Booming Trends: Anti-Gravity Yoga

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Once upon a time, I had no interest in yoga at all. I thought yoga was all about meditating by candlelight and singing “oms” in unison with twenty or so strangers. As a health and fitness enthusiast, I was under the impression that a “good” workout had to include intense cardio and heavy weights — neither of which, to my knowledge, were present in most yoga classes. It wasn’t until a friend of mine invited me to an Aerial yoga class that I realized how little I actually knew about this ancient fitness practice.
First of all, I had no idea that there were different types of yoga with varying degrees of intensity. Aerial Yoga (also known as Anti-Gravity Yoga) just so happens to be the most rapidly growing variation, popping up in clubs all over the country. Aerial Yoga includes the use of silk hammocks to support participants as they move through various yoga poses, midair. When I walked into the class and saw lines of these silk hammocks suspended from the ceiling, I immediately thought of the acrobats in Cirque Du Soleil. I thought, if I didn’t get a real workout, at least I’d have fun swinging from the ceiling.
About fifteen minutes into the class I realized I had severely underestimated it. I was sweating, breathing hard and channeling all of my energy into holding what felt like a hundred different positions only a contortionist could pull off. However, I felt great! I felt muscles aching in places I couldn’t normally reach with a typical cardio or weight-centered workout. It was a completely different kind of experience. After class, I thanked my friend for introducing me to this new-found addiction and immediately went home to do some more research about this practice.
What I found was a recent study conducted by the American Council of Exercise that examines how effective Aerial Yoga is as a form of exercise. As I was still feeling the endorphin rush from class, I wasn’t surprised by the results. The study aimed to track how this form of yoga affected participants on a cardiovascular level after three 50-minute classes a week, for a total of six weeks. The study included sixteen participants (all women) of various ages who were asked to wear a calorimetric measurement system as well as a heart rate monitor during each class. The results were extremely positive. At the end of the six weeks, participants not only experienced weight loss and a reduction in body fat, but also an increase in “good” cholesterol and improved respiratory function. Furthermore, it was found that each participant had reduced their risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
The study went on to say that each 50-minute class burned about 300 calories! That was impressive enough for me to go back for another round. In fact, I now go about three times a week and each time I go I see a significant increase in attendance. It’s become so popular that my gym had to start offering three more Aerial Yoga classes to accommodate all the members jumping on this new trend.
From the health benefits to the positive, fun, intense environment Aerial Yoga provides, it might be time to consider adding it to your facility’s programming. The flexibility of the hammocks allow for all different fitness levels to participate. I highly recommend it!

If you are yoga business offering anti-yoga classes make sure to check out our yoga studio software to make class check-in quick and easy.


8 Best Practices For Promoting Your Business On Social Media

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Who, in this day and age, is not on some kind of social media? This channel of communication has developed into a major source of revenue for businesses both big and small. Unfortunately, if you’re a small, new business, chances are you can’t afford to hire a Social Media Specialist. This makes marketing and attracting new clients and followers very tricky. Posting a picture or tweet here and there is not going to attract or engage a large number of followers. In order to truly use social media to its full potential, businesses must prepare to invest some time and effort into better understanding how to market on different platforms. Fortunately, we’re here to offer some advice:

1. Quality Over Quantity: You’ve heard this phrase before. As a small business, you want to reach for loyalty as opposed to millions of followers. You don’t need to “go viral” straight off the bat. Instead, focus on building strong relationships with a smaller number of followers. Social media relationships, like real-life relationships, take time. When you start to attract and build these loyal relationships with a select few, you tap into their social circles. Building a solid reputation for great customer service and support will translate into referrals and will build your following over time. Don’t put all your effort into one huge campaign for immediate value—let your following build up with LOYAL clients who plan to stay for the long haul.

2. Focus On Your Local Community: Start local. Look at the types of businesses that are around you and post targeted content. You can also offer incentives for local workers who check into your facility on social media.

3. Plan In Advance. We cannot stress enough how important this is. Create a content calendar so you know what kind of content to post on each day. This will save you so much time in the long run and consumers will appreciate your consistency. Also, start by experimenting with the best times and days to post content. Perhaps you get more engagement from posts on Wednesdays at 9am. Experiment and then make it a ritual. Also, take advantage of Holidays! Offer a Christmas special or free guest passes on Mother’s day—the possibilities are endless!

4. Use What You Already Have. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Utilize content you’ve already created or include quotes from satisfied customers. In the age of Yelp and other review sites, clients are looking for first-hand experiences to form their own decisions. Adding a client testimonial will go a long way in attracting new followers. 5. Be Engaging! People love quizzes, polls or any other medium where they can post their opinion. Let the public know that there are real people working at your gym, and don’t be afraid to show a sense of humor! Take some risks.

6. Translate Relationships Into Sales. So, you’ve established some loyal relationships, not how do you turn this into revenue? Begin by offering special offers to clients via social media. Offer online and offline coupon codes. Create contests with prizes such as free classes or memberships. This will generate sales both online and at your facility.

7. Quick Response Time: Never ignore a complaint! Think of complaints as little gifts. If one person voices an issue, there are usually ten more with the same issue that are just too lazy to post it. The people who DON’T speak up, are usually just leave rather than deal with the issue. Use these complaints to better your business and let the client know that they’ve been heard and that you are actively working to address their concerns. Most importantly, by responding quickly, you show that your company cares about your clients and want to create the best customer experience possible. With that being said, respond quickly to positive comments too! Everyone likes to be acknowledged and if you ignore a compliment it might rub followers the wrong way.

8. Use Data and Analytics. Finally, make sure you are measuring your reach and engagement on social media. This is critical to understanding what is and isn’t working. Most social media platforms provide their own set of analytics. However, it doesn’t hurt to use an additional tool for accuracy. Some of the data you should be sure to measure include:

• Who is promoting your business the most and has a vast amount of followers you can tap into?

• Who is visiting your page and when?

• Who made purchases from you in the past? This will help so you develop tactics to encourage future purchases.

The fact is, there are a myriad of ways to promote your business. Don’t dive straight in and try everything at once. Gradually build up your following with loyal members and nurture those relationships. Listen, respond, and get to know your audience so that you can develop your overall marketing plan into a major success.


The Power of Member Referrals

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There is a common misconception that, in order to boost membership sales, you must spend an absorbent amount of money on marketing, but this is simply not the case. Word of mouth is STILL the most valuable tool for a health club and especially for those that are just starting out and don’t have a lot of room in their budget for paid advertising. Referrals are a great, cheap way to boost sales. Satisfied customers will recommend your services to their friends, family, and acquaintances, and these recommendations can be worth their weight in gold.

Set the Tone. Engagement is key. Start as soon as a prospective member walks through the door. You need them to like you and trust you as a valid resource of fitness information. The best way to build trust is to be relatable. Don’t barrage them with sales pitches from the get-go. Instead, have a real conversation. Ask them what they are looking for and what their personal goals are. If they don’t have any at this point, help them create of realistic, reachable ones and then explain in detail how you can help to achieve them. Come from a place of helping and assistance. Even if you don’t make the sale immediately, once you’ve established a connection and trust, you can ask them for others who may be interested as well.

Accept Constructive Criticism and Offer Incentives: Unless you’re a mind reader, you may not always be able to tell if a customer likes the way you do certain things at your facility. You don’t have to take every complaint or suggestion to heart, but the willingness to accept suggestions and requests for changes is a much-appreciated quality in ANY business. Accepting constructive criticism is just good customer service, plain and simple. It allows customers to see that their needs are of the utmost importance.

You can also offer incentives for referrals. Again, don’t overwhelm them with a big salesy pitch, but make it worth their while. For example, perhaps offer a free class to those who bring in at least 5 referrals in 3 months, or offer a month free of dues for those that get up to 10. You should fine-tune your referral policy and make the rewards clear on your website as well as any social media platforms you manage.

Give them Results. So this new member has joined your gym. Great! But now you need to give them incentives to stay. You’ve won them over with your engaging, charming and relatable personality, but now they need to see some results. You’ve discussed their goals and explained how you can help them reach them, but you can’t just tell them, you have to SHOW them. When you show you care about them as individuals and not just as a means to reach your bottom line, you will gain a loyal member and an unlimited supply of referrals. Now you are the local fitness guru and you have built a member base of word-of-mouth advertising.

