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  • Chasing the Latest Craze Can Hurt a Health Club's Long-Term Profits

    by John Agoglia November 2013

    Anyone who has coached youth hockey is probably far too aware of the phenomena of "chasing the puck." If you're not, think of a swarm of ants all heading to one piece of bread dropped by a picnicker, often as other delicious morsels are ignored. Chasing the puck is a lot like that. The entire team swarms the puck leaving the rest of the ice and the opposing players uncovered. Too often this undisciplined play results in the team's goalie facing three or four opposing players who now control that very puck that seemed so appealing just seconds earlier.

    Is your club "chasing the puck?" Or are you remaining disciplined to your business plan?Unfortunately, too many independent club owners suffer from the same syndrome as those kids all bunched up along the boards in youth hockey. The only difference is that instead of giving up an easy goal, these club owners are losing members as they chase the next big thing.

    While nobody is saying owners shouldn't stay on top of the biggest crazes and the latest profit centers, it's crucial not to lose track of what the club was originally created to do best. Too many clubs lose sight of their target audience and their areas of strength while chasing a trend that might lead to a quick dollar.

    For instance, as the CrossFit craze continues to grow, some clubs are adding whole boxes -- often under different brands -- to their offerings. While in and of itself it is not bad to try to bring in new blood to the membership and programming mix; this will only work if there is space, separation and staffing to pay attention to the new center. This is especially true if the current membership base and club itself is geared toward a different crowd than the traditional CrossFit box.

    RELATED: As Fitness Studios Emerge, Health Clubs Must Adapt

    If the club's membership is made up of suburban housewives and business leaders in their 50s who come to the exclusive club to play tennis, socialize in the lounge and enjoy the high-end amenities their hefty dues provide, throwing in 20 and 30-somethings who are looking to be fitness athletes may make both groups uncomfortable.

    That is why, in the face of ever-stiffening competition, it is more important than ever for independent health club owners to understand their businesses and what they want to be to their members. Then they must ensure that they are not only differentiating themselves from other clubs in the market, but are also presenting that image in everything they do from marketing to programming to amenities. This will attract an audience that will fulfill the goals of the company, rather than chasing every new trend.

    RELATED: Attracting New Members is Great, But Don't Forget Your Current Ones

    It is very rare that a club will attract only one type of person as its members. There will always be those who don't fit the profile of the "perfect" member. But it is important that the health club's image attracts the consumer that best fits the company's business plans to ensure long-term success. With that goal in mind, clubs can avoid losing money as they "chase the puck." Or in this case, the latest fitness trend.

    John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications in and out of the fitness industry.

  • As Fitness Studios Emerge, Health Clubs Must Adapt

    by John Agoglia October 2013

    It seems as if training studios have become as common as the ubiquitous Starbucks. With thousands of studios ranging from CrossFit boxes to independent training studios to franchises, they really are on almost every corner.

    It seems there is a CrossFit box or fitness studio on every corner these days."The industry is changing," says Michael Scott Scudder, founder of the Fitness Business Council. "We've seen a shift to specialized studios and it is going to keep growing. It's only a matter of time before someone — maybe a former group exercise coordinator or even one of the big guys — decides to launch studios that offer all the traditional group exercise classes and takes that segment of the population from the traditional clubs."

    The evolution of the industry and traditional health clubs' approach of being everything to everyone, has opened the door for smaller players to nibble away at the market share.

    "The industry is continually evolving from a more simplistic and universal approach to one that is more specific and specialized," says Bill McBride, president and CEO of fitness consulting company BMC3, and a member of IHRSA's board of directors. "This is being driven by an increased sophistication of providers and an appetite for entrepreneurship. This is also being driven by the industry’s lack of ability to penetrate deeper into the population."

    RELATED: Is it Time for Independent Health Clubs to Ditch Membership Sales?

    As competition continues to come from these niche players, some industry experts have likened it to the aerobics boom of the 1980's. Fast-forward 30 years and traditional health club owners are once again wondering what they can do to stay a step ahead of the studios.

    "I’ve seen research that states 25 percent of club members have gone to classes outside of their club and it has been reported that as many as 45 percent of studio members maintain a traditional club membership," says McBride. "Traditional clubs need to reevaluate their programming — design each program as a business unit, implement a business plan, a marketing plan, hire for that business unit and execute as if their business depended on each offering."

    Whether it is because the small studios are doing the fitness end of the equation better, or the fact that people are just looking for something different than running on a treadmill, it seems that the draw of these studios is something people are willing to pay for, and studio owners are capitalizing.

    RELATED: Have Machines In Health Clubs Lost Their Luster?

    William Rundle, one of the owners of Boston-based Mission Fitness is in the middle of revamping the direction of his recently purchased club. The new owners want to ensure they are delivering what the public is looking for.

