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For some health clubs, their secret weapon is Group X. For others, it’s personal training. But at Mountainside Fitness, the company’s secret weapon is non-fitness related, in the form of childcare.
“When we were small we had really good childcare, and it drove the clubs to grow, because parents got comfortable in the way we delivered the childcare part of the club,” said Tom Hatten, the CEO and founder of Mountainside Fitness. “It’s non-fitness related, but it drove [our success].”
Mountainside Fitness devotes between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet at each facility to childcare. Within that square footage are a number of exciting activities and amenities for children of all ages, including bounce houses, basketball courts, mini-theaters, gaming areas and much more.
According to Hatten, the goal of Mountainside Fitness’ childcare areas is to make them as enticing to children as possible — which is why they’re positioned at the front of the house and boast glass, so kids can see all the exciting activities going on as soon as they walk in the door. “We want the kids to be crying on their way out, not on the way in,” said Hatten.
Ensuring kids are engaged and excited to come to Mountainside Fitness’ childcare is strategic — Hatten knows if kids want to come, parents will feel more comfortable leaving them while they workout, which lowers a barrier to fitness. To make parents even more comfortable, Mountainside Fitness has set up a livestream channel of the childcare spaces, so parents can view their kids in real-time as they workout on a piece of cardio equipment that boasts a TV.
Another key to ensuring parents are comfortable leaving their kids, and the kids are safe, is appropriately staffing each childcare center. Mountainside Fitness uses an 8:1 ratio for staffing, meaning at any point in time, there are never more than eight kids per one adult.
“We treat it like Disneyland — we’re overstaffed,” continued Hatten. “We really want to make sure there are more adults in there to keep everything under control and supervised well. That even changes depending on infants. If I have four infants, that one person is locked down. They almost don’t even count. Eight to one is the highest we will go.”
Although childcare might not be a flashy amenity, at Mountainside Fitness, it is a true selling point. “We have people who only joined Mountainside Fitness because they trust our childcare and the way we do it,” said Hatten. “It’s beyond important to us.”
Tom Hatten’s Additional Childcare Best Practices
Make the activities entertaining. “At our club childcare it is extremely important to be entertaining. We take a look at what kids like to do in their regular lives, and try and bring that into the club. We have a custom-built inflatable obstacle course. We have mini-movie theaters with reclining chairs specially for kids. We have our Game On section, where kids can play games on 55-inch TVs. When they walk in there, the kids see all these different things, they get mentally stimulated, and they’re always wanting to come back.”
Stress safety and boast high-quality staff. “We look at all the corners in the childcare to make sure they’re covered. Anything they could fall and chip a tooth or crack their head open on, we try to stay out in front of for sure. All of my childcare employees are CPR certified. It’s our most expensive area in the club — we spend the most money in payroll in that area. But it’s worth it.”
Be clean. “We’ve purposely put certain carpet in there made up of 2-foot by 2-foot carpet tiles, so if something gets stained, we pull it up and put a new one down. It has to be really clean and orderly. If I’m a parent and I come in and see six kids running around and it’s chaos and there’s stuff everywhere, I’m going to think my kid’s going to trip and fall over a toy, or that we don’t have our act together.”
Give parents a break. “We’ll do what’s called Parents Night Out, where the parents can bring their kids in on a Friday night at 6:00. The parents can leave the building — our insurance covers this — for up to 4 hours, and have a date night. We’re the babysitter. It’s an extra fee, we charge $25 for the night, until it’s full. It gets filled up right away. All the money we make goes into buying new toys for the childcare area. We do that once a month in every club.”