Row class

Creating Space for New Fitness Fads

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When I was in college, there were two stationary bikes in the gym’s cardio room. One of them had a tiny little screen that allowed you to set the number of miles you wanted to log or the amount of time you wanted to exercise; it also had a primitive graphic, like something from an Atari 2600 video game, that let you visualize your course: up “hills”, down “valleys”. That was the high-tech bike. The other one had a wheel that looked kind of like a giant fan. There were no screens or graphic-based interfaces attached to it; you just got on and pedaled.

I haven’t seen my college gym in, ahem, a very long time, but, given the pressure on colleges and universities to supercharge their fitness and recreation offerings, I imagine it’s a much more polished (and much more visited) place than it was back in the day. Two stationary bikes, one of which apparently was built in 1897? There’s no way they’d get away with that anymore. What with the growing popularity of spin classes in the past decade, I imagine the college rec center has a whole room dedicated to sleek-looking stationary bikes now, and the bikes are probably equipped with the latest digital enhancements that give their riders a full dossier of personal health data.

My point is, fitness centers have to keep up with changing fads, and this is true whether they’re on college campuses, independently owned, or part of a corporate wellness program. They have to do aerobics when people want aerobics, host Zumba classes when there’s excitement about Zumba, and so on. All well and good, but how exactly should a fitness center keep on top of changing trends when those trends involve deep-pocket investments in big, expensive pieces of equipment? Athletic Business magazine posted an interesting article on this topic a couple months ago, focusing on the growing popularity of rowing machines. One fitness industry veteran interviewed for the article put it this way: “Rowing will never be group cycling, but it is gaining its place with more hard-core fitness enthusiasts.” CrossFit aficionados have brought it nearly into the mainstream, and more and more gyms and fitness centers are increasing their stock of rowing machines, even lining them up and creating classes à la spinning classes.

But what if you’re a small outfit that can’t afford a whole roomful of new rowing machines? What if you don’t have the space for many large pieces of new equipment? How do you give your clientele the most up-to-date, exciting workout experience — the one they’ve been hearing so much about from friends and through advertisements, the one being touted at a rival fitness center down the street — if you don’t immediately have the resources for that kind of development?

As Athletic Business says, “To be sure, fitness facility owners needn’t run out and invest in a fleet of rowers, but nor should they continue to assume their current mix of cardio equipment is adequate to meet their members’ expectations.” That is, you have to focus on finding a balance. Then you have to make a plan for growth. Maybe you can start out by making space for one or two rowers. Keep close tabs on them: Make a note every time someone uses them. Note when they are empty for long stretches of time. Observe whether a line of people waiting to use them frequently forms.

Survey your clients to find out whether they’ve used them, when they did, for how long, and how they liked the experience. Ask whether they would sign up for a rowing class if one were offered. Set up a temporary class with a very limited enrollment (even just three or five would be okay). How is it received? What would participants change? Do they want more?

A business can’t change its programs and equipment the way teenagers change clothes — adoption of new fads should happen slowly, after testing, focus-group research, data-gathering, and trial-and-error. After you’re convinced that a fad is here to stay, and after you’ve conducted adequate research among your user base, then you can take the plunge and buy the equipment. Just make sure that when you do you’re keeping half an eye on the next emerging trend, because you’ll want to start researching that one too.

Oh, one last thing. After writing this I got curious and called my alma mater’s athletic center. I was told they recently ordered four new rowing machines!


Train Employees Efficiently—Online

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If you run a sports facility, fitness center, or gym, you’ve probably embraced technology—these days, it’s impossible not to. You have your social media sites streamlined and constantly updated. You have your employees carrying around tablets for instant accessibility and communication. You have gym members uploading data from their personal fitness devices into your club management software. You might even have your fitness studios hooked up so members at home can stream classes. But have you thought about online training for your employees?
In this industry, training is crucial for some skills and types of knowledge. Think of pool management, for example. No matter what type of facility you run, if you’ve got a pool, your aquatics team needs to know, for starters, how to circulate and filtrate water, how to test for contamination and handle disinfection, and how to understand water chemistry concepts and calculations. Maybe you have the in-house resources—the time, the personnel—to pass this knowledge along.
If you don’t, signing your employees up for online training courses is the most efficient and effective way of getting them up to speed. Athletic Business runs a pool management course in partnership with the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Eight hours long, the interactive class promises to give your employees all the information they need to operate a pool expertly. The Aquatic Training Institute also offers a course, culminating in pool technician certification. Universities and MOOC (massive open online course) providers, such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity, are likely to offer free online pool management classes of their own.
In fact, universities and MOOC-providers are go-to web presences for all of your facility’s training and professional development needs. Personal trainers can find specific classes to address areas of knowledge they may be lacking, such as how to work with elderly or disabled populations, how to incorporate high-intensity training into existing workouts, and how to work with injured athletes. In this age of the Internet, almost any skill you or your employees need to develop can be learned cheaply and effectively online. You might have to invest some time into researching the options, but the investment will pay off in spades when you find yourself with a crew that knows what it’s doing (or knows how to find out what to do when it doesn’t know what it’s doing).
So how do you begin to incorporate online training? Whenever it makes sense, require new hires to educate themselves via courses you specify or allow them to choose from. This is an excellent way, in fact, to use inevitable downtime during the first couple weeks of employment, when new hires are learning the ropes. For existing employees, offer incentives. Give them a day off in exchange for completing a course, or throw a giant staff appreciation party—maybe even consider paying a small amount for each class an employee takes. It won’t be long before your staff realizes that, in addition to boosting your facility’s overall performance level, you’re offering them an opportunity for personal growth.

different workouts

Boost Retention: Help Your Members Achieve Their Goals

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There’s a powerful little word in our industry, one we love (when things are looking good) and hate (when things aren’t). I’m talking, of course, about “retention.” The word carries some kind of magical power. If retention is working in our favor, that’s an indication that business is good and we’re making the right decisions. If it’s not, it’s an indication that something is off, but often it’s mysterious what that something is.

The thing that makes great retention an especially slippery goal is that it depends so much on factors in the lives of our individual members; factors that we couldn’t possibly control. Whether each member is happy or depressed, employed or suddenly unemployed, in a good relationship or in a psychologically draining one — each of these factors, and dozens of others contribute to a member’s decision to stay or go.

Fine. Some stuff you have to let go of right? No sense in getting worked up over things you can’t do anything about. But what about the things you can do something about? That’s what you’ve got to focus on, and for gyms, fitness centers, health clubs, and the like, that really means one thing: helping members achieve their individual fitness and weight-loss goals.

The key here is the word “individual,” because the fact is that no two bodies are alike. There’s no one-size-fits-all fitness or weight-loss program. Diet books, workout videos, and advice blogs might want us to believe otherwise, but the fact is that what works beautifully for one health club member might not result in any improvements for another; the HIIT routine that allows one person to become mean and lean in four weeks might not show results for another person until after six or eight weeks. This, incidentally, is the beauty of the gym. The gym is staffed by real, live humans: trainers, concierges, nutritionists, class instructors, and cardio equipment experts who can listen to members express their goals, worries, and limitations, and help them chart out the best possible course for themselves. The best, most successful businesses in our industry do just this: They listen and respond accordingly.

So, back to that magical equation: improving retention by helping members achieve their individual fitness and weight-loss goals. If you want members who keep coming back, you have to offer them human attention. Employ knowledgeable, caring staff who are trained to:

1) Ask your members what their goals are; these can be tiny or huge, about health or about weight, short-term or long-term. The important thing is that they have goals, and that your staff knows how to help them define those goals.

2) Construct a realistic plan of attack to help them meet their goals. This means finding out what they enjoy in a workout and what they can’t bear — if they aren’t enjoying it, they’re not going to do it. It also means determining what kind of commitment is sustainable for each member. If they can’t keep up with the schedule, they’re likely to quit.