    "As a small club of about 2,000 square feet that has had various incarnations as a personal training studio and a 24-hour fitness club, we can draw on those aspects and try to provide an experience that bigger clubs can't," he says. "We are taking out some of the traditional club feel of the last several years and concentrating on functional fitness, great classes and great personal training. We can't be everything to everyone, but we can be great at what we do."

    McBride says that if done correctly, traditional independent health club models can take some of that advice and succeed by incorporating aspects of studios to which people are flocking.

    "As a rule, it is never a good idea to simply add more mediocrity to anything," says McBride. "There is a big opportunity to redefine offerings and make each one stand alone in excellence. I’ve seen several clubs add hot yoga, specialized aquatics, CrossFit and Les Mills. Having separate spaces with differentiated brands can be a great approach, along the lines of 'medical arts' buildings with several different medical specialties under one roof, but all independent, creating a medical destination sometimes with shared central services. They can do this in separate buildings or by incorporating the club-within-a-club concept that has been talked about for years."

    While studios are providing a challenge to traditional fitness and multipurpose gyms, owners who can create a distinct user experience inside their walls may be able to weather the storm and define themselves as the best of both worlds.

    RELATED: Three Ways to Learn What Your Members Really Think About Your Club

    RELATED: Join other independent club owners for the iClubs Conference in San Diego

    John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications in and out of the fitness industry.

  • Attracting New Members is Great, But Don't Forget Your Current Ones

    by AB Staff October 2013

    In your push to land new members this season, don't forget about the members you already have. Keeping them happy should always be a priority.

    As fall is quickly turning to winter, most independent health club owners are concentrating on acquiring new members. With September just passed (the second busiest month of the year for most clubs) and New Year's resolutions just around the corner, many owners' attention turns to marketing and bringing in new blood to the gym.

    But, one thing that often slips through the doors as the attention turns outward are those current-turned-former members.

    Winter is a great time to lure people off the streets and into your club. But, in your effort to land new members, don't forget about your current ones.While IHRSA statistics show that the number one barrier to joining a club is cost, it is also the number one reason that members leave. While you can't always compete on price and turn your health club into a commodity, it will take more than just a sale to keep them coming in. It will take more cleanliness, more customer service and more results for current members.

    The cost of acquiring a new member can cost a health club as much as $250, emphasizing the importance of reducing attrition. And, since your staff has already overcome the objections of your current members — particularly price — keeping them is even more important. And, if you are delivering on your promises there is no reason for members to leave, even for a more wallet-friendly price.

    While planning for the new rush and bringing in new members is vital to the success of any fitness club during the fall and winter, if current members are “forgotten” they will become the competition’s new members — considering only about 15 percent of Americans are gym members, a number that has remained consistent for years — chances are almost all of a club’s new members are, or were, another club's former members.

    At one time, members were willing to get locked into a long-term contract for a better price, but as we've seen with cell phones, cable companies, and health clubs, the fear of commitment has changed the way people do business. This makes it even easier for members to decide to try another club for just about any reason.

    So the question remains, how do you keep your members from leaving you for the club down the street when they do their marketing push for the New Year? The answer comes down to a few main things that health clubs can do — and should be doing anyway — that will keep your customers happy and members of your club.

    Keep it Clean: Sure, prospects always check to see if a gym looks clean but members know if it is actually clean. Ensure that your staff is keeping up with cleaning, including vents, ledges, tops and inside of lockers and other “hidden” dirty spots.

    Keep it Working: Nothing will lose members faster than waiting around for a treadmill, elliptical machine or bike during busy hours — except when they are waiting for one of the working ones, while two or three pieces of equipment are broken. This also goes for lights, showers, and lockers. Anything that can be broken, will. It is vital to keep up with preventative maintenance and get things fixed as quickly as possible when they do go down.

    Keep it Fun: This goes beyond running an occasional contest or member appreciation day to keep members coming during the slow times. It means hiring people who are fun, love fitness and will help turn the members' trips to the gym from a “have to” into a “want to.”

    Keep it Effective: The number one reason people join a health club is to lose weight. It is vital that independent health club owners keep their promise to members to help them reach their goals. Help your fitness staff stay on top of current trends, invest in their education, bring in cutting-edge classes and small group training programs. Offer a regular workshop series to educate members and help brand the fitness staff as experts.

    Keep it Consistent: Your club – and all your clubs - need to be consistent to keep members happy. Most people like things to be the same and are averse to change. So, if the gym opens at 5 am, make sure it is open at 5 am, not 4:57 am or 5:02 am. If you have TVs, have a set lineup for them throughout the day. These kinds of things have to happen everyday to keep members from moving on.

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  • Blog: When it Comes to Exercise, Effort Counts

    by Mary Helen Sprecher October 2013

    I don't know what it's like in your town, but where I live, a marathon is an epic event. For us, it's the Baltimore Running Festival which includes not just the marathon but the half marathon, