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Fifteen years ago, health club owners often had to rely on “hunches” or “educated guesses” when deciding how much to buy of certain pieces of equipment, where to place it or how often it needed maintenance. Today, that is no longer necessary. Thanks to data-based management technologies like ECOFIT, GYMetrix and FitnessEMS, current club operators now have access to hard data that can either support or dispute their “hunches,” and reveal insights they may never have known otherwise.
Here, club operators from across the U.S. share their individual experiences with each data-based management technology.
Inside Midtown Athletic Club’s eight facilities in the Greater Chicago area lies hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. But according to Jon Brady, the company’s COO, they wanted hard data to support the decisions that went behind that huge investment. They thought they knew what members wanted and needed, but how could they be sure?
To answer that question, Midtown Athletic Club turned to GYMetrix, a UK-based gym consultant that aims to improve customer satisfaction by measuring and adjusting equipment availability. They do so by placing sensors on every piece of equipment, from dumbbells and benches to ellipticals and TRX Suspension Straps, in addition to conducting face-to-face surveys with members.
The study takes place over the course of a week, and afterwards clubs receive a full analysis showing how often every piece of equipment was used, customer satisfaction ratings and other key insights.
GYMetrix was founded by Rory McGown as a solution to his personal frustration with lack of equipment accessibility at gyms he’d been a member of over the years. “I began to notice in every gym I trained at I couldn’t get on some equipment, while I noticed other equipment was hardly touched, and I found it very frustrating,” he said. “So I started on a journey to work out what sensors would be needed to measure what the demand for the equipment was.”
Thanks to the data revealed by GYMetrix, McGown found that many clubs are following a Push Equipment Supply Model, which he said is inefficient and results in equipment shortages and excesses. “By understanding customers’ demand levels for the equipment we can turn this into a customer Pull Equipment Supply Model, which is far more efficient at giving customers what they want,” he said.
After the GYMetrix study ended at Midtown Athletic Club, they found the club had a variety of pieces of equipment that followed the Push Equipment Supply Model. For example, some of the gym’s functional training spaces and accessories were being underutilized. “While we like it and we think it’s great and it works really well with a personal trainer, our members really haven’t taken to it in the way we expected them to,” explained Brady. “They don’t use it by themselves — it has to be with a small group or a personal trainer, and really we anticipated it getting a lot more use than turned out to be the case.”
The data also revealed members’ preferences on equipment layout. For example, if an elliptical or treadmill is located against a wall, it’s likely to get used more often. This taught Midtown Athletic Club that equipment against walls should be rotated out on a regular basis.
Overall, Brady said they thought the study was insightful, and it’s something they’ll consider doing every couple of years. “It’s making our purchasing habits more efficient and effective to meet our members’ demands,” said Brady. “There’s obviously a retention aspect there as well, because if members aren’t getting access to the equipment they want or they’re frustrated because it’s not available, then we can better meet that need.”
New Evolution Ventures (NeV) owns and operates fitness clubs such as Crunch, Hard Candy and UFC GYM. Each facility has its own equipment needs — all of which are managed by NeV’s executive vice president, Mike Feeney.
According to Feeney, one of his biggest challenges with equipment management has been knowing when a machine is not working. “As a gym owner with multiple locations and multiple areas, you can’t be everywhere all the time,” he said.
To help solve this challenge, Feeney partnered with ECOFIT, a technology company that tracks commercial fitness equipment usage through sensors that plug directly into cardio pieces. Data is sent wirelessly on ECOFIT’s proprietary network, and club operators can view equipment data reports on their mobile phones or a tablet.
Thanks to the data captured by ECOFIT, Feeney is able to easily tell when a piece of equipment needs repair, or isn’t being used, even when he can’t physically be in the club.
According to Michael Piermont, the CEO of ECOFIT, a common problem many clubs face is having too much or not enough of the right type of equipment. “We find that 25 percent [of equipment] doesn’t get used, where the other 65 percent is over used,” he said.
For example, through ECOFIT, Feeney found that Woodway treadmills were getting 32 to 39 percent more usage when compared to other brands. In addition, he found that treadmills and stepmills are the highest-used products, a fact that will change Feeney’s future buying decisions. “I will purchase fewer ellipticals — which was the direction we were going — because the data shows that treadmills and stepmills are the highest-usage product,” he said. “It’s true data that supports your buying decisions.”
Unlike GYMetrix, which takes place over the course of a week, ECOFIT is used on a continuous basis. Currently, Feeney is using the technology in two facilities, and plans to expand the program to an additional five in 2017.
According to Piermont, ECOFIT excels at letting data tell the story for club owners. “Setting up a club is very hard, keeping the members happy is even harder,” he said. “Our system allows the club owners to make sure all the equipment is working and they have the right mix and amount of equipment.”
About five years ago, Planet Fitness began to take off in Oklahoma and Arkansas. As a result, Jeremy Warren, the director of operations for Planet Fitness Oklahoma and Arkansas, said he was struggling to stay on top of equipment maintenance.
“We noticed that a few machines started to break down pretty often, and we weren’t staying on top of it like we should have,” said Warren. “We were trying to find a platform or software we could run with to stay efficient and keep our machines in tip-top shape, and try and keep them down as little as possible.”
So Warren turned to FitnessEMS, an equipment and asset management system that provides solutions for everyday problems associated with health club equipment management and maintenance.
FitnessEMS works with any web-connected device and keeps detailed reports on each and every piece of cardio equipment. Through these reports Warren has gained access to information such as total cost of ownership for comparison in capital purchases, data to compare technician’s performance and expenditures, equipment downtime, equipment usage data and parts labor data.
“Staying on top of your machines inside of your clubs is huge. The amount of time that the machines are down inside your clubs is crucial, because one of the reasons members leave clubs is due to broken machines,” said Warren. “Since we’re running a bigger operation we have to run stuff under a microscope now, and this helps us figure out how many maintenance technicians that we need, whether a technician is overwhelmed, or if we need to hire someone else.”
According to Rusty Hosea, the vice president of sales and marketing for FitnessEMS, the data that FitnessEMS provides is important due to the large investment club owners put into equipment. “The equipment in a health club is likely the largest on-going expense that an operator deals with,” he said. “Incremental efficiencies gained through utilizing this data can dramatically cut expenses, keep equipment operating and therefore keep members happy.”
Another main benefit to FitnessEMS is the record keeping aspect, which can aid in risk management. “For instance we ran into a situation in one of our locations — it was a machine that faulted, but thanks to FitnessEMS and the documented issues with that particular machine, it kind of saved us from getting in any sort of trouble, because it showed that we had been on top of this machine, we’d taken care of all warrantied items,” said Warren. “It’s good to have that data to look at.”
According to Warren, another key differentiator for FitnessEMS was the customer service aspect. He explained whenever they have an issue, or even if they need a report that the software doesn’t have, FitnessEMS will work hard to fulfill their request.
“There have been times we’ve tried other platforms and it just doesn’t get the job done as well,” said Warren. “Their number one motto is to take care of the customer, and I can say they’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to doing that.”