This is the first in a three-part series, ParadigmShift Speaker Sessions, designed to bring you closer than ever to our speakers. This month we’re featuring Craig Miller, Chief Digital and Information Officer of Planet Fitness, the largest chain of fitness centers in North and Central America with over 1600 locations and 12 million members.

Craig will be on stage at ParadigmShift this October to share how Planet Fitness is building a digital ecosystem that integrates wearable technology, AI, voice assistants, connected fitness equipment, digital coaches, and partner brands. 

Join us at ParadigmShift where you’ll have the opportunity to meet and talk with Craig and many of our executive speakers.

Strengthening the Core: Bringing Technology to the Center of Planet Fitness

If you’re tired of grunting weightlifters, expensive gym memberships, and paying for amenities you don’t use, Planet Fitness may be the place for you. Promising “no gymtimidation” (loud grunters will set off the “Lunk Alarm”), Planet Fitness is the largest chain of fitness centers with more than 1600 locations and 12 million members. No juice bars, no pricey personal trainers or group classes, just a clean facility and plenty of equipment for $10 a month.

“Twenty years ago, the industry laughed at us. However, few retail concepts come close to this profitability. We offer a value and ROI that nobody has been able to replicate. They don’t have our scale and leverage; they can’t compete,” says Craig Miller, Chief Digital and Information Officer of Planet Fitness. 

It’s easy to assume that this dominant market position is what drew Craig to Planet Fitness last year. However, he knows there's no time to rest on those laurels. According to Craig, the fitness industry lags a bit on the digital transformation spectrum, so the time to establish a strong digital presence is now. There is also the 80 percent of Americans who don't belong to a health club that Planet Fitness is after.

This October, Craig joins us on stage at ParadigmShift to share how he’s leading Planet Fitness through a digital transformation that will unlock new ways to create value through differentiated customer experience, member interaction, and club operations.

Craig brings nearly 30 years of experience in building industry-leading technology systems and innovative customer-facing applications within prominent consumer companies. Most recently, he served as senior vice president and chief information and technology officer at Sonic Drive-In, a U.S. fast-food chain, where he was responsible for developing and executing technology transformation strategies and services, including customer experience, digital engagement, store operations, advanced analytics, and corporate solutions. Before joining Sonic, he served as chief information officer at Movie Gallery/Hollywood Video where he led strategic planning and development for the implementation of a new retail technology portfolio for all business functions. Craig previously held several senior technology roles at Bank of America, PepsiCo, and a software development firm specializing in large-scale enterprise solutions and consumer products.

We recently sat down with Craig to talk about the digital transformation at Planet Fitness:

ThoughtWorks: You went from hot dogs and milkshakes to treadmills and free weights—what drew you to Planet Fitness?

Craig Miller: I’ve driven enterprise-scale transformations for most of my career. For about 30 years I’ve enjoyed evaluating how technologies can transform businesses and helping companies harness emerging technologies to create competitive advantage. What attracts me to opportunities is the chance to differentiate a business with technology in a way that nobody else can. With Sonic, it was such a unique brand, and the CEO had a vision for technology that would transform the way they engaged with consumers. Planet Fitness is actually quite similar—it’s a leader, but in a category that’s lagging a bit behind in tech innovation. Planet Fitness revolutionized the industry with its low-cost / high-value fitness concept. Our mission is to disrupt the industry again with technology, offering members a more personalized, connected experience not available to them today via our equipment, an enhanced mobile app and by leveraging wearables. They brought me in to help lead that charge. Our CEO believes that tech can play a role in enabling our members to achieve their fitness goals and it feels good to be part of that mission.

TW: What surprised you the most in your transition from fast food to fitness?

CM: The biggest surprise was how antiquated the fitness industry is with technology. Our industry is just beginning to embrace technology; there isn’t anyone who has fully embraced and innovated with it. But the economics haven’t made sense, and there hasn’t been a good case to play in technology until integrated ecosystems started to evolve. In the gym, it's still a simple POS system, there’s actually not much tech inside the gym—but that is changing with connected equipment and wearables.

TW: Talk to me about your role as ‘Chief Digital & Information Officer’—you don’t always see these two titles combined.

CM: The successful execution of digital transformations goes far beyond the technology. Many companies make the mistake of approaching it as a technology strategy, but it is just as much a business strategy. An innovative digital strategy has an impact on nearly every business function and will require rethinking some of the business practices to realize the benefits entirely. The technology is only half of the equation. I typically spend as much time working with the function leaders on business-oriented change management as I do building and deploying new technologies.

Leadership titles for tech have evolved over the past few years, but as technology and data have expanded beyond back-office efficiencies and rapidly have become an engine of growth, it was important that the leadership and accountability of the role expanded beyond the traditional IT.

Continued below.

TW: You’ve been with Planet Fitness for nearly a year. What have you learned about your members and their journeys?

CM: I was blown away by the broad spectrum of goals and needs among our members. Some have never set foot in a gym and feel intimidated. I’ve heard hundreds of stories about how Planet Fitness has changed their lives. For example, one of our members is in her fifties; she had diabetes most of her life and on medications. One day she just got tired of living like that and decided to take control of her life. She was on a limited budget, so she joined Planet Fitness, worked with someone at her location, and within nine months, she’s no longer diabetic and off virtually all of her medications. 

There’s an important distinction we make that drives what we’re doing with technology. We don’t aspire to be just a fitness company; we aspire to be a health and wellness company. That focus shapes how we think about using digital technology to make sure our members meet their overall health and wellness goals.

TW: How are you thinking about the digital experience for your members?

CM: Our first goal is to reach more potential members, we’re thinking about how we can expand our digital and mobile channels to reach more members—the 80 percent of the population that doesn’t belong to a gym, who is our target. Once they’re a member, we’re looking at ways to enhance their experience both inside and outside of the club. We know people don't just leave their goals in the club, so we need to extend their experience beyond the four walls of the gym. We’re looking at what’s happening in the industry with smart/connected equipment, creating connections with members either on the equipment or through their mobile devices. This builds out to a full wellness ecosystem where members can stay with us for nutrition, exercise guidance, and an adaptive coach. Our ultimate objective is to help customers achieve their health goals.

Craig Miller will join Amit Kaul, VP Emerging Technology at ThoughtWorks, on stage at ParadigmShift 2018 to share how Planet Fitness is building a digital ecosystem that integrates wearable technology, AI, voice assistants, connected fitness equipment, digital coaches, and partner brands.

More from the 3-Part Series

Part 2: Lucie Glenday, Founder and CIO at | Part 3: Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global

Join us at ParadigmShift October 21-23 at the Four Seasons Toronto.

Limited spaces are available. Attendance is by invitation only.