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!

devices

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.

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.

Gym community

Retaining Employees

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Some of the challenges fitness centers, gyms, and health clubs face are seasonal: getting members into the facility when the weather turns warm, dealing with the New-Year’s-resolution rush, running a member-recruitment campaign. But the challenge of holding on to valuable employees is perennial. After you’ve invested in a costly advertising and interviewing process, you spend a great number of resources training your staff and giving them time to acclimate. How do you then hold on to them for as long as possible?
Some club managers focus on keeping personal trainers happy. Gerard Oliver, General Manager of the Al Corniche Club Resort & Spa in Kuwait told IHRSA in a blog post that his facility keeps its fitness team incentivized by deemphasizing the revenues generated from personal training sessions. Without the pressure from the club to chase money by packing in as many sessions as possible, trainers are free to concentrate on the quality of their work. As Oliver says, “They have the desire and the time to education themselves, and interestingly enough, they have increased our revenues… They help members achieve the results they want and this helps with member retention, which is our top priority.”
For Aydin Buyukyilmaz, General Manager of Renewaclub in Turkey, the key strategy for successful employee retention is establishing a performance system that depends not on the budget of the club, but on the relative performance of the employees. Offering a competitive salary and a strong benefits package, while paying attention to market dynamics and making frequent adjustments accordingly, makes employees feel valued. But most of all, Buyukyilmaz says, the club works hard to create a sense of family among employees, which keeps them feeling connected and also benefits the club.
Lisa Welko, President of Ellipse Fitness in Appleton, Wisconsin, says the key is mentorship. “Build confidence in [employees’] abilities and allow them to grow within the organization,” she told the IHRSA blog. “We place special emphasis on training and continued development of everyone’s skills.” Fostering employees’ professional development increases their loyalty and keeps them motivated, Welko says.
One strategy might be to fire all these guns at once: Free your personal trainers from the pressure of increasing their number of sessions, focus on your employee compensation and performance packages, consciously create a sense of family among your staff, and emphasize mentorship and the development of specialized skills. Doing any one of these things takes time, money, effort, and a certain amount of vigilance; doing them all certainly will complicate a manager’s workload. But the potential payoff is huge: money saved, investments coming to fruition, and loyal expertise on staff. What more can a fitness facility ask for?
No doubt you have your own strategies for retaining your best employees. What are they? Share your best practices, and others will share theirs.

Time to Get a Passport

Time to Get a Passport

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Think any of your members have ever tried traveling without a passport? If they do, they risk getting out of shape, inducing an injury when they start working out again, and losing their momentum for regular exercise. I’m not talking about their actual passports, of course; I’m talking about IHRSA’s Passport Program. If your facility doesn’t take part in it, you might be doing your members a disservice.
IHRSA’s Passport Program is a worldwide network of 1,700 health clubs that offer guest access to their facilities for members of participating clubs. Participation in the Passport Program is free for clubs; you merely have to register. Once you do, your members need to follow only a few steps in order to be able to use health clubs around the world. First, they have to obtain a valid Passport I.D. from your facility. Then, they have to check IHRSA’s list of participating clubs to locate one in the area where they will be traveling. Finally, they have to call ahead to confirm the availability of the facilities and find out about any guest fees that might apply. It’s that easy.
When you register, you agree to two stipulations. One, that you will reciprocate and offer traveling members of other clubs access to yours. Two, that you will discount your regular guest fee by at least 50 percent for Passport guests.
Those aren’t small stipulations, but the potential benefit to your club should be clear. Imagine the added value you’ll be offering prospective members when they’re considering signing up for a membership. You tell them that by signing up they’ll be giving themselves access to 1,700 clubs around the country — who can say no to that? What’s more, you’ll demonstrate your commitment to their good health. Traveling can be hard on the body, especially if it means breaking off from a regular workout routine. And traveling around the holidays can be particularly damaging, given all the indulgent treats available. If your members know they can head to Great Aunt Glenda’s place and eat her fruit cake and butter cookies with a clear conscience, because there’s an accessible gym in town—you’ll be providing them with a valuable service.
Keep in mind, IHRSA’s network isn’t the only one out there (though it’s probably the biggest). Look into the available options and consider which ones would be a good fit for you and your members. They’ll thank you if you do.

