Club Solutions Advisory Board Weighs in on 2010

Lifestyle - CLB_SAL_001The Main Focus

To make your club great in 2010, pinpoint the most important aspects of your business.

“Get back to the basics,” suggested Joel Tallman, the senior vice president of franchising and global operations with Gold’s Gym International. “Recognize how important your members are. Concentrate on hygiene and sell the benefits of exercise versus price.” Focus more on club quality for members as opposed to price wars with other clubs. “I know owners think about competition from other clubs,” said Joe Cirulli, the CEO of Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers. “The competition is growing in many areas, from colleges, churches, apartment complexes and corporations. We need to think of ourselves as providers of fitness to our community instead of simply a fitness center.”

“Member engagement and expense management are the keys to success in 2010.”

– Nanette Pattee Francini, President & Founder of The Sports Club/LA

Members are the key to your clubs success. By pretending they don’t exist, you’ll lose their loyalty. Work with your employees to change the way your members interact in your club. Make your club a cool place to be – not just a fitness center. By making good financial decisions, your members will be proud to be a member of your club. Not only will they respect you for your good moves, but also it will give you longevity past 2010.

Marketing

Your marketing plan may need to change in 2010.

“We need to move from being the ‘Fitness Industry’ to the ‘Wellness Industry,’” said Jeff Skeen, president and CEO of Titan Fitness and Gold’s Gym franchisee. “We need to approach our members and community with a much more holistic approach and provide comprehensive solutions to people’s health.” For 2010, Chuck Runyon, co-founder and president of Anytime Fitness, suggested that clubs “get personal with marketing, service and the club experience.” Members want to experience the club for everything offered, not just a weight facility.

“Understand what the customer wants and listen to them. Then, put together a quality program that meets their needs and moves them toward their goal. Keep listening – if you don’t, you’ll lose a good client.”

– Royce Pulliam, CEO Global Fitness Holdings/Urban Active

Member retention will be everything in 2010. Constantly develop new programs that remind the member why they keep coming back. If you can’t reach out to the members you already have, you’re probably going to struggle when reaching the other 80 percent of America that needs to get fit.

The Economy

It’s getting better, but it’s not quite there yet.

“In the face of our economic climate, we need to find ways to engage our members so they feel the club is an invaluable asset to them,” said Nanette Pattee Francini, president and founder of The Sports Club/LA Company. “Retention is key. Many clubs have tangible features that can’t be duplicated at another club or by outdoor fitness. These features need to be highlighted to members.”

Geoffrey Dyer, the founder of Lifestyle Family Fitness, said that clubs should show members they have confidence in their industry. “We need to make our programs more rewarding and exciting for our members including Group X and fee based programs.”

“Many large industries in America benefit significantly from customer loyalty programs. The time has come for our industry to leverage this trend and growing expectation.”

– Doug Werner, COO New England Fitness Distributors

Try and make your new initiative for 2010 your members. Make them feel like they belong and they want to come to your health club for more than just their workout. Give them benefits such as free drinks at the juice bar or a free 30-minute personal training session.

The Senior Advantage

Seniors will most likely continue to invade clubs in 2010. In some areas they have even flooded the market and some club owners are focusing their attention on that demographic.

“The aging baby boomer market is the obvious opportunity for growth, but that market will continue to slip away if our industry does not recognize the need to position itself according to the needs and desires of the vast majority of boomers,” said Doug Werner, the COO of New England Fitness Distributors. “Create simple and efficient exercise programs that are safe and effective, with tightly managed operations and marketing they can relate to.”

“Seniors and those retiring baby boomers are demanding active recreational opportunities, like hiking, running and swimming over the more passive recreation of the past,” said Royce Pulliam, the CEO of Global Fitness Holdings/Urban Active. “Some studies show that senior fitness involves yoga, spinning and personal training. Promote your senior programs around activities such as these.” Runyon added, “Every year, we get increased penetration in this area because of growing markets, machines and better education.”

“Training, training, training. Get better at something every single day.”

– Chuck Runyon Co-Founder & President of Anytime Fitness

In the crazy economy that could easily continue through 2010, clubs have to focus on the next step. Look for areas of your club that you would like to improve. Target those areas and focus your energy on them. The small improvements will set you up to make much bigger improvements over time. Set a bunch of little goals throughout 2010 with a major improvement waiting at the end of the year.

