An Investigation to Inform and Create a Service Quality Model for the Fitness Industry in the Northwest of England

Pressler, Denis (2022) An Investigation to Inform and Create a Service Quality Model for the Fitness Industry in the Northwest of England. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The UK fitness industry has seen periods of significant change, most notably the arrival of budget providers who have established themselves as market leaders in less than a decade. This change has caused havoc among established providers, with some heading towards liquidation, while others re-evaluate their own service, recognising the threat of competition in the industry. Therefore, the need to measure and improve service quality performance has gathered emphasis in the industry, yet many managers may not have access to a legitimate service quality measuring tool that is sensitive to the market in which they operate. This is not only due to the environmental changes, but because of regional variations and limitations in existing models, including age (pre-recession), non-UK based and single provider studies. Consequently, there is a need to produce a service quality model, which shows the characteristics of the contemporary fitness industry in the North West of England, that provides managers with a pragmatic and functional tool.
This study begins by exploring the evolution of the fitness industry, establishing key influences which are displayed via a fitness industry timeline. This informs the mapping of fitness centres in the North West, (n=667) of which 619 are analysed, focusing on the philosophy and beliefs of each site. A framework of providers is proposed, acknowledging more permeable boundaries between categories. Three significant categories emerged, accounting for 35.5% of the industry, while the combined five characteristics cover 77.2% of fitness centres. The characteristics for the three categories map as ‘wellbeing and local community’; ‘physical environment and price’; ‘social environment’.
The next phase of study uses three case studies, aligned to the emergent categories from the fitness industry framework, where interviews (managers) and focus groups (members) are used. A typology of user is devised, with six key variables which provide a structure to distinguish between the core users at each site. The variables are age; value; engagement; outcome; class; importance. It is also noticeable that there are many similarities, which could be explained by fitness centre users being a distinct group to begin with. Such similarities are further explored in developing a tentative service quality model, which includes five dimensions of interaction; physical environment; outcome; programme; access; that constitutes the proposed service quality model for the North West. The model is tested through questionaires (n=331), capturing service quality performance and importance scores to provide an ‘Importance Performance Analysis’ (IPA) framework for each site. The findings lead to alterations for items under ‘accessibility’, ‘outcome’ and ‘programme’. Therefore, a new tentative North West Fitness Centre (NWFC) model is confirmed. Confirmatory factor results indicate an adequate to good fitting model, with the RMSEA score of 0.67, CFI result of .95 and SRMR at 0.64. Consequently, the research not only offers new and updated knowledge to literature, but its contribution extends to application in the field, providing some managers with a practical measuring tool that not only informs on service quality performance but advises on areas for improvement.

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