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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

How Do You Let Employees Know They Are Valued?

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“The quality of any club’s performance is directly related to how the employees are treated every day.” That’s Bill Brackman, Sports Manager of the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY, responding to a question posed recently on the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association’s (IHRSA) blog. The question? How do you let employees know they are valued?

It’s a crucial issue. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes one to make a health club successful — you can’t do every job that needs to be done yourself, after all. But it doesn’t take just any village; it takes one that’s dedicated, caring, loyal, energetic, driven, self-motivated, and content (for starters). How do you ensure that your staff is all of those things? Small, fun rewards help. At Brackman’s club, employees and their guests were invited to an open-bar dinner party at the clubhouse when Golf World Magazine named theirs the “Best Private Club in the U.S.” Also, the club provides a couple annual staff appreciation events — a poolside barbeque, a holiday party.
But be careful. You have to already have thriving employees before you start offering such rewards; otherwise, you might end up with a disgruntled crew feeling like you’re trying to buy their happiness without paying attention to their real needs. Are your employees fairly compensated? Do you offer them the best benefits you can? Do you appreciate their lives outside of work, and let them know it? Do you praise their accomplishments publicly (both the work-related and the personal ones)? Perhaps most importantly, do your employees voice to you their concerns? (If they don’t, don’t fool yourself into believing it’s because they don’t have any; it’s impossible to be an employee without having them. But if you’re not hearing about them, that may be a sign that the staff doesn’t feel free to come to you with them.)

Darren Kanwisher, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club in Alberta, Canada, takes a pretty radical approach to ensuring employee satisfaction: “Our members don’t come first—our employees do,” he explains on the IHRSA blog. “…[E]mployees know—even before they’re hired—that they’re our priority in terms of time, attention, and care.” Putting staff before customers, and boldly declaring that you do so, might seem like a risk, but think about the trickle-down effect: If your employees know how important they are to management, they have a model for understanding how to let customers know how important they are to your employees. At Kanwischer’s club, the importance of staff members’ personal lives is placed above the importance of the business — there is a sense that they are humans before they are workers. This must work wonders for morale, and the day-to-day positive effects of a high morale cannot be underestimated.

In general, giving positive feedback, emphasizing the importance of each employee, letting staff know they can approach you at any time with any concern, making sure their basic needs are taken care of, and giving them small extras all go a long way toward creating an upbeat, fulfilling place to work — and that goes a long way toward creating a successful business.

Marketing to Women

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“How are we going to make the women happy in this club?” That’s the question health clubs and similar facilities should be asking themselves says Bridget Brennan, author of the book Why She Buys; founder and CEO of Female Factor, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in marketing to women; and keynote speaker at the 2013 Club Industry Conference and Exposition later this week. According to Brennan, women drive 70 to 80 percent of consumer spending worldwide. If they’re not spending the money themselves, she says, then they’re influencing or vetoing someone else’s decision to spend it. Either way, women tend to spread the word: “[They] are the drivers of word-of-mouth publicity,” Brennan explained to Club Industry.

If it’s true that women are the decision-makers when it comes to spending money, then might your club benefit from ad campaigns better geared toward them? On a more pragmatic note, how do you gear your marketing to women?
As Brennan puts it, “The message is not to paint your facility pink.” Nor do you have to buy lacy towels or fill the cardio court with flower arrangements. But you do want to let women know that you’re thinking about how to serve their needs. First of all, how many of your posters and brochures include pictures of women — women looking serious about their workouts and happy to be in your facility? If the answer is not many, then consider a redesign that highlights their presence.

Second, do you have programs geared toward women, and do you promote them? Maybe you offer women-only high-intensity interval training classes, extra women-only swim times, or self-defense classes for women. Or maybe you have co-ed programs eager for more female participants, like basketball leagues or squash tournaments. Whatever you offer that is specifically geared toward women, make sure people know about it. Talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Send emails. Offer prospective clients chances to take part for free, and invite current members to bring a friend at no charge.

