June 17, 2019

Since 2014 Herman Rutgers has been the International Ambassador for Reed Exhibitions/FIBO, helping FIBO in a consultancy role to expand globally. He recently organized and moderated the Sixth European Health & Fitness Forum, the opening congress for FIBO in Cologne on April 3, where he also launched his book on Marketing & Sales. Rutgers also assists FIBO China with selecting three international speakers and he will be speaking at the FIBO China Congress in August on international market developments. In addition, he will launch the Chinese version of the EuropeActive book on Marketing & Sales in the health and fitness industry. In addition, he is putting together the American Health & Fitness Forum (AHFF), the pre-launch event for FIBO USA.

In addition to his work for FIBO, Rutgers is a co-founder and board member of EuropeActive, the trade association for Europe in Brussels, where he is currently organizing its 11th Executive Leadership Forum, a three-day invitation-only executive event with 50 CEOs from around Europe.    As CEO of Global Growth Partners, Rutgers consults with various companies on international strategy and he is a board member for Basic-Fit, the largest European fitness chain.

Herman Rutgers can be reached at


FF: That’s an impressive resume. How did you end up in such a wide-ranging position in the fitness business?

Rutgers: By working hard and smart. Having had Augie Nieto, the founder of Life Fitness, as a boss, friend, coach and mentor has certainly helped, as has gathering the right people around me. Also, being at the right place at the right time — without luck I would never have been able to do all this.

Obviously you have your finger on the pulse of the fitness business. So how would you characterize the state of the industry in both the United States and in Europe?

The sector is in a very solid and healthy state. Just look at the steady growth and investments that are taking place around the world from serious investors, governments, health insurance companies and the medical world.

What about in the U.S. health and fitness market in particular?

The U.S. is further in its lifecycle than Europe and the rest of the world. We are talking in 2018 about a penetration rate of total population of fitness membership of roughly 20 percent in the U.S., 10 percent in Europe and much lower penetration rates in the rest of the world. So we are far from saturation anywhere and there are still enormous growth opportunities globally.


Take us through how that has happened in the fitness business here in America.

After the birth of our modern industry some 50 years ago in California, it developed from bodybuilding/strength focused (Fitness 1.0) into the aerobics phase (Fitness 2.0), then into fitness-cardio, strength and group ex (Fitness 3.0) and now we are entering the phase of Fitness 4.0, a more connected, holistic and well-being/health-oriented sector, serving a bigger picture and relevance in society. Fitness is no longer limited to the four walls of the club — we will see more outdoor activities and (virtual) home fitness. Change will continue at an ever-increasing pace.


What is the industry’s strength here in the United States?

Many favorable macro trends are in support of our sector — the greying of society, the physical inactivity/obesity crisis, increased interest in wellness/fitness, higher disposable incomes and the increase of corporate wellness, for example.

And its weaknesses?

There are still relatively high attrition rates and competition is based too much on price and not enough on the many benefits of exercise. There is a lack of reaching out to new target groups, such as the deconditioned and the older population, and the industry is not generating enough non-dues revenues.

What are some of the unique challenges the industry faces globally?

Staff selection and motivation, connecting with the government, positioning fitness not as a luxury (sales tax) but as a necessity (low or no tax). Also, connecting with the corporate health programs.

If there is one thing that FIBO USA attendees should look to get out of the event in Miami Beach in October, what would it be?

Simple. Learn from other operators and suppliers from around the world so that they can become even more successful.

What one piece of advice would you give to the typical club owner or trainer on how to be better – and make more money – in the fitness business?

Spend more time on selecting, training, developing, motivating and keeping great staff.

Finally, in what direction do you see the fitness business in the U.S. headed in 2020 and beyond?

In Europe we are working on a new mantra that would say, “Growing the sector to 100 million members by 2030.” We should maybe consider having the same goal or stake in the ground for the U.S. — growing the U.S. from 62 million in 2018 in the next decade to 100 million members by 2030.

Where are those numbers going to come from?

Growth opportunities will come if the industry continues to innovate and invest in people, products and programming and will reach out to new target groups. We must realize ourselves that competition will not only come from within the sector but also from outside. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are already beginning to enter our sphere and we must decide how we will cope with them. One thing is for sure, we are in for very exciting and interesting times ahead and FIBO USA will be a platform to illustrate what this could mean for the industry.

What role do you see FIBO USA playing in the U.S. fitness business in 2019 and beyond?

FIBO is the event for everybody. It is holistic and a broad church, meaning the event is targeting for-profit fitness, not-for-profits such as the YMCA, vertical markets, corporate, military, fire, police, education, cruise ships, leisure and home fitness. It is aimed at CEOs, managers, trainers, investors and consumers. It is both B2B and B2C, making it a unique concept that does not yet exist in the USA.

What do you plan to look for specifically at FIBO USA 2019?

To create an event that has world-class speakers and presenters that other fitness events in the U.S. do not offer. It is a truly global event, sharing knowledge and new ideas and innovation with the U.S. market from around the world.