-in-one in golf. Going to a Springsteen concert in New Jersey. Diving off a waterfall in Hawaii. Bungee jumping off a 224’ crane. Acting and doing stunts with James Garner in The Rockford Files and Bret Maverick. Watching Steve Jobs give his famous keynotes live at MacWorld. Meeting my baseball hero, Mickey Mantle. Jumping into an alligator pen at the San Diego Zoo when I was in college. Ok, that was stupid, but my friends thought it was cool at the time.

I stopped at ten “cool things.” Out of that list, 7 out of 10 were physical things. For each of those seven, I had to be in good physical shape in order to achieve and enjoy them, from which I guess we can conclude that being in good shape is important when it comes to doing those physical things we love to do.

One could also conclude that to get in good physical shape, all one has to do is go to any of our 30,000 plus health clubs in the United States. Only 15% of the population agrees with that. The other 85% disagree. They don’ t see anything “cool” about going to a gym. Even the ads they see are boring, with no emotional connection. The majority of the 85%, according to statistics, could benefit from being in better shape. So why would these people NOT go to a gym? It can’ t be the price because we have made health club memberships the cheapest of all things we do. Well, not all clubs. My wife pays $215 a month for her club here in LA and she hardly ever goes. That is NOT cool. Feel free to tell her that for me. (smiley face)

I have said it before and I guess I will continue to say it. There is no “thing” that is more important than our health and fitness, but the health club industry has trouble making it a “cool thing” to attract and keep members. Yet companies and organizations outside our industry are able to make their products and services…cool.

Remember when I talked about the Milk Advisory Board and the California Raisins? Once they stopped lecturing to us on the benefits of their products and how important it was for us to buy them and consume them on a daily basis, they took another approach. Yep, they made them “cool.” The milk moustaches appeared, and those ads resonated with us. And so, we “Got Milk.” And, once those “cool” raisins danced across our TV screens to the song, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” we started dancing up to the checkout counter with them because they emotionally connected with us.

How many gyms have you been to that really truly impressed you? I’ m willing to bet that you have seen more bad ones than good ones, right? Can’t say I have seen a bad Apple Store, or Nike Town, or Hard Rock Café or a Ritz Carlton. Very cool, every single one of them.

So what is a gym owner to do if they want to attract members and keep them? Simple. Brand yourself like the successful billion dollar companies do. As marketing guru Scott Bedbury said, “Branding is about taking something common and improving upon it in ways that make it more valuable and meaningful.”

Kudos to those rare owners who have taken the “common” gym and made it more valuable and meaningful by adding basketball courts, swimming pools, climbing walls, golf simulators, full service bars, restaurants, lounges with computers and free WiFi, pinball games, video arcades, saunas, Jacuzzis, masseuses, sports medicine, pool tables, and Ping-Pong tables.

There’ s always room for something different. A simple Foosball table would have both my brothers going into the gym everyday. How ‘ bout a game of darts or a trampoline? Five minutes on a trampoline is fun and one heck of a workout. I’ ve heard of a couple of gyms putting in bowling alleys. Yes, bowling is back bigger and better than ever. The members train hard then relax and have fun bowling afterwards. That’ s cool!

I have seen gyms with lots of wasted space outside. How ‘ bout a beach volleyball court or an obstacle course? My niece showed me an obstacle course, a three-story jungle gym if you will, inside their local shopping mall. It was very popular with both parents and kids alike. My wife and I saw one outside while skiing at Vail. A very cool thing. We’ ve come a long way from those jungle gyms we used to play on as kids. BTW, we didn’ t even know we were “working out” or “exercising” on those jungle gyms because it was fun. We were playing.

I’m just like everyone else. I know the importance of “working out”and “exercising,” but I’ d still rather play. So try to bring those “cool things” into your gym. Start with hiring cool people, especially if they are personal trainers and group fitness instructors. There’ s a reason we keep seeing new and cooler Group-X classes, more exciting fitness programs, and equipment manufacturers making cooler looking pieces.

I heard a successful gym owner say that people really don’ t need health clubs to get in shape. You have to admit he’ s right. So, if the health club industry is to be more important to America, we have to make them want us. Successful brands understand that we buy more things that we want, than things that we need, because the things that we want, are much more cool than the things that we need.

Case in point, I will be wearing the new Apple Watch by the time you read this. It’s not that I need one, but I absolutely positively want one because it is the ultimate in cool. And the Apple Watch will have some cool health & fitness apps on it. Time to play and get in shape too!

Yep, cool people like cool things. (smiley face)