Third, advertise in establishments and publications that cater to women. Is there a cute 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 they want; do your best to provide those services, and let everyone know that you’re doing so. And go to the official experts, too. Marketing consultants like Brennan can point out weaknesses in your existing campaign and show you how to polish it up for women. Her book, Why She Buys, and others like it also can shed valuable light on the subject. Oh, and there’s no need to forget about the men in your world: “If you lead by thinking [about making women happy], then you’re going to make your male customers happy, too,” Brennan says.

A Natural Alliance – Gyms and Schools

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In New York City, it’s common for schools to raise funds by holding yearly auctions. In the months leading up to an auction, parents stump all around town, trying to win donations from local businesses so auction attendees will have a wide variety of items on which to bid. Common donations include free piano lessons, handmade jewelry, restaurant gift certificates — and month-long gym memberships.

Now you see what all that was leading to. Full disclosure: I did not belong to a gym until a couple years ago, when I bid on a month-long membership during an auction for my son’s school. For $35, I had full access to the facility: pool (including family swim times), cardio court, all classes, trainers, massages, steam room, sauna. After a month of indulging in these pleasures, I was hooked: There was no way I could any longer imagine my life without them. I bought an annual membership and I haven’t looked back since.

Schools could represent an untapped source of new business for your facility. Not all schools hold auctions, of course, but there are other ways to give to a school community and grow your business as a result. Many schools sell raffle tickets; could you donate a month’s membership as a raffle prize? As with auctions, raffles can be doubly rewarding because they spread your name not just to the adults in a given school community, but also to friends, relatives, and professional associates of those adults. Could you open your doors for special kid-oriented free activities once a month, or once a quarter, and ask the local school to hand out flyers? Could you offer a discount to all parents, faculty, and other staff members of a certain school, or sponsor the school’s field day, or donate water bottles, your logo prominently displayed, to the football team?

It’s a natural alliance – gyms and schools. Children are the original physical fitness experts, after all. Parents are always looking for ways to run them around, and maybe you have a facility that allows for that. Even if not, the parents themselves need a way to run around — they need to blow off the stress of parenthood, among other stressors, and maybe they also need to lose the ten or fifteen pounds they put on since having kids. If you start trying to reach new members through schools, you will gain a bunch, without a doubt. And if you can attract them first with a clear incentive — that $35 month-long membership I won felt like such a boon — then all the better; you’ll probably hold on to them for a good long time.

Turning Your Racquetball Court Into a Yoga Studio

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I love my gym. I do not, however, love my gym’s yoga offerings. The first time I went to one of its (few) yoga classes, I left with a longing for the studio I used to live near, where I’d gotten into the habit of attending daily classes. It was a struggle to fit the classes in to my busy schedule, but I loved the instructors, who had studied and taught nothing but yoga for years and who could even make me chant without feeling phony or self-conscious. I loved the wide, airy room, with candles and overgrown plants on the windowsills and a giant Buddha statue near the entryway. I loved the long, green, silky curtains that billowed out when a breeze came in through the open windows — it was the perfect space, with the perfect people, for a practice dedicated to awareness of the spirit/body connection.

At my gym, yoga, zumba, and something called Belly Boot Camp are all held in the same small space. There are no windows. There are no decorations. It smells of sweat. The fluorescent lights in the ceiling remind me of my high school homeroom. The instructors, while well-meaning and good class leaders, sound more like drill sergeants than dharma students. So, although I revel in my gym’s cardio court, run around its elevated track whenever I can, and have a great time with my son in the pool on the weekends, I go elsewhere for my yoga fix.

What if I didn’t have to? What if my yoga studio were inside my gym? According to a recent article in Club Industry, some health club facilities are beginning to create spaces solely for the practice of yoga, Pilates, or some other boutique-type exercise. Many clubs are reluctant to do this; the commitment required to create a dedicated space, find high-caliber instructors, and pull together a devoted marketing team seems too daunting. But, the article argues, the clubs that have taken the leap have reaped economic benefits and increased member retention rates.