(3) Offer them support and guidance throughout. You just can’t do this kind of thing without a community, without someone cheering you on.
(4) Revise the plan if it’s not working. Help your members check their progress and make adjustments as needed. Can they handle more reps? Should they be doing less? Is there any measurable improvement? What are they struggling with?

It is also crucial to have a gym management software that allows you to track this critical data. With an all-in-one software that allows trainers and staff to create client profile pages, scheduling for both trainers and clients, as well as client fitness assessments, you will be making your lives and the client experience so much better!

Again, the purpose of all this — in addition to helping your members — is to keep them coming back. With the kind of attention outlined here, and the kind of help that will lead them to a better understanding of the individual plan that’s best for them, they won’t be able to help themselves.

senior workouts

Designing Senior Fitness Centers for All Seniors

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When my father went for his routine checkup with his doctor, he was sent straight to the hospital for a triple-bypass operation. Needless to say, my family started focusing hard on getting him to exercise. We found a weekly cardio class for him at the senior center in his small town, but it wasn’t enough. He felt uncomfortable and self-conscious in that setting — too exposed to the non-exercising seniors — and he didn’t like the routine of the one class that was offered. When the instructor began poking fun at him for being the only man there, he quit on the spot-and while my family all understood- we didn’t want him to quit exercising altogether.

So we sent him for a trial session at a local gym. He took one look at the young, pumped-up clientele and turned tail. It was intimidating and overwhelming for him to think of learning, or re-learning, how to exercise among such a crowd.

What did my father need?

What he really needed was a senior center that incorporated a fitness facility focused particularly on the needs of an older adult population. We found this harder to locate than we thought would be the case. There were many senior centers in the towns surrounding his, but few of them incorporated adequate exercise facilities. They either offered meager pieces of machinery that seemed older than the population they served, or classes that attempted to be one-size-fits-all for a community that was really quite diverse.

This, it turns out, is a common problem: As a recent article in Athletic Business magazine states, “One of the greatest misunderstandings about senior centers is that they serve one generation. In fact, as currently configured, senior centers target members of the so-called Silent Generation, Depression-era babies who are now between 69 and 89; the remaining members of the Greatest Generation, the youngest of whom are now 90; and increasingly, the Baby Boomers, who are now in the range of 50 to 68 years old.” None of the offerings at the places we checked out seemed to fully target my father’s generation.

Eventually, we found a gym that isn’t perfect for him, but is a good enough fit. It has a special “Senior Room,” where older adults in particular are invited to gather for classes — and one of those classes is particularly for men in their seventies who were recovering from heart surgery. That kind of specificity is rare and welcoming. A corner of the room, overseen by trainers who specialize in older adult fitness, is equipped with free weights and cardio machines that allow my father to undertake the independent, free-weight sessions he likes best, but without the pressure of younger adults killing it on their reps all around him. He still wishes he had access to a center that would cater solely to the needs of older adults like him, but he’s making it work. Maybe eventually we’ll find a place for him like The Summit, located in Grand Prairie, Texas.

The Summit was “specifically designed for active adults ages 50 or older.” It operates on the principle that senior centers should serve all seniors, whether they’re in their 50s or their 90s. It strives to incorporate spaces for socializing, but to keep those spaces separate from the workout areas. For now, we’ll settle for the fitness centers that consciously create spaces for seniors.

Maybe it’s time to consider how your own facility might better serve an older adult population. How can you create a space just for them? How can you cater to the varying needs of the many different generations who make up “older adults”? How can you design a program that benefits both that sizable population and your own facility? Do you currently have a health club management software that utilizes senior discount programs like Silver Sneakers? My father will thank you if you figure out good answers to such questions.

Retaining Members a Month at a Time

Retaining Members a Month at a Time

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Let’s say you’ve got a prospective member who has shown a lot of interest in your facility. You’ve given her a tour, offered her a free day pass to try the place out, and even had the highest-performing member of your sales team sit down with her for a full twenty minutes, chatting like an old friend and answering a slew of questions. Yet, when it comes time for the prospective to sign on the dotted line, she balks—she just doesn’t feel like she can commit to a year-long membership.
Does this sound like a familiar scenario? With members’ increasingly hectic work lives and a tight economy, it’s happening more and more at gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers around the country. Something else is also happening more and more to directly counteract the phenomenon: Clubs are starting to offer month-to-month membership with greater frequency than ever before.
How, you might ask, could a club stay operational with month-to-month memberships? The better question might be: How could a club stay operational without them? As Geoff Dyer, Founder of AussieFIT in Columbus, Ohio, puts it, “Some 25 percent of all members become inactive within six months of joining a club, and that figure doubles, rising to 50 percent, after one year. Unfortunately, one of the black eyes our industry has earned is its reputation for locking inactive members into long-term retail installment contracts.”
Dyer recently discussed month-to-month memberships on IHRSA’s blog. These options are better, Dyer argues, because they allow the industry to focus as much on member retention as it does on new member acquisition. “If our clients can leave at any time,” he says, “simply by providing written notice, then we’ll likely be much more attentive to their level of satisfaction with our service, programs, and facility upkeep.” That is, allowing for month-to-month memberships will force health clubs and similar facilities to improve the services they provide—the incentive for keeping members happy will increase, and therefore the efforts to do so will increase. As a result, more customers will join. In the end, Dyer says, even if members leave the facility at a faster pace, the outcome can still be a net gain.
Jarod Cogswell, Founder of Enterprise Athlete and President of Fit Academy, Inc., agrees. “The challenge for you,” he says, “is to prove your club’s value on a month-to-month basis, which promotes and produces a higher level of services. It motivates your staff to focus on service, cleanliness, and member retention because every visit counts, and there may not be a second chance.” Cogswell acknowledges, this reality places a lot of pressure on the sales process, because if clients can leave at any time there’s a greater chance you’ll lose them. “You therefore need to be selling at the same or higher rate than the rate of your membership losses,” he says.
Nevertheless, Cogswell believes the month-to-month option can reap rewards for a club. “When people understand that they can leave whenever they like,” he explains, joining your club becomes a comfortable decision—both psychologically and financially—that will tend to drive the volume you need to be profitable.”
Another critical factor to consider is what kind of fitness membership software you are currently using to track membership data. The right club management software will supply you with the ability to access robust reporting as well as the ability to set up auto-billing or auto-pay for membership payments.
So maybe it’s time to consider how you could implement month-to-month memberships at your own facility. The key to success with month-to-month is providing your members with the incentive to return, and instituting such a plan could force you to revisit some of your systems and processes. This presents short-term challenges, but the long-term benefits could greatly offset those challenges.

Creating Classes for the Cool Kids

Creating Classes for the Cool Kids

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When you think of exercise classes for the 8- to 13-year-old set, you probably think “ballet” and “karate.” You probably leave instruction in those fields to the kinds of niche studios that have been catering to children’s physical activities for decades. But things are changing in the world of kids’ calisthenics. Classes are no longer limited to the traditional ballet and karate. Now, kids are engaging in workouts that have fueled adult fitness for a while; such as cycling, Zumba, and CrossFit. Those workouts are happening not at kids’ boutiques, but in health clubs, gyms, and fitness outlets that are used to serve an adult population almost exclusively. The New York Times recently published an article about the phenomenon (and you know something is becoming a trend if the New York Times is reporting on it). The article features several gyms of various sizes and orientations that have launched classes created for adults, which were then subsequently adapted to meet the needs of smaller, more energetic types. Exceed Physical Culture, in New York City, is one of them.

Since 2012, the gym has offered adult classes involving jump ropes, monkey bars, and kettlebells. Soon after opening, owner Catherine Rocco discovered that parents seeking after-school activities for their kids were bringing them in and expecting to sign up. Rocco and her co-owner responded to that demand by creating a class for ages 8 to 13. Very soon after, they found themselves offering five classes per week for children only, and another for families on the weekends. AKT in Motion is the second company that offers classes just for kids. Based in New York, the dance cardio studio launched a regular eight-week session for children this past spring. Capitalizing partly on shrinking physical education time at school and on those late-afternoon hours when gyms and similar venues tend to get quiet, companies like these are finding kids eager for physical outlets that are not necessarily team or competition focused.

