How a Gym That Serves Free Pizza Became One of the Fastest Growing Concepts in the Fitness Industry
How a Gym That Serves Free Pizza Became One of the Fastest Growing Concepts in the Fitness Industry

Keeping things simple has helped Planet Fitness grow to more than 1,000 locations.

When Planet Fitness first launched in 1992, it wasn’t very different from the rest of the competition. It was your typical gym, equipped with a juice bar, spinning classes, free weights and the standard membership fee of $30. But there was one problem—they weren't getting very many members.

To shake things up, Planet Fitness decided to look at recruiting new gym members a little differently. At the time, around 12 percent of Americans belonged to a gym—a small chunk of the country’s population that dozens of other gyms were vying for. So, Planet Fitness decided it was time to try and reach the other 88 percent of Americans who weren’t going to the gym.

To do so, Planet Fitness cut its membership price to $10 a month—where it remains to this day. Then, in 2000, it stripped out the features that members weren’t regularly using—novelty things like the juice bar and classes. The goal of making these seemingly risky changes was simple: to bring in the people who had never had a gym membership before. In other words, Planet Fitness strived to be the antithesis of the boutique fitness model.

“It's very, very difficult to make money in the fitness industry. In order to thrive, you really have to have a niche and sell it. You've either got to be at the high end or at the low end; otherwise, you're not in at all. We're at the very low end: Members have access to a great club for 10 bucks a month, and I don't see that changing,” Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau told Inc. Magazine. “We keep it as simple as possible, so that there are as few areas to disappoint as possible. When we started out, we included perks that everyone else had, such as day care and yoga classes, but none of that made sense for us.”

Throughout the ‘90s, Planet Fitness slowly started adding programs that now define what the brand is today, like having a pizza party on the first Monday of every month and offering free bagels on the second Tuesday of the month. There’s also tootsie rolls available at the front desk.

The gym also developed a philosophy of being a “no judgement” and “no gymtimidation” zone—there are even signs plastered across the gym and on the equipment reminding members that they “belong.” A “lunk alarm” goes off if people exert themselves with too much machismo—which really just means that there’s no grunting or excessive weight slamming permitted.

“There are a lot of people who, like me, are busy and don’t have as much time to work out. I am not a fanatic, but I do want to embrace some healthy aspects, yet it is scary. You see some of the things about certain people who are so extreme, and it’s intimidating. Being able to show people that there’s a place where everybody is comfortable and welcome is a good thing,” said Jessica Correa, Planet Fitness’ Chief Marketing Officer, to CMO.Com.

Today, Planet Fitness has more than 1,000 clubs, and it’s consistently been ranked as the fastest-growing gym throughout the country. And at least for now, Rondeau isn't planning any big changes in the model. The $10 price tag and the uncompetitive atmosphere are the two big reasons Planet Fitness has been able to differentiate its product. As he likes to put it, if all the other gyms are selling hamburgers, then Planet Fitness is offering pizza. And who doesn’t like pizza?