In general, the article states, yoga and Pilates studios were among the top 10 fastest-growing industries in the United States in 2012 — despite the recession. Health clubs that have opened studios of their own have found members willing to pay extra for workouts that address both their body and spirit. Carol Tricoche, vice president of education sales for Toronto-based Merrithew Health and Fitness, told Club Industry about her experience as director of group exercise for Pilates and yoga programs at the Claremont Club in Claremont, California. While there, Tricoche helped convert existing racquetball courts into a Pilates studio. “[Members] embraced it as a Pilates studio, and they paid for it,” she said. “Pricing was very comparable to the Pilates studios in the area. They still had their showers, the day care, things they could not get at the studio down the street.”

That’s what I want — my studio, where there’s the kind of yoga I want to practice, inside my gym, where there’s a steam room and a sauna and a locker full of my things. Like the clients at the Claremont Club and at other clubs featured in the article, I’d be willing to pay extra to have that. And my gym would benefit — an added revenue stream, plus the ability to hold on to members like me, who sometimes wonder whether the membership fees are worth it when we spend most of our workout time at the yoga studio. Maybe it’s time to look into how your facility and clients might benefit from turning your racquetball court into a yoga studio. If you are thinking about transforming your racquetball court, checkout out our yoga studio software to make class check-in a breeze.


Drink Up

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This summer, I was fortunate to get to spend some time at California’s Joshua Tree National Park. One morning, I got up early to view the sunrise from atop a boulder in the park. At 4:45 a.m., I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt; by 7:30 a.m., my sweatshirt had been abandoned, I’d donned a wide-brimmed hat, and I felt like my jeans were on fire. What’s more, I needed a long swig of water every fifteen minutes or so.

Luckily, every Joshua Tree brochure or website you read — especially during the height of summer — tells you to carry water with you wherever you go, even if it’s just a few steps from your car. I’d followed the guidelines and was glad I did. Keeping well-hydrated, I was able to hike some of the trails in the park and see incredible rock formations, weird vegetation, and an adorable jackrabbit.

This mini adventure got me thinking about hydration in other contexts, especially at the gym. As a gym owner or manager, how do you know your clients are drinking enough water?

As with most things, the best way is to educate. Many exercisers, even veteran ones, do not realize that it’s dangerous to wait until thirst kicks in to take a drink. Studies have shown that most exercisers underestimate their water needs. One researcher found that 98 percent of the members of one college football team started out daily workouts underhydrated. And many have never heard of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s rule of thumb: Drink 7 to 10 ounces — about one cup or a little more — of water or a sports drink every 10 to 20 minutes during a workout. The Association’s guidelines for post-workout imbibing are even more intense: Weigh yourself nude before and after workouts to discover how much weight you lose from sweat, and then drink fluid equal to 150 percent of the weight loss within two hours of exercising.

The trick is to get the message across to club members. Send e-mails, hang up informational posters, offer lectures. Even just a chalkboard in the cardio room with the word “water” written across it in big letters could make a difference — a friendly reminder about what our bodies need. Or you might want to try hanging up a photo of the desert: Trust me, it will make everyone want to drink up.

What Does Being Sensitive Have to do With Running a Gym?

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In a recent post on the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) blog, fitness consultant Michael R. Mantell discussed “the 4 S’s” of membership retention. To keep members — and keep them happy — you have to pay attention to four things that begin with the letter S: Social, Success, Sensitive, and Science. Three of these are pretty intuitive: For the “Social” element, you have to have a friendly, well-trained staff; for “Success,” you have to find ways to motivate your members toward meeting their own goals; for “Science,” you have to pay attention to new advances in technology and how the rest of the fitness world is putting them to use. But what’s this about “Sensitive”? What does being sensitive have to do with running a gym and keeping membership retention high?