They’re finding parents eager for activities that keep their children happy, busy, and physically fit. That last point is key: In an era when obesity among children and teens is at an all-time high, parents want to get kids hooked on exercise early. According to the Times article, many parents take that a step further by enrolling their kids in classes at a gym. Parents are trying to convey a sense that getting a membership at a place where you can work out regularly is simply a normal part of life.

This is good news for gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, and other alike. Children’s classes pull in no less revenue than adults’ classes! In fact, they create a whole new revenue stream because they engage a separate segment of the population. Also, they offer venues the chance to create loyalty among a clientele that might develop those early gym-going habits their parents are hoping for and then stick around for a long time. The upshot? If you haven’t yet opened your doors to young ones, it’s time to sit down and start strategizing about how you’re going to do so. Start small, like the way Exceed Physical Culture did: Launch just one class, but have a plan for expanding. Because chances are, you’ll need to do so pretty quickly.

Supporting Your Female Clients

Supporting Your Female Clients

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You’ve probably heard the saying before: “Women hold up half the sky.” But, in fact, they may hold up most of your fitness facility. Research suggests that women drive 70 to 80 percent of consumer spending worldwide. Moreover, women, much more than men, engage in word-of-mouth publicity—they talk about their experiences with businesses, products, and service-providers, and, in their social circles. They hold a great deal of influence over the way others choose to spend money. Given that women also purchase fitness-related products and services more often than men do, what does all this mean for your health club?

It means it’s time to design ad campaigns better geared toward them. Here are a few tips for doing so.
First, put away the pink paint, lacy towels, and flower arrangements. The way to show women that other women are comfortable using your gym is not to advertise their presence through pretty embellishments but to highlight the fact of their presence. Using posters, brochures, and social media postings that show women looking serious about their workouts and happy to be in your facility will suggest that you cater to their needs. Supporting breast cancer awareness and making sure members and potential members know you do shows that women’s issues are important to you. Offering—and heavily advertising—childcare programs demonstrates that your club understands the logistics many women must juggle.

Loading your marketing materials with images of women is not enough, however. You must also create real programming for women. Do you offer women-only high-intensity interval training classes, extra women-only swim times, or self-defense classes for women? Do you offer co-ed basketball leagues or squash tournaments? Make your programming for women solid, and then talk it up as much as possible. Highlight your offerings on social media. Send emails. Offer prospective clients chances to take part for free, and invite current members to bring a friend at no charge.

On that note, make sure you’re advertising in establishments and publications that cater to women. Is there a clothing boutique or nail salon near the gym? Ask if you can hang flyers announcing a new women-only cycling class. Partner with local businesswomen’s associations and request that they include mention of your facility in their next newsletter. If you have branches nationally, consider buying ad space in magazines like Self, Women’s World, and Women’s Health.

Finally, engage the advice of the experts. Ask the women in your club what kinds of services do they want, then do your best to provide those services, and let everyone know that you’re doing so. Don’t forget to go to the official experts, too. Some marketing consultants focus exclusively on strategies for marketing to women; they can point out weaknesses in your existing campaign and show you how to polish it up for the demographic. Plenty of books and articles on the subject exist too. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that you forget all about the men—but chances are that if the women are happy, the men will be too.

Enhance Your Facility with Aerobic Accessories

Enhance Your Facility with Aerobic Accessories

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Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to freshen up your club, engage members, and create a viable non-dues revenue stream? Look no further than aerobic accessories. Club Business International magazine recently ran a great little piece about the advantages of relying on accessories to boost many aspects of your club’s offerings. It even described one Toronto-based club, Fitness Nation, which relies entirely on aerobic accessories as their training model, without offering a single cardio or strength machine. “Because these products offer so much value,” Marc Lebert, the owner of the club, told Club Business International, “they give startups, small operators, and personal trainers a lot of great choices for a modest investment.”
It’s not just startups, small operators, and personal trainers that can benefit, though: Larger clubs and sports facilities also can create innovative programs, find savings, and possibly ignite new revenue by incorporating aerobic accessories. The possibilities are nearly endless—and certainly endlessly versatile. With battle ropes, bodyweight trainers, kettlebells, medicine balls, slam balls, sand bags, gloves, grips, belts, wrist wraps, and a host of other accessories a club can incorporate, there are significant options for keeping members on their toes with new class offerings. Combining accessories in novel ways can result in exciting experiences for club members — ones that keep them coming back for more and spreading the word about your creative classes.
Another bonus, the article points out, is that new accessories involve a learning curve. They require proper instruction, and because of that they help foster engagement between trainers and clients. With engagement, clients are more apt to feel attached to their place of exercise, satisfied with their experiences, and ready to push themselves further. As Lebert explained to Club Business International, “The products have to be introduced with proper instructions, or you run the risk of [them] not being used.” To encourage instructional activity, Lebert’s club offers trainers online access to programming updates and other exercise content. Consider the possibilities for your own facility if you can offer relevant online content—perhaps to trainers and members alike—to promote the use of accessories.
Finally, the article points out that these accessories can provide clubs with a fresh revenue stream. Chanin Cook, the director of marketing at Harbinger Fitness, says, “It’s been proven that utilizing accessories in club programs boosts on-site sales, and instructors and trainers can exert tremendous influence here.” If you’re not already selling accessories, it may be time to consider doing so.
The takeaway? Incorporating aerobic accessories into your programming can benefit your facility, your clients and members, and the manufacturers who are constantly devising new and exciting products. It’s a win-win-win situation.

Making Your Facility Intimidation-Free

Making Your Facility Intimidation-Free

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Have you ever felt close to convincing an on-the-fence prospective member to join your facility, only to have them back away in the end because they’re afraid of being intimidated? In surveys, intimidation is one of the most common reasons people give for avoiding sports and fitness facilities—and we’ve all seen the Planet Fitness “No Gymtimidation” commercials. Of course, the people perceived as intimidating in your facility might have no intention of scaring others away—in fact, they’re probably among your best customers, and you don’t want to do anything to alienate them. But there might be one or two super-serious exercisers who get a kick out of flexing their muscle, literally and figuratively, and scaring others off what they think of as their turf. What can you do to help limit intimidation in your facility?
To begin with, foster a sense of community. If your place feels like a cooperative, supportive, noncompetitive, accepting one, you’re less likely to find yourself trying to manage bullies, or even just dealing with members who perceive others as intimidating. This, in fact, is what the Planet Fitness ads are all about: They’re a way of saying, “Everyone here is in this together; everyone is welcome.” To create an environment with a similar message, try posting signs that convey your facility’s inclusiveness. Come up with your own “No Gymtimidation” slogan and plaster it around. Make sure your staff, including front desk folks, sales people, trainers, and locker room attendants, infuse the place with friendliness and respect. Tolerate expressions of judgment from no one.
Also, if you’ve got a core group of intimidators (intentional or not), try to harness their excellence for the benefit of your facility. Maybe organize a “Masters Circle,” or something similar. Personally ask your most intense, serious, and possibly bullying members to join. Give the group workouts appropriate to their level—and give them a talk, asking them to be aware of members whose skill might not match theirs. Explain how new members, whether novices or experts, are crucial to the long-term health of your facility, and ask them to be a force for good within the facility, maybe offering to help less experienced members or generally just to project friendliness. In effect, you want them to be ambassadors to your sports or fitness center.
Another approach: Rely on your trainers and instructors to keep things fair. When a class is packed and there’s an aggressive push to get to the front row, a mindful instructor can choose to spend at least part of the class at the back of the room, turning the back row into the front. That way, everyone feels like they get fair exposure to the lessons being taught. Trainers can keep a watchful eye on exercise equipment and cardio room usage, making sure no one’s hogging a particular machine or staking out personal territory. Instructors and trainers often have direct access to clients and members in a way that other staff members do not — they see them regularly and often build up a rapport with them. They can use their familiarity and rapport to make sure everyone gets a fair shot, and intimidation is not a factor.
The bottom line is that your facility should feel like a fun, relaxing place for each person who uses it. If that’s the case, then everyone wins (including you). It’s worth spending time thinking about how to create the kind of environment that welcomes everyone, and how to make it clear to prospective members that “everyone” includes them.