Employees of the Future

Your club should not retain a single employee who is not friendly to people. You need employees in every area who understand how to treat members and can contribute to each member’s success.

“The most important thing we can do after we hire the right service candidates is to train them, again and again,” declared Ed Trainor, the vice president of fitness services and product development for Town Sports International.

“First and foremost, clubs have to have a leader who places the development of their staff at the top of the list,” Cirulli said. “Creating something bigger than themselves requires having your vision, mission and core values not only defined, but lived by everyone involved with the company.”

“Seniors are a growing part of the population and have unique needs. We need to be prepared to support them.”

– Jeff Skeen President and CEO of Titan Fitness.

Our new generation of seniors hasn’t been like the older generations. Many of the new seniors have had regular workout routines their entire lives or have spent years exercising in other ways, such as outdoor recreation. Owners need to think of other classes that can help seniors be active in many different ways.

Member Retention

Keep your members through 2010!

“Member retention begins the day a member joins and continues every day thereafter,” Trainor said. “Not only on every visit to the club, but on the days the member’s lifestyle may cause them to miss a visit or have to find an alternative workout solution. We as an industry need to be that solution.” To do this, Dyer suggested to “get members started properly and connected to the staff and other members.”

“We, as an industry need an image change,” Trainor continued. “We need to be sales hidden and service driven. Consumers don’t want to be sold fitness – they want to buy convenience. The big fitness trend is to broaden our attraction to consumers by expanding the product to include health and wellness as part of our offering.”

“Many good people are looking for employment opportunities right now. Find them and hire them.”

– Joel Tallman Senior VP of Franchising and Global Operations for Gold’s Gym International.

With the recession still making headlines, remember that there are many people still looking for employment. Although many of these people don’t have “fitness club” experience, they may bring a new image to your club – one a lot of members can relate to.

Personal Training

Personal training programs will continue to make your club major dollars in 2010.

“Educate all employees on how to help members achieve their goals,” Skeen said.  Tallman added, “Personal training brings results. If the PT program is known for getting results, it will do well.” Karen Wischmann, the president and CEO of Total Woman Gym & Day Spa, said, “Personal training has come a long way. Trainers are now certified, highly trained, highly educated experts and they are available to help everyone on almost any budget. Personal training will remain in the forefront of health clubs … helping members achieve their fitness and wellness goals.”

“Personal training will remain in the forefront of health clubs. Personal trainers serve as experts that help members achieve individual fitness and wellness goals.”

– Karen Wischmann President and CEO of Total Woman Gym Day & Spa.

Personal Trainers serve a vital part of your club. Not only are they one of the highest grossing aspects, but the rest of your members also look up to them. Seek out great trainers that can work well with customers and help your members reach the results they desire.

Women exercise during a Body Blitz class at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center – one of more than 900 group exercise classes offered monthly at GHFC.

Women exercise during a Body Blitz class at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center – one of more than 900 group exercise classes offered monthly at GHFC.

Group EXercise

Just like 2009, Group Exercise continues to be a strong trend in the fitness industry.

“Group fitness will continue to be about member retention and social interaction,” Wischmann said. “Group fitness provides motivation and a sense of camaraderie. Members love all kinds of formats, so a plethora of classes on the schedule is a must!”

“Group X is a clear way to distance a full service club from a low priced competitor,” said Dyer. “Your Group X programming needs to be the best in your market.”

“The obese and overweight populations aren’t coming into our clubs; we need to do a better job at eliminating the intimidation factor for this group.”

– Geoffrey Dyer, Founder of Lifestyle Family Fitness.

As Fitness Club operators we will need to significantly change our approach if we want to attract the overweight and unfit population who comprise more than 65% of our audience. If they enter our club, they’ve already made a huge step. Once they’re in, do everything possible to ensure that the new member feels comfortable and fits in. Make sure they connect with other members and with your staff. Get them engaged and offer plenty of attention and positive feedback to make sure they come back over and over.

Un-Fit Population

Clubs must focus on reaching American couch dwellers in 2010.

“Yes, we need role models that inspire our members and gain their respect, but when most of the population can’t even get themselves off the couch, the thought of having to share the gym with a guy benching 400 pounds is not the experience many people want,” Trainor said. “We need to reduce the intimidation factor and improve the comfort level every chance we get.”