Here’s what Mantell writes: “Today’s thriving clubs are busy cultivating relationships with medical and other health professionals, creating critical services to help people live healthier and otherwise better lives—fit, happy, and exceptional. Does your club make it easy for the overweight and obese individual to feel comfortable?”
It’s that question that made me realize that it’s true: As a service provider in the business of helping people find their fittest selves, a gym, health club, or fitness center does have to be sensitive. You can replace the “overweight and obese” part of the question with any descriptor, really: Does your club make it easy for the elderly individual to feel comfortable? Does your club make it easy for the disabled individual to feel comfortable? Does your club make it easy for the foreign individual to feel comfortable? Whatever the particular condition of the individuals in question, it’s worth considering what your club is doing to make everyone who walks through the door feel welcome. Do you offer services that meet your members’ needs? Does your staff speak the languages they speak? Are you cultivating relationships with medical professionals and others who might enhance your offerings? What can do you do to ensure that you’re being sensitive to their needs?

Retention is, of course, a tricky business. But at the same time it’s straightforward. Would you want to stick around in a place where no one is sensitive to your individual needs and issues? Probably not. Your members don’t want to, either. It’s a good piece of advice: Think about who your members are; ask them what they need; try to provide it. If you do, you’ll find they stay members for a long, long time.

Too Much of a Good Thing

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Having dedicated members is every fitness facility’s dream — the ones who come in regularly, several times a week, pushing themselves through a routine that leaves them feeling good about themselves and good about the place where they choose to work out. But what if members become not so much dedicated as compulsive? Is that good for them? And is it good for your facility?

Psychologists call people who can’t stop working out “obligatory exercisers.” Pushing themselves and their bodies through physical routines that carry them beyond the requirements for good health, such exercisers forget that physical activity can be fun. They sneak time from work, school, and relationships in order to work out. They exercise to get rid of feelings, and if they miss exercising they feel anxious, guilty, or empty. They also risk working out when injured or sick, and they tend to be fanatical about weight and diet.

What’s the problem with exercising too much? Is there really too much of a good thing when it comes to working out?  Some researchers point out that obligatory exercisers often come to resemble drug addicts. Like addicts, these exercisers find no pleasure in their primary activity. They report that working out has taken over their lives, and that it no longer feels like a free choice. Doing it provides temporary relief and feelings of euphoria, but not doing it leads to overwhelming anxiety that mirrors the experience of withdrawal. And the potential for physical pain is huge.

If you have obligatory exercisers at your facility, you probably know it. You see them everyday, maybe multiple times a day. They speak of nothing but their workouts, their training schedules, and their injuries. When injured, they take no time off; you might even see them exercising in casts. They’re clearly not having a good time doing what they’re doing, and they’re never satisfied with their achievements, even if those achievements seem significant or outstanding.

How do they affect your facility? First and foremost, there are safety issues: You want all your members working out in the safest way possible. If someone with an injury is pushing him or herself beyond where he or she should, then safety is being compromised. Also, you want happy members. You want to see them looking happy, and you want other clients to see them looking happy. Most of all, you want them to feel good about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it — and to feel good about where they’re doing it. If you’ve got compulsive exercisers who are in your facility because they feel like they must be, because exercising has taken over their lives and they have no choice, then you have people with a lot of negative emotions associated with your space.

You can help them. The most effective step might be to pair them with a personal trainer. Trainers can help obligatory exercisers set limits and stick to them. Just knowing that someone is paying attention, that someone cares about whether they push themselves too hard, could be enough to start turning an obligatory exerciser around. Also, make your members aware of the danger. Some might not realize that it’s a disease; they might feel alone in their subjection to exercising, not knowing that there are others like them — and that help is available.

Finally, train your employees. Help them understand the warning signs, and teach them how to reach out to sufferers. Your interventions could benefit your facility as much as it does your members.

The Fittest Cities-They Are Worth Paying Attention To

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In June, American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) awarded their number-one ranking for fittest metropolitan area to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, for the third year in a row. Last week, Virginia Beach, Virginia, won Facebook’s number-one ranking for the same title.  But were these rankings based on the same factors and set to be used for the same purposes?  Club Industry took a good look at both claims and explained the differences. The ACSM based its list on factors like the level of chronic disease conditions, access to health care and community resources that support physical activity, number of pedestrians and bikers, and park-land as a percentage of city land area in the nation’s 50 biggest metro areas. Facebook based its list on number of fitness-related mentions, check-ins, and fitness apps used on the social networking site over three months for cities with at least 200,000 Facebook users.  ACSM’s list aims to help cities become healthier; Facebook’s aims to show how people use the site to track their fitness goals and progress.

