THE CURRENT STATE of health among preschool children is no secret to fitness professionals. We've all heard the statistics, seen the pictures of overweight kids and smelled the greasy burgers as we walk down crowded streets. It's bleak. Children are fat — fatter than ever. And, projected obesity rates are going up each year. Even the projected numbers are continually being surpassed.
However, instead of viewing the youth fitness crisis solely as a tragic event, look for the opportunity it provides you. As a fitness professional, you have never been more needed. Not only are you just what the doctor ordered, but this is exactly what you are in business to do! And, there's a tremendous opportunity to turn a profit, not just from helping children today, but in the years to come when they become regular exercisers.
Six ways to increase revenueIf you want to help children get fit, and make some money doing it, the first thing you need to do is think outside the box — outside the box of your facility, that is. The reason most children's programs fail in fitness centers is because management and staff look only at offering the program in-house. In-house programs are a convenience to members, but should be looked at only as a beginning.
The preschool market is different from other club markets. To penetrate it, your thinking must be "mobile." Once you begin thinking of the possibilities of taking your preschool fitness program on the road, you'll see the many ways it will increase your bottom line. Here are just six.
1. Member retention. Consider how many of your current members have a small child in their lives. Whether they're parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers, these people are in constant contact with this new market you're going after.
In addition, look at your current dropout rate. Somewhere around 37 percent of members will drop out within the next year. If you have a program that young children love, parents who are on the fence about leaving will hang on. Current research has shown that when you market to and get the young child, you get the entire family, as well. That's powerful. Use it to your advantage.
2. Mobile opportunities. Once you have a program and hire an instructor, your fitness center's brand will travel through the community. "Club XYZ" will be seen at Dorothy's Daycare, the local park and recreation facilities, a school, etc. Each account you serve brings your business more revenue. And, it doesn't add more to your overhead.
3. Cross-advertising. Each place your instructor steps into provides you with a whole new set of adults to whom you can market, as well. Daycare staff, hospital employees, parents, teachers and others are there to hear your message. Cross-advertise with your new accounts using flyers, brochures and conversation. You're developing a relationship with these adults through a positive interaction with the children. This is more powerful than your best salesperson in action, because the relationship is built slowly and based on trust and respect. This is an effective soft sell and, over time, you will see adults come to your fitness center as a result — with little effort and advertising dollars invested.
4. Free publicity. Think about the news stories that could come out of sending an instructor to a disadvantaged neighborhood once a week. For example, host a contest in which local preschool directors write in to explain why their school is deserving of a preschool fitness program. Let the media follow you with the results. Teach at the winning school as a community service, and tell all of your media contacts. You come out looking like the good guy, and help some children along the way. These aren't just clients; they're children whose lives you will change for a lifetime.
The cost of an instructor once a week is nothing compared to free media coverage and what this can do for your reputation in the community. The media loves kids, and will jump on how cute they look exercising.
5. Back door approach. Parents of preschool children can be a whole other untapped market. Once mom and dad hear the praises of their child's fitness instructor and what their child is learning about, you'll slowly break down their defenses against exercise, and be able to coax them into working out. Parents admire others who make a favorable impression on their child. Be that force and you'll slowly see the parents wandering in through your doors. It's as simple as adding a subtle offer to the back of every coloring sheet or handout you send home with the kids.
More than just fun and gamesYou can make money on a preschool fitness program, but don't settle for a mediocre program just to say you have one. Strive to provide the best preschool program out there. All the other rewards will flow from that. Follow these tips on how to get started:
Hit the road. Don't start a preschool fitness program without first figuring out how to take it into your community. If you want to get from point A to point B in a car, you need gasoline. You will also need contacts in the community, and a marketing program to get the word out.
Make it educational. If the program consists of just wiggling around and playing, it's not educational. If it's not educational, it won't have the strength to pull parents in and keep them involved.
Make it effective. Offer a program that improves health knowledge and fitness. You must strive for the same standards in a preschool program that you do for adult programming — safety, effectiveness and motivation. Remember, "motivation" for children means "fun!"
Start with kids as young as two. Get started as soon as you can get their attention. Two-year-olds can do a mini-class and get introduced to stretching, sports skills and other gross motor skills.
Do it regularly. Your program needs to be part of the curriculum or schedule wherever you take it. It needs to be offered at least once a week to be effective.
The bottom lineEach day you go without a mobile fitness program for preschool children is another day you lose out. You lose profits, free publicity, giving back to the community and the chance to help children who need you. If enough fitness professionals were determined to make fitness "cool" for children, we could change the health of our country. That's powerful. And, there's money in it. Think about that every time you see a child eating a Happy Meal or watching cartoons. It's money waiting for you, and money that will make you feel good earning. You're giving children a healthy start. That's priceless.
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Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center