Energy saving

You'll be Green with Savings & Sustainability

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Ah, summer. I love winter’s snow, I’m a sucker for the gardens of spring, and fall contains what will always be my favorite holiday (Halloween, of course), but for me summer is hands-down the best season of all. I love the salad-eating, outdoor-exercising, blazing hot energy of it all—the swimming, the relaxation, the air-conditioning.
I know that last item is problematic, and it’s part of a much larger issue. Air-conditioning creates a huge carbon footprint, and if employed without regard to sustainability and energy conservation, it can contribute devastatingly to environmental destruction. However, from a fitness or sports facility perspective, it’s indispensable. Yet, it’s not just summertime air-conditioning that creates challenges. Lighting, energy consumption, heating, material waste—all of these issues affect how you run your facility year-round, how much money you save or spend, and your impact on the environment.
One way to tackle all of these issues at once is to push your facility to achieve LEED certification. Being LEED—or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—certified means meeting certain standards in energy savings, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and CO2 emissions reduction. The cost of designing and constructing a building that meets such standards is high, as is the cost of improving existing buildings. Maintaining LEED-certified facilities also carries costs. But in the end, the savings associated with LEED-certification, financial and otherwise, make it more than worthwhile. So how do you go about achieving it?
First, adopt a “going green” mindset. Demonstrate your facility’s commitment to creating an environmentally sound space by getting all employees on-board with the notion. It’s crucial that your management team understands the specific goals and considers LEED-related issues in all decision-making processes; if you have a stated company mission and can make LEED-compliance part of it, all the better. Equally important is that your sales team recognizes the power of LEED as a lever for selling your brand. Potential members and customers will appreciate the knowledge that joining your club or attending your practice facility or venue helps minimize environmental impact, and in a competitive market, such a factor can be a crucial selling-point.
Next, to cover the considerable costs of building a new LEED building or bringing an existing one up to speed, consider gaining sponsorship or embarking on a partnership. Local waste companies looking to promote their recycling programs, cleaning companies that market green products, municipal agencies launching new fitness agendas, and businesses with specific, health-related objectives—these are just a few categories from which to seek out sponsors or partners. To find one that’s right for you, you’ll need to do some research, identify the needs and wants of potential partners, and design proposals that meet those needs and wants. Any proposal you come up with should detail how the image, mission, values, and/or green initiatives of the sponsor or partner align with those of your organization and highlight the value of the alignment.
Finally, think both big and small. Reconfiguring your facility to meet LEED standards is thinking big, and it’s a crucial step that involves a good deal of research, commitment, and investment. You also want to make simple changes that might be tiny in and of themselves, yet, add up to a big change, contributing to an environmentally sound approach to running your facility. Install recycling containers next to trash cans. Replace old drinking fountains with newer ones that allow for bottle refills. Consider ways you might be able to buy locally, stocking your juice bar with fruit from nearby farms and getting supplies from companies in your city or neighborhood. Offer discounts at your café for customers who bring their own drinking containers. Tie messages about personal health into ones about the health of the planet. Every little effort makes a difference, and will help make your facility a leader—year-round—in the sustainability movement.

Where Fitness and League Sports Meet

Where Fitness and League Sports Meet

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There’s a new professional sports league in town. For this league becoming fit isn’t just the preparation for the game—it is the game. The National Pro Fitness League (NPFL) is a new organization that pits co-ed teams of athletes against each other in a range of functional fitness events. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, the NPFL has franchises in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami, Washington, D.C., Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Its season will kick off at the end of August and last for six weeks, with the franchises competing in a total of 12 matches and a culminating championship match taking place in early October.

Wow. This is exciting news for fitness facilities and sports facilities alike. What a great development to get behind and support. Even if your facility doesn’t focus on functional fitness or offer related classes, the creation of the NPFL can be a boon to you. Since it will bring both fitness and league sports events to the forefront of the nation’s attention— at least for a little while (especially because, as NPFL Director of Team Development Cassie Haynes pointed out in a recent article, this league, unlike the NFL, MLB, and other older leagues, can be built around technology. The opportunity for fan engagement will be huge).

How can you benefit from the upcoming NPFL events? First, let your members know about them—chances are, they haven’t yet heard about the NPFL. Be the first to fill them in. Get enthusiastic about the league and convey your enthusiasm with posters, announcements, and by having your trainers talk it up. If there are competitors from your region, build up a show of support for them; make the events a bonding experience and a way to motivate your facility’s patrons in their own fitness and league practice sessions.

If you have the space and technology, you might consider setting up a few in-facility viewing events for members (and potential members!). Chances are, you’ve been looking for ways to build community anyway—and if you’re not, you should be! This is another excellent way to do so.

One great thing about the league is that it has the potentially to appeal to a wide variety of audience. It’s co-ed, so both men and women can get behind it. And it’s not filled with just hot young things; for each match, at least two competitors (one male, one female) from each team must be a “Master Athlete”—meaning age 40 or older. What other sport can boast of such inclusion? In spreading the word about the league—in your facility or on social media—you’ll want to stress this aspect of it. There’s something here for everyone.

Finally, can you think of any tie-in events you can stage at your own facility? If you have the capacity for functional fitness training, maybe you can plan for training activities that match a particular competition occurring on a certain day. Or after an event is over, you may have a trainer analyze an athlete’s performance together with clients, and help incorporate lessons to be learned into clients’ own practices. As always, the benefits you reap from such an exciting development (the creation of the NPFL) are up to you: You’re limited only by your imagination. It’s worth spending the time thinking about where you can go with this.

Workout Statistics

Get Fit with Exercise Snacking

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Have you heard the latest? Snacking is good for you. Not food snacking—exercise snacking. Researchers in New Zealand recently conducted a study that showed that multiple, brief portions of exercise in a single day—“exercise snacks,” the researchers dubbed them—may control blood sugar better than a single, continuous workout. The study was conducted on men and women with insulin resistance, a common precursor of Type 2 diabetes. Though, the news is relevant to anyone who wants to stay healthy by keeping blood sugar under control. In the study, participants who exercised for 12 minutes before breakfast, 12 before lunch, and 12 before dinner had far lower blood-sugar levels after dinner than those who exercised only once in a day, for 30 minutes before dinner. They also kept their blood-sugar levels lower for longer—over 24 hours as opposed to less than a day.

What does this mean for health clubs, gyms, fitness centers, and exercise boutiques? Well, you need to be prepared to serve members and clients who are looking to get to your facility three times a day. Also, if you want to help your members and clients reach their health-related goals (and you do, because their success is your success), you should probably think about how to encourage those who aren’t necessarily looking to get there three times a day to do so — and, let’s face it, many of them most likely struggle to get there once a day. Scientists have long argued that shorter, more frequent bursts of exercise are more beneficial than long, continuous spells. As the body of research supporting this hypothesis grows, more and more people will be demanding — and needing — to fit this new way of working out into their daily routines. This is especially true because, as researchers of the New Zealand study discovered, the blood-sugar benefits (and it remains to be seen which other benefits) are strongest when the exercise snacks consist of high intensity interval training. For most people, such training is much easier to do at a facility, with trainers and functional fitness equipment, than at home.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

1) Create a new three-times-a-day program. First, be sure to spread the word about the findings of the New Zealand study (and other studies that show the benefits of exercise snacking). Then, establish a structured program to help people get started. Designate a core group of trainers to work with the three-times-a-day-ers: They’ll have to work hard to motivate their clients to come before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the same time, they’ll need to plan out careful twelve-minute exercise sessions, preferably high-intensity interval routines.

2) Everything’s easier with incentives. What discounts, rewards, or deals can you offer your members for trying out a new three-times-a-day program? Can you provide a day pass that will allow them fast-track entry each time, or a free smoothie from the juice bar after they complete their third workout? Can you give a free month to members who manage to make it to your facility three times a day, three days a week, for one month? Or maybe you can offer a month at half price for anyone who comes in three times a day with a friend at least twice in one month. The possible variations are limited only by your imagination.

3) If your facility has the capacity to serve food, consider providing three-times-a-day-ers with vouchers for at least one meal on their exercise days. This might make it easier for them to contemplate the logistics of coming to and leaving your facility three times in one day. They might, for example, come before breakfast, head to work, come before lunch and then stay and have lunch, and come again before dinner.