So which is correct? And, more importantly, why should it matter to you?

Because the lists differ so vastly in their intents and criteria, it’s impossible to say one is right and the other is wrong.  Either way, they are both worth paying attention to, because they can help you make decisions about how to improve your gym or health center.

The main thing is to consider your own reasons for being interested. Do you want to know which cities have the most health clubs, so that you can better gauge where to open a new branch?  Take a look at Facebook’s list — it’ll give you a sense of where people in a given city are working out, what they like to do at the gyms they visit, and how close those gyms bring them to reaching their fitness goals.  Then, figure out how your facility might differentiate itself in a given market.

Or are you more interested in understanding what exercisers in your city are doing instead of checking in at the gym? Are there many public resources for fitness activities offered by the city? Perhaps they’re enrolling in free community yoga classes, or in group runs in the park. The ACSM list will help you there, and knowing which activities the general population is choosing can help you pinpoint areas you need to improve in your own business or offerings you might add.

What about cities that don’t make it on to either list? After Minneapolis-St. Paul, ACSM includes in its top ten, in order: Washington D.C., Boston, San Francisco, Hartford (Connecticut), Sacramento,  Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Denver, and Austin (Texas).

After Virginia Beach, Facebook includes, in order: Colorado Springs, Austin (Texas), San Antonio, Livingston (New Jersey), Portland (Oregon), El Paso, Oklahoma City, Tacoma, Washington, and Albuquerque. Pasadena, California, and Portland, Maine made it on to both lists.  Does that mean those might be cities worth venturing into, if you’re looking to expand your business? Are there markets in those cities and in others that don’t make the cut just waiting for a gym like yours to move in?

The Fittest Cities-They Are Worth Paying Attention To.  There’s rich information to be mined from each list, and your facility can only benefit from rich information.

Gadgets in the Gym

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Wristbands that count your steps, clothing that monitors your heartbeat, watches that know when you’re asleep — in a market continually and increasingly flooded with fitness gadgets, it’s useful to keep track of the latest ones and to consider what, if anything, is the role of gyms and fitness centers in relation to them. When your clients have them, how can — and should — you make use of them?

In a recent post on the American Council on Exercise’s website, Ted Vickey, the former executive director of the White House Athletic Center, reviews three such products, each of which has recently launched:

  • The Basis Watch
  • UnderArmour’s Armour39
  • The FitBit Flex

What these devices have in common is their on-body sensors which make them more accurate than mobile fitness apps.  Theses gadgets can track heart rate, number of steps, time, and even blood pressure.
All well and good, but again, as a gym or fitness center, or as a personal trainer or instructor, how can you help clients use such devices to get the most out of their workouts?

As with the data that basic exercise machines give about a workout, clients should be reminded to see their numbers in two ways: first, as monitors that tell them when they need to push harder and when they need to pull back; and second, as motivators. The best thing about workout-related numbers — whether they’re from an on-body sensor, a machine, a mobile app, or good, old-fashioned counting — is the encouragement they give individuals to compete with themselves. As a service provider in the fitness industry, you can help clients get the most from their gadgets by paying attention to the data their gadgets are tracking. Point out when a client has surpassed a personal best and provide tips for success to clients who are trying to reach a specific number.  You might even consider installing an on-the-wall chart that highlights the previous day’s highest numbers in various categories.

Moreover, know how to use the devices clients are using. Vickey has pursued a PhD in technology and fitness; that’s not an option for everyone, but you can still keep yourself up to date on what products are out there, how to use them, what the pros and cons of each one is, and which work best for which purposes (The American Council on Exercise’s website is a good place to start). Your clients come to your facility in part because they need the expertise of you and your staff; provide that expertise partly in the form of knowledge in not only fitness, but the gadgets in the gym.

The Power of a Friendly Greeting

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Recently, IHRSA put forth an interesting argument in a blog post on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines website. It called, simply, for individuals to exercise in a way that makes them happy — as opposed to forcing themselves into one workout routine or another just because that routine is convenient or much talked about.