Trainor continued, “Although we need to continue to serve our current membership base, we also need to strategize on how to attract the other 80 percent of our population. Obviously, they know that an active healthy lifestyle can improve their quality of life, and it’s no secret how to find us, but the majority of consumers aren’t attracted to our product.”

“Benefitting from this opportunity begins and ends with appropriate staffing, training and programming,” Werner said. “All health club staff, but particularly fitness instructors and trainers, must be trained properly to develop working relationships with ‘people of need’ in our services. From there, it’s up to club management to create an environment and culture that are welcoming and relevant to the needs of this market. Attention should also be focused on special needs, which can include equipment and facilities considerations.”

“Fitness, health and wellness will be the progression. How far the pendulum swings and how innovative industry operators are in capturing the new market share will determine their success in this challenging economic environment.”

– Ed Trainor Vice President of Fitness Services and Product Development for Town Sports International.

Members no longer want to join a health club just to lift weights. The new craze in America, and throughout the majority of the world, has been wellness – a term that encompasses fitness, health and nutrition. Wellness can help your club through the troubled economy by giving members a little something extra for their hard-earned dollar.

The Next Generation

Teens are often forgotten as club members. In 2010, owners should open their eyes to the youngsters in their clubs. If a teen’s parents work out regularly and they see results and get their teens involved they could be your future members!

“Teens are the next generation of club members and a group that can fill our clubs during off peak hours,” Dyer stated. “This is a great group to target for future member growth.” Teens also have a huge network of friends and can market your club without your help.

“Many schools are cutting back on physical education for their students,” Skeen said. “Health club operators need to look for ways to take over this void.” Pulliam agreed, “Youth fitness will continue to grow as more and more information is available. It starts at home. If the parents are healthy, they will see that the kids are healthy, eat properly and exercise.”

“Based on what’s going on in the health care debate, personal responsibility will come to the forefront. Becoming part of a community effort may place certain clubs in the drivers seat.”

– Joe Cirulli, CEO of Gainesville Health & Fitness Center

Today, health clubs often need to compete with colleges, community centers and even churches. To have an impact in 2010, try hosting nutrition classes, open to the public. Set some open gym time for the local kids to come play on real hardwood.

Get your club involved in local schools. Send personal trainers to elementary and middle schools to talk about nutrition and exercises they can do at an early age. Send your sales staff into the local high school to spend time with the business classes. Let the community see that you care, and they will respond by keeping you around into 2011 and beyond.

The ‘WORD’ on Capitol Hill

New legislation stands to possibly help club owners in the near future.

“The legislative discussion around the water bottle in most clubs seems to be on two topics,” Trainor said. “The first deals with individual states discussing the possibility of requiring state level certifications for trainers. The industry in those states has addressed and defended our position. It’s important that our industry certifications remain the status quo and that states accept them as the gold standard.”

Runyon also mentioned Trainor’s second legislative topic with the Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act and the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act. WHIP could change the IRS tax laws concerning the outsourcing of health and fitness solutions among businesses. It would encourage businesses to purchase memberships for employees and could subsequently create much potential for gain in the health and fitness industry.

PHIT could allow taxpayers to deduct up to $1,000 for an individual or $2,000 per family that would be untaxed dollars spent on health club memberships. The bill is being pushed in an attempt to encourage the unhealthy population to get active. IHRSA estimated that the bill could save club members about 25 to 30 percent on exercise costs per year by paying with untaxed dollars.

Final Thoughts for 2010

Here are a few small items that are also grabbing the attention of the Club Solutions advisory board.

The “green” movement seems to have invaded health and fitness clubs, and will likely continue to grow. Owners and vendors alike are pushing for more environmentally conscious club designs. Many owners are using massive windows to let in natural light and fans to help circulate air throughout the year and save on heating and cooling costs. However, as important and cutting-edge as the industry has become, health and fitness clubs are still only reaching about 20 percent of the population.

While the other 80 percent of America sits on the couch, clubs need to be devising solutions to pull those people in. Already, the modern club has changed its image to reach a greater audience. But, for people to realize there has been a change in the mindset of club owners, they must see changes within clubs in their communities.

Everyone, including club owners, is tired of hearing about the troubled economic times. However, they could very well persist into 2010, meaning owners need to think outside the proverbial box. Work with your members and attempt to bring new life into your club. Bring aspects to your club that will make your members remember why they are paying for their membership. If you can help them do this, they are going to be more likely to invite friends and family to the club, as well as remain members themselves. – CS

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