4) If it’s feasible, consider offering three-times-a-day classes in a couple of satellite locations in addition to your facility (maybe there’s an empty warehouse somewhere on the other side of town?). That way, members who live or work further away from your facility have a choice in where to go, and choices make for convenience.

As the trend increases and the demand for facilities to accommodate for more frequent, briefer sessions grows, health clubs and other fitness venues will learn what works and what doesn’t. Now is the time to get started — put yourself at the forefront of the exercise snack trend, and you’ll find yourself the leader of a pack before long.

Gym community

Helping Your Members Connect

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Every weekday morning, my sister-in-law heads to a functional fitness center and undergoes a grueling routine involving kettlebells, ropes, medicine balls, and heavy chains. The center is located in a small warehouse with a homegrown feel. There’s one instructor and a small number of regulars for each time slot; it’s the kind of place where the instructor greets everyone by name and asks about their kids and pets. My sister-in-law took me to a class recently. When I arrived, she introduced me to each person there, and they welcomed me so warmly that I felt I’d known them all for years.

The workout that followed made me want to lie in bed for three days and moan feebly, but I had a great time while I was doing it. It was great partly because functional fitness is just plain fun and the instructor was wonderful—but I know the main reason it was great, was that I felt instantly comfortable around all of those people. I felt accepted; I felt both gently teased (when I collapsed after the ten-thousandth burpee) and brilliantly supported (when I discovered a natural flair for kettlebell action); I felt a genuine interest in all of my classmates, and it was clear that feeling was mutual. I left with a whole new set of friends.

My sister-in-law lives far away, so I can’t join the class, but I know that if I could, I would (despite its tortuous aspects). There’s one simple reason why I would: to be a part of that community. Anthropologists and social scientists have long known that human beings function best when they function within a community. We have our ideas about independence and autonomy, but when it comes to basic questions of survival, or just to getting through each day—or, say, to getting through a workout—we need to have others around us, and we need to feel some connection to those others.

For owners of gyms, fitness centers, training facilities, and health clubs, these facts are crucial to running a sound business. If you build a supportive, intimate community, you’re much more likely to both retain members and find new ones. So where do you begin?

1) Introduce members to one another. This one is simple, but it works, perhaps even better than anything else. I don’t mean just play icebreaker games at the start of a class; I mean make personal introductions based on your knowledge of your clients. If a new member who is a schoolteacher joins, bring her over to the schoolteacher who’s been working out at your facility for years and get them talking. Of course, you can’t facilitate connections on this level without first knowing—or ensuring that your staff knows—members personally and thoroughly. Getting to know them personally and thoroughly takes a great investment of time and energy, but it’s one of the most worthwhile investments you can make. Members will feel valued, and their positive feelings will translate into referrals, loyalty, and longevity.

2) Form clubs to address specialty interests. Find out what your members are interested in doing outside of your facility (you can use surveys, registration forms, or just personal chats for this), and see what happens if you form a club around that activity. Outdoor biking, bellydancing, macrobiotic cooking — whatever it is, you can get things started, and you don’t have to do much else. Put up a sign-up sheet, and let the members themselves take care of the rest. They’ll form personal connections and you’ll benefit.

3) Get social. I’m talking about two kinds of social here: real and virtual. On the real side of things, host cocktail hours (or juice bar hours), get-togethers, and meet-and-mingle events. Match members up for training sessions. Hold talks and seminars. On the virtual side, welcome new members to Facebook, offer incentives to members who post to your Facebook page or comment on posts you put up, create a Facebook group that members can join in order to stay connected. Explore other forms of social media too. Again, your members will form a valuable community; you’ll reap the rewards.

Free Classes

Free Classes

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If you’re a sports facility with tennis courts, you’ll want to pay attention to this. And if you’re any other kind of sports facility, you’ll also want to pay attention. Actually, everyone listen up — this is an idea that health clubs and fitness centers can capitalize on too.
In May, as part of a promotional effort started jointly by the Tennis Industry Association, the Professional Tennis Registry, and the United States Professional Tennis Association’s Tennis Across America program, sports facilities and certified teaching pros around the country will take part in Try Tennis — a program to offer free tennis lessons. Any facility with tennis courts can sign up here to participate; tennis-playing aspirants can find participating facilities on the same website. The possible result for you? Free advertising and perhaps new long-term members.
The sponsoring associations based their decision to launch Try Tennis on industry research showing that 65 percent of players who begin tennis in an introductory program continue with the sport. Offering free classes or lessons is a way of getting potential players hooked.
You can see why I wanted you all to listen up — this is a widely adaptable idea. If you’re a facility with a focus on baseball, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, hockey — any sport — you can work on getting a Try [Your Sport] promotion going industry wide. If you’re a gym, you can think about a Try a Trainer month, or a Try Zumba (or other workout class) month. Pushing a promotion on a huge scale, like the tennis initiative, might feel beyond your scope; if that’s the case, try it with a few other facilities in your network or your region, or just launch a similar program in your facility alone. However you’re able to manage it, a full month of free lessons is likely to draw potential new members, a good number of whom will stay on after the promotion ends.
The idea can be applied in all types of facilities and can be carried out in a number of ways. You could do as the tennis folks are doing and make it a month-long promotion. If you’re a facility with fewer resources, make it a week’s event, or even just a single day’s. Of course, however you end up designing it, you’ll want to spread the word widely. If you’re doing it in conjunction with other facilities, consider setting up a website like the Try Tennis one. If you’re going solo, give it a big headline on your own website’s landing page, and shout about it on your social media channels. Ask your current members to let others know; ask them to bring their friends.
Equally important: Keep track of the numbers. Make sure you count the people who take part (and get their names and contact info for follow-up). Then count the number of people who sign up for long-term instruction or general membership. You’ll want to know whether the effort pays off for you. In your niche, is it also the case that 65 percent who begin playing continue on? Maybe not, but either way, you want to have the data available. Then, if it works, do it every year!

Use Your Club Size To Your Advantage

Use Your Club Size To Your Advantage

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Over on the IHRSA blog, there’s an interesting post about how small gyms in rural towns tackle the unique challenges they face. It’s true that for any health club or sports facility with a small pool of members and clients to draw from, there are difficulties that clubs in more populous places don’t experience. You might compete with larger clubs nearby, vying hard for attention against brand-name franchises. Or you might struggle to fill up your classes or operate programs or leagues that are tricky to manage without a certain bulk enrollment.

The best strategy? Use your club size to your advantage. Sisters Athletic Club, in Sisters, Oregon, makes a point of creating a homelike atmosphere in its facility. First of all, the gym provides no membership cards. Instead, even though the club boasts 1,600 members, employees are required to know every member and greet them by name when they enter. Here’s where small-town advantages come into play: The town has only 2,000 residents. Chances are, the member entering is your neighbor anyway. Also, the club strives to create an anti-gym feel. Outside, the 19,000-square-foot facility looks like a lodge. Inside, a rock formation fills the lobby, classical music infuses the air, and an art gallery spreads out near the front desk. You can’t see the cardio court from the entrance, and you don’t smell anything that even vaguely suggests you’re in a gym. The hominess is complemented by fastidiousness; everything is spotless.

Playing up the sense that the facility is an extension of their members’ homes is crucial for Sisters Athletic, in part because the club’s biggest competitor is nature. There’s so much skiing, biking, and hiking nearby that the facility has to give members the sense that they’re getting something they can’t possibly get outdoors. It’s precisely its small, comfortable feel that allows it to do so.

The situation for B-Fit 24/7 Fitness in Adrian, Michigan, is different: The local population consists of 24,000 and there are big-name competitors not too far away. So, B-Fit has a bigger pool to draw from than Sisters Athletic Club, but there are more options for the folks who make up that pool. B-Fit has to really stand apart from the crowd in order to create a loyal clientele and attract new members.

Their solution? The club has made itself the only one in the area that’s open 24 hours, and it pitches itself as the “ungym” — unlike the traditional gym model, B-Fit does not require members to sign a contract, and it refunds members who don’t reach their goals. Also, the club works hard to forge relationship with the 80 percent of the population that isn’t naturally exercise-oriented.

For sports facilities in similar positions — either with only a tiny pool to draw from or with big-fish competitors nearby and a relatively small pool of potential clients — smart marketing, along with lots of event hosting, might be the key. Looking to fill up your baseball league? Try putting up flyers in towns one to two hours away; parents will go surprisingly far to keep their kids interested in an activity, and adult players who are committed enough to join a league probably won’t mind the travel. As far as events go, don’t limit yourself to birthday parties. Put the idea in the minds of potential customers that you are there for all occasions, from celebrations for specific events and holidays to celebrations for no reason at all.

The overriding lesson is this: What you think are weaknesses might be turned to advantages. Exaggerate the very qualities that seem limiting — your small size, the restricted pool you’re in — and figure out what about those things might appeal to those around you.

Brand Identity

Brand Identity

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We all know how confusing a mixed message can be. Somebody tells you one thing and then does another, and you’re left wondering what exactly happened. Did you misunderstand something? Have you misinterpreted? Most of all, can you still trust the person in question?
While it can be bewildering when it happens between individuals, it can be downright damaging when it happens between an individual and a business, especially when the business thrives on retaining members. So, it might be time to review the messages you’re sending your clientele and make sure you’re not putting conflicting signals out there. To that end, a few pieces of advice:
1) Consider your free offers carefully. Some gyms have been known to offer pizza days, bagel days, even doughnut or candy days. While such food giveaways might make members happy, they can undermine your primary messaging. You want your members to believe that you care about their health — sure, a slice of pizza or a bagel once a month never hurt anyone, but let the strip mall down the street supply those. If you do it, how believable are you going to sound when you tell your members they need to exercise and eat properly to lose weight? And if you don’t sound believable and they don’t lose the weight, are they going to renew their membership when the time comes?
Of course, you could give away candy or bagels—even bagels slathered in cream cheese or butter—if you hand out with them, say, a chart that shows how many push-ups a person would need to do to burn off those calories, or how many miles they’d need to run on the treadmill. Again, it’s about consistent messaging.
2) Check how inclusive you’re being. Unless your facility is an elite training center or something similar, chances are you don’t want to turn away any potential clients. Are your flyers, advertisements, social media postings, and other promotional materials inclusive, with people of all colors, genders, sizes, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds represented? Will an overweight person or a Spanish-speaker or a transgender individual feel alienated? Try to consider your messaging from as many different points of view as possible, asking yourself whether you might be unintentionally shutting anyone out.
3) Pay attention to your grammar. I know this one makes me sound like your ninth-grade English teacher, but it’s important. In this day and age, when so much of a company’s identity depends on the words it strings together on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in emails, and on websites, proper grammar—along with careful spelling and punctuation—is crucial. This is especially the case if your messaging is about achieving excellence, pushing yourself, going over and above, and the like. If you want to keep your credibility, you have to show your own willingness to achieve excellence, to push yourself. Even if your clientele cares more about a good workout than a well-crafted sentence, on some level evidence of carelessness will have an effect.
In the end, it’s about having a solid brand identity and continually working to strengthen that identity. Tweaking small details and taking the time to reflect on the messages you’re conveying can make a big difference.

FDA’s New Nutrition Labels

FDA’s New Nutrition Labels

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For twenty years, Americans have known that if they want information about a food product’s nutritional content, they can check the label. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a change to the labels we’ve grown used to. The government organization wants to replace out-of-date serving sizes; highlight certain parts of the label, such as calories and serving sizes; and include information about nutrients some consumers aren’t getting enough of, like Vitamin D and potassium. “To remain relevant,” explained FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., “the FDA’s newly proposed nutrition facts label incorporates the latest in nutrition science as more has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans.”
First, bravo FDA. It isn’t always the case that policies and laws are revised to accommodate findings from new research. Given what we know about nutrition and chronic disease that we didn’t know twenty years ago, the proposed new label has the potential to help improve the health of a great number of people.
Second, now’s your chance, health clubs and sports centers. You are better positioned than most other institutions to educate the public about the proposed new labels, and to use the FDA’s new nutrition labels as a way to boost your visibility and desirability. By being among the first to spread the news about the labels, and by linking the news to your own programs and offerings, you’ll remain relevant to your clientele in a way that can work only to your benefit.
As a fitness center, gym, health club, or sports facility, you probably already spend some time and other resources on keeping your members and clients informed about nutrition. (If you don’t, what are you waiting for? If people don’t get such information from you, they’ll get it from elsewhere. If you provide it, you have an immediate way of establishing how essential your facility is to health maintenance — along with how generously you provide value-added services.) There are many ways you can teach your clientele about the proposed new labels. Search FDA’s website for an example, and blow it up to poster size for prominent display somewhere in the gym. Invite people to speak with resident nutritional experts or trainers about the changes. Host a lecture by a nutrition advisor who can explain the changes and their significance. Invite the general public to the lecture as well as members — what better opportunity for attracting new members? Have instructors take a few minutes at the beginning or end of class sessions to explain and describe the new labels.
The goals here are to make yourself the source of the information, get a dialogue going within your four walls, emphasize your facility’s commitment to clients’ health, and prove yourself a dedicated member of a larger community. In the past, fitness centers and sports facilities were not expected to do much more than provide a place for a good workout or league game. The FDA is keeping up with changing times; make sure that you are too.

Foster Partner Workouts

Foster Partner Workouts

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A recent blog post and a recent study, although differing significantly in content, come to essentially the same conclusion: We have more of a chance of staying healthy when we partner with someone than when we try to go it alone.

The blog post, written by a sports writer and athlete for the popular Greatist website, notes that studies show working out with a buddy can increase accountability, keep spirits high during exercise, and spur better results. The post lists 35 great ideas for partner workouts. The study, a collaboration between the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and policymakers in the Canadian province of Manitoba, suggests that younger children learn about health from older children more effectively than from coaches and teachers. Researchers looked at a program called Healthy Buddies, in which older kids mentor younger ones about healthy foods, physical activity, and positive body image; elementary school children who took part in the program reduced their waist sizes and showed improvements in self-esteem.

Why should all this be important to you? Of course, as a fitness club or sports center owner or manager, you’re interested in retaining current members and attracting new ones. One way to do those things is to make workouts or practices fun. If science is proving it’s more fun for people to workout with a partner, it would behoove you to think of ways to foster partner workouts. If you don’t yet have classes designed to accommodate buddy exercise, it’s time to develop and offer some. And maybe it’s time also to experiment with new ideas: How about designating a weekly time slot for partner workouts in the cardio room? Anyone can come, and no one will be forced to work with someone else, but singletons who want a partner can ask others looking for the same if they want to pair up during that time, and duos can be encouraged to come. Trainers can be on-hand with ideas for buddy exercises.

Really, with the studies in hand that prove the effectiveness of partner workouts, there’s no limit to ideas you can try launching based on that information. And let your clientele know that you’re reading up on these studies and developing new ideas based on what’s best for them — that’s another good way to keep the members you already have and gain new ones.

As for the study about older kids mentoring younger ones for better health, this is information that will be useful to sports centers that cater to youth. Whether you specialize in baseball, soccer, track and field, or offer general athletic programming, why not start thinking about how older kids at your facility might be able to help teach younger ones? Can you offer one night of mixed-age practices, pairing elementary-schoolers with high-schoolers and letting the learning take off? This same strategy might work for fitness clubs too — not necessarily using age as a guide to matching mentors and mentees, but creating a program that would allow members who have successfully met their weight loss and exercise goals to mentor members who are still struggling. Doing so could only strengthen your community, and strengthening your community can only be good for business.

Fill Positions And Keep Them Filled

Fill Positions And Keep Them Filled

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There’s a particular kind of frustration that all business owners have experienced: You spend time and money searching for the perfect employee. You make a promising hire, invest valuable resources in training, and finally breathe a sigh of relief — and then your employee moves on. So how do you fill positions and keep them filled?