The suggestions for finding happy exercise are basic and sound: Work out with another person or other people, work out in an aesthetically pleasing environment. Because social engagement and beautiful spaces tend to increase happiness, IHRSA argues, designing an exercise routine that incorporates these elements might make people happier exercising, which in turn will keep them exercising.

But what really caught my attention was IHRSA’s third suggestion: As the blog post puts it, “Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.” Besides cleverly working in a reference to the old T.V. show Cheers, this statement contains great truth. “The secret weapon of many successful health clubs is the friendly front-desk person who seems genuinely pleased to see you and greets you by name,” the post states. “It’s nice to feel welcomed and valued. That quick interaction makes us feel happy and more likely to seek out a similar interaction in the future.”

We’ve said similar things in this space before, but it really cannot be overstated: If you have a friendly staff, especially a friendly front desk staff, your members are going to walk away with positive impressions — even if it’s been a bad workout day, or if other elements of your facility do not meet their standards. And positive impressions become referrals. They become renewals. They become word-of-mouth praise. Their value is immense.

At my gym, unfortunately, the front desk staff is not overly friendly. They’re not mean, but they don’t smile automatically when they see a client walk in, they certainly don’t greet anyone by name, and they don’t thank anyone just for checking in. Forget any efforts to make small talk, or to get you to smile, or laugh, or generally just to relax and enjoy yourself. The towel attendants in the locker room are a different story. There’s one woman in particular, Asha, who smiles broadly each time someone walks in. “Welcome!” she says (and often that’s “Welcome, Marjorie!” or “Welcome, Maria!” or welcome any of the other seemingly hundreds of clients whose name she knows). She’ll ask how you’re doing; she’ll make a joke about the sweat-quotient in the gym that day; she’ll tell you you’re looking good and you better keep it up. I swear, some of my fellow gym-goers find the motivation to go only because Asha makes it seem like she’s waiting for them.

At any rate, IHRSA is right: It’s important for people to exercise in ways that make them happy. Your task is to find out those ways and incorporate them. Start with your front desk staff by teaching them how the power of a friendly greeting can make a difference; you’ll be happy you did.

An Innovative Idea — and the Benefits of Sharing It

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Recently, Colleen Kennedy, the director of membership at The Houstonian Club, wrote a blog about an innovative sales program at her Houston-based fitness facility. They call it The Houstonian Lotto, and Kennedy says that it has been instrumental in increasing both sales and referrals. She also says that it’s a program any club can duplicate — and that it costs little.

It works like an actual lotto. For a specific period of time — one month, say — members receive a sealed envelope when they provide a referral, and new members receive the same when they sign up. The envelope contains a certificate for a prize. One lucky member will receive the top prize, and the rest second and third prizes. The prizes offered will depend on the club’s business model and member demographics, Kennedy says. As she puts it, “For clubs with moderate initiation fees and dues…, the top prize could be one year’s free dues, with second and third prizes of, respectively, a free fitness evaluation or a smoothie at the health bar. For clubs with higher initiation fees and dues, the top prize could be 30 percent off the initiation fee, with second and third prizes, respectively, of two months’ free dues or a free personal training session.”

For the program to work, Kennedy says, the enrollment period to participate must be short; the number of envelopes available must be limited (for example, she says, 25 if your marketing plan stipulates acquiring 30 new members that month); and the program must be marketed to your membership, prospects, the community, and your sales force with great enthusiasm.

Great idea, right? But what I like most about Kennedy’s blog post is the fact that she wrote it. All fitness facilities and health clubs can benefit from fresh ideas for inventive, inexpensive programs that boost sales and referrals (not to mention retention). The best way to gain new ideas is to talk openly with others who are in the same boat.

Kennedy’s post is detailed and generous, and it even includes her email address for anyone who has questions. When this kind of sharing happens in the industry, everyone wins (or, to continue with the nautical metaphor, a rising tide lifts all boats). Feel free to share your own ideas — whether about programs that have proven successful or about ones you have yet to test — in the comments section here. We all want to know about them.