Face Time

Face Time

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In this digital age, it’s possible to go for days without seeing another person and still be in constant contact with others. Texting, emailing, social media, video-chatting: All which create a level of communication unheard of in previous decades. But guess what? Health club members still prefer in-person interaction with staff than communication via technological device.
A study in the recently published IHRSA Member Retention Report, lays out the details on this topic. Conducted in partnership with The Retention People, IHRSA’s study draws on survey responses from more than 10,000 health and fitness members in the U.K., who answered questions about their exercise habits and membership behavior between July and September 2013. The survey showed that an overwhelming 87 percent of respondents value interactions with fitness staff. The clincher? Less than half—43 percent—of respondents feel they have such interactions.The other clincher? Despite everything you constantly hear about how crucial it is to have an effective social media campaign—to get out there on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to try to speak personably and familiarly with members via those platforms—only 34 percent of respondents said they value social media updates. Almost twice that number—65 percent—said they value receiving emails.
Considering the numbers, it’s worth devising a strategy for increasing face time between staff and members in your own health venue. This goes for sports facilities, too. The nature of the exercise business is interdependence—whether you’re talking gym, niche studio, or batting cages. Members depend on trainers, instructors, front desk folk, and support staff, and vice versa. So anything you can do to foster interdependence is going to result in a happier customer base—which, in the long run, means better retention, more word-of-mouth advertising, four-and-five star ratings on social media, and ultimately more members.
How do you make interactions between staff and members the norm at your facility? Make proactive interactions a requirement for the job: Staff should know, even before they’re hired, that you have high expectations for warm, interpersonal, and in-person communication with members on a daily basis. Have a greeter at the door, and give them a script that includes introducing him or herself by name, welcoming members, shaking their hands, and offering to help them with anything they need. Instruct front-desk staff to smile and to try to learn members’ names. Trainers and class leaders should also learn members’ names and should go out of their way to talk to members. In the weight room and cardio court, and on the ground at sports facilities, they should circulate and check in with members, ask how they’re doing and whether they need anything.
As for out-of-club communications, remember almost twice the number of survey respondents prefer email to social media interaction. Maybe it’s time to step back from your social media activity and refocus on effective emailing; the more personal the better. Consider a gym management software that allows for direct email blasts and the ability to group clients into categories. For example, create an email group called “New members” to track clients who have just signed up. Then, devise an email campaign where your staff sends a “checking in” email once a month for the first few critical months of the client’s membership.
Service of this sort takes your club or sports facility to the next level. If members feel you truly care about them, they’ll be coming back and telling their friends to do the same.

Reflect on Your Business Decisions

Consider Your Business Decisions

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If you own a health club or sports facility, you know that about 98 percent of the job consists of making decisions. In any aspect of life, decision-making can be challenging, but in the context of running a business, it can be especially nerve-wracking. The success of the business, your livelihood, the livelihood of others—all of these things depend on you making sound decisions (and, when we’re talking health clubs and sports facilities, the health and happiness of a lot of people also can depend on those decisions).
IHRSA’s blog recently ran an interesting piece featuring three health club owners and the business decisions they’re most proud of. Luke Carlson, CEO of Discover Strength in Plymouth, Minnesota, said that he’s proudest of his club’s decision to make the development and treatment of staff its highest priority. “Our increases in revenue always seem to be linked to our investment in our employees,” he says. “We started with only part-time employees. As soon as we created full-time, career track, salaried positions, our revenue dramatically increased…. When we gave our staff budgets for travel and continuing education, our revenue increased even more. Every time we make an effort to improve our staff and demonstrate that we care about them, they seem to be increasingly effective with our clients.”
Floriane Chatron, Founder of Aquaflorès in Paris, France, says she is proudest of launching an aqua-wellness facility in a difficult market with many low-cost competitors. “I am proud to have taken up this challenge, which, to most observers, seemed doomed to fail,” she says. And Jason Cerniglia, owner of Hoover Fitness in Hoover, Alabama, said he’s proudest of his decision to write an exercise and diet book. “First,” he noted, “I can help people anywhere and anytime, regardless of whether they are members or not. Second, instead of paying for a one-hour diet consult, people can buy the book and get the information they need. Third, it’s a great retention tool for my club because it helps members get results. Fourth, it can be a retention tool for other clubs. Most of all, the book can help deconditioned people, because it teaches how to get results and still enjoy life.”
While each of these decisions offers good ideas to other business owners (definitely prioritize your employees’ well being, don’t hesitate to launch something you believe in even if no one else seems to—and maybe it’s time to start thinking about writing a book!), the lesson here really is that, as a health club or sports facility owner, you can benefit from taking a moment to reflect on business decisions you have made. Which one are you most proud of? Why? Which one has been the least effective? Why? Jot down answers to these questions, and then take some time to analyze the processes you used while making your best decision and your worst one. Were other people involved or was it a solo choice? How did you conduct research before making the decision—or did you? Do your colleagues agree with your assessment of your best and worst decisions? Do they have ideas for how to continually make good ones? What have you learned from the decisions you’ve made?
The thing is, decision-making is tricky—enough that it’s its own field of study within cognitive science research. No one really understands how it works. The more familiar you are with your own decision-making processes, the more likely you are to have an immediate answer (or so many immediate answers that you might have trouble deciding which one to give) the next time someone asks you what business decision you’re most proud of.

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.