At fitness centers and sports facilities, certain positions are especially hard to keep staffed. Over on the IHRSA blog, three fitness/sports center owners recently answered questions about the positions they’ve repeatedly had difficulty filling. For Telos Fitness Center in Dallas, Texas, the trickiest position is the front desk. “By nature, [it’s] entry-level and offers competitive, but minimal, hourly pay and ‘front line’ responsibilities,” says Brent Darden, the center’s owner/general manager. At Riverside Health Club in Mount Vernon, Washington, owner Karen Westra has found the facilities manager position most challenging to fill. Joe Cabibbo, owner and general manager of Odyssey Athletic Center in Waldwick, New Jersey, struggles with personal trainers leaving because they lack skills to market their services.

Whatever position you struggle to keep properly staffed at your own facility, there are some general steps you can take to improve the situation. First, take the time to analyze all of the tasks that the position in question is responsible for. You might find that you’re consistently hiring people with the wrong experience, or that the tasks can be split between two positions, making it easier to keep the troublesome one filled. That’s what Westra discovered when she sat down and listed out everything a facilities manager would have to do in order to keep up with preventative maintenance demands at her club. The solution? Hire a facilities assistant, and consult regularly with the facilities manager about which tasks can be delegated.

Next, rather than investing resources in a particular individual, invest in systems and training. This approach works for Darden with the font desk job. “We have found the best solution is to invest heavily in the systems and training of front desk staff in order to maintain consistent service, despite frequent turnover,” he says. In other words, even if you have to make a new hire for the front desk position, or any position, every six or nine months, having seamless systems in place and a rigorous training program will ensure that members’ day-to-day experience doesn’t change much.

Finally, for personal trainer positions or similar ones that require self-promotion, make sure your hires are equipped to engage in self-promotion. As Cabibbo puts it, “Regardless of the extent of their certification, personal trainers seem to have difficulty applying their knowledge in a marketing/sales aspect.” Where certification programs fail, you might have to be prepared to teach. Keep your coaches, personal trainers, and perhaps other employees up-to-speed on the best ways to attract and keep clients. You’re the one who will benefit in the end, because you won’t have to worry about replacing the employees who aren’t keeping themselves busy enough.

Creating Infographics

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This season, to startlingly effective results, the San Francisco 49ers have been flooding fans with infographics. The great thing about infographics, visual representations of data or knowledge, is their quick, clear presentation of complex information. And the great thing about infographics designed by someone who knows what they’re doing is their quick, clear, and beautiful presentation.

Take, for example, the one the 49ers posted a couple weeks ago, just before their last game at Candlestick Park, where they played for 42 years (which I know from glancing at the infographic). It’s truly a work of art, and in addition to its stellar design, it gives fans all the detailed information they need to feed their nostalgia till long after the team moves to their new stadium later this year. But what I really like about this is that it’s a great model for any sports or fitness facility, whether you’re a stadium, an ice rink, a health club, a baseball center, or any other venue in the industry.

Any facility could design and distribute something similar to bolster support from clients, members, fans, or just the surrounding community. Make a timeline of your history, starting with when you first opened or when plans for your facility first began. Pick out the moments you want to highlight, and then make a list of interesting facts. You can mix up both number facts and fun-to-know facts: for example, the number of trainers you have, the number of young athletes you serve who have gone into professional sports, the number of Olympic medalists who have visited your facility, or: tidbits about celebrities who have visited, a description of the most outrageous kind of class you ever offered, and anecdote about a funny or moving incident that occurred. You can also include, as the 49ers did, interesting quotes about your facility from the people who work there. You can add a thank-you message, if your goal is to show appreciation for your members. What you choose to include is limited only by your imagination and your designer’s talents.

After you’ve got an infographic you’re happy with, send it out into social media-land. This is a place where infographics thrive, because they attract attention, so people like to share them; they provide a whole load of information at a glance, so there’s a quick payoff to looking at them; and they efficiently demonstrate to others the loyalties and interests of the individual posting them. Depending on the occasion — if it’s an important anniversary, for example, or if you’re sponsoring a big fundraiser — you can even turn them into posters to hand out. (Sometimes, they really do look good enough to hang on the wall.)

If you get positive feedback, consider creating infographics regularly. The 49ers did one every few days this season and got tons of comments and shares in response. Even if you do it only once a month, you’ll have found a great way to spread information about your facility, hold people’s attention, and dole out some eye candy.


Become the Solution

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You struggle with retaining members and signing up new clients. How could you not? With the proliferation of low-cost health clubs, wearable technology, home video exercise plans, and YouTube workout videos that go viral within hours, traditional fitness facilities face enormous challenges these days — and experts tell us we’re only at the beginning of what will be a sea change in the way the fitness industry operates. In this blog space there’s been a lot of talk about facing the challenges by building communities; investing in trainers, staff, and other human resources; and incorporating technology. Here’s another approach to consider: becoming the solution.

In a recent article for FitBusiness Insider, Pat Rigsby, fitness industry consultant and co-owner of both the International Youth Conditioning Association and Athletic Revolution, says that if you can pinpoint the group you want your facility to serve and then “become the solution” for that group — that is, be the place that group automatically turns to to fulfill its needs — then you’ll establish a strong business that can withstand today’s challenges.

When you become passionate about helping a specific group, Rigsby says, you simplify your business. As he puts it: “You know what you have to focus on. What to study. Who to market to. What your identity is.” He provides several examples: “In Boston, baseball players seek out Eric Cressey’s gym. In Edison, NJ, wrestlers flock to Zack Even-Esh’s Underground Gym. If you’re in Santa Clarita and you want to lose fat, you go to the Cosgrove gym.” In other words, if you establish yourself as the go-to place for a particular group in a particular area with a particular interest or problem, you’ll find you don’t really have to compete with new technologies or other fitness facilities. You’ll simply be the place where people go.

What if your facility is already established as a more general gym, one that has pitched itself as a solution for everyone? That can work in your favor. Keep your generalist side, and keep inviting in members who simply want a good workout. But in addition choose one group to focus on, hone in on their needs, and begin investing in the resources needed to fulfill those needs. Be the go-to place for that group while also providing others with their daily exercise fix.

Help Your Clients Make It to the Gym

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Every year around this time of year, it feels like someone has turned the dial up a couple notches. Whereas earlier in the fall everything was just busy, suddenly now everything is insanely chaotic. Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving break mean quite a few no-school days, and there always seem to be a couple professional development and parent-teacher conference half-days around the same time. At work, everyone is scrambling to finish projects before the end of the year, and all of those projects seem to land up on your desk at the same time. Meanwhile, you find yourself invited, in the span of three weeks, to more parties than you’ve been invited to all year. And then there’s the holiday shopping, cooking, planning, and wrapping to do (don’t even ask me about season’s-greetings cards — I gave up on those years ago).

What this means for your facility is that client visits will slow down. Fewer client visits equal less revenue, either in the short term, because you’re missing out on class payments or members aren’t spending on personal trainer sessions, massages, and other extras; or in the long term, because if a member goes for a month or two without making it to the gym, she’s less likely to renew her membership when the time comes. What can you do to help your clients make it to the gym in the midst of their busy schedules?

First, remind them that the most important time to maintain gym-going habits is now, when stress increases and tempting, sugary foods abound. Come up with a simple slogan: something like “Make Time,” for example. Hang up motivational signs bearing the slogan, and reiterate the message via email and on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.

Consider extending your hours for the season, and if you’re able to do so, then widely—and proudly—advertise your extended hours.

If possible, have your instructors or trainers develop abbreviated workouts. Give these a snappy name, something like Twenty-Minute-Holiday-Workout, and, again, advertise heavily: Let everyone know that you’ve got a new program created specifically to address the trouble we all have making time to exercise right now. Luckily, the high-intensity interval training workouts widely praised these days for their dramatic results and intense health benefits are perfectly suited to short workouts; pull together a few of these and you’re all set.

Finally, craft a message specifically for patrons whose records indicate they haven’t made it in for a while. If you have a fitness concierge, have him or her send the message personally, with an invitation to call and discuss their difficulties making it to the gym. Offer to help devise a plan. You won’t hear from everyone, and there may well be a client or two who disappears and never renews, but chances are you’ll reach at least a handful who will feel grateful to you for reaching out, and who will re-apply themselves with new vigor. Happy holidays.

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