Bringing a Taste of the Retreat into Everyday Life

Bringing the Taste of a Retreat into the Everyday Life

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Luxury health-fitness retreats have become something of a trend. Perhaps some of your members have tried them, or maybe you’ve given one a go yourself. If not, you can imagine the drill: At a beautiful resort somewhere exotic or simply far away from it all, you and your fellow companions spend a week or so hiking twelve miles a day, taking yoga and weight-training classes, and working out for as many hours as possible, and you do it all on about 1,200 calories a day (luckily, many such retreats also feature massages and facials, so be grateful).
Don’t get me wrong—I think this trend offers wonderful opportunities to people who want to kickstart a fitness regimen or who love a good workout and want to combine one with a vacation. There are many reasons why I’d jump at the chance to go on a fitness retreat myself. However, there are also many factors holding me back, several of which have to do simply with practical limitations: time, money, child care.
That got me thinking. What I really need is a luxury health-fitness retreat here at home. I need a week-long or ten-day crash course in intense exercise and healthy eating right here where I live and work. Boot camps, of course, abound in New York City and throughout the country, but what I want is something even more focused and intensive—something that gives me a sense of total immersion while also offering me a chance to get things done. I wonder if there’s an opportunity here for the gyms and health clubs, a hole to fill. It might be worth considering whether there’s a flexible form of health retreat that you could offer members (and nonmembers too, as a way to invite them to join your facility).
I imagine something that begins early in the morning, soon after I drop my son off at the bus stop. A two-hour class could ensue, followed by a healthy breakfast. Afterwards, there could be a three- or four-hour break for participants to get work done or run errands (and possibly wi-fi and lounge/workspace made available to those who want it). Another two-hour exercise period could follow the break, with a light lunch afterward—maybe offered while nutrition or fitness experts offer talks on the best ways to carry the effects of the retreat over into the everyday life. For the afternoon, childcare could be on offer while another class takes place, and after, everyone could be sent home with instructions for dinner. Facials and massages could also be offered on select days. Follow-up sessions in subsequent months might be something participants could elect to take part in for an extra fee.
Many variations of that scenario are possible, and it’s especially worth dreaming up options that might better suit office workers. No matter what form a hometown fitness retreat takes, the benefits could be immense, and not just for participants: Your club could find itself with a new revenue stream. Plus, as alluded to earlier, it can be an effective way to draw in new members (prospectives who take part in the program could be offered a discount on first month’s membership, or the like).

Become an Active Participant in Preventative Health Care

Become an Active Participant in Preventative Health Care

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Pomerene Hospital in Millersburg, Ohio, recently kicked off a deal to take over a local fitness center. The owner of the center approached the hospital, expressing an interest in a community collaborator. Seeing this idea as an opportunity to extend health care beyond its own walls, the hospital embraced it. Doing so, said Pomerene’s chief financial officer in a statement, is a first step towards aligning the hospital’s services with reform in the health industry—with the expanded focus to include a greater emphasis on wellness and preventative care.
I love this. It seems to me that all hospitals should run fitness centers, or at least partner with fitness centers to provide a more holistic set of health-related services. I feel this way about doctors’ offices too. I hate going to them partly because I resent the fact that I’m there in the first place. If I hadn’t gotten sick, or overstretched a muscle, or ignored the numbers creeping higher on the scale, then I wouldn’t have to be there. Sometimes, I am all too well aware of how prevention would have served me better than care.
Not all hospitals have the means or the resources to manage a fitness facility, and certainly not most doctors working independently. But they could at least actively take different approaches to encourage patients to focus on their own preventative care. They could give discounts on co-pays for patients who bring in a letter from a personal trainer, exercise instructor, or gym manager showing that they’ve worked out x number of times in the past month. Or, along with prescriptions, they could hand out certificates good for one free class at a local spin studio or for one free session at a gym. Hospitals, when they discharge patients who have the capacity to exercise, could give out vouchers for a free month’s membership at a health club. There are so many possibilities.
None of these can be realized, of course, if gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, exercise studios, and sports centers are not willing partners. The good news is that forming such partnerships could only be beneficial for businesses in our industry. Each certificate a doctor hands out or voucher a hospital gives away represents a potential new client. And new clients who find your facility through a health care professional or institution are ones that are likely to stay—a voice of authority is telling them loudly and clearly that there’s a link between how much they exercise and how healthy they stay. If nothing else, they’ll come to you to avoid having to go to their doctor or the hospital again.
If you haven’t already done so, maybe it’s time to start cultivating relationships with doctors and hospitals. Approach local ones with suggestions and offers; make it clear that you’re as interested in the health of the community as they are. That’s what the fitness center giving its management over to Pomerene Hospital has done. Honestly, I wouldn’t even need any incentives to join that fitness center; just knowing it’s managed by the same experts who understand my medical needs would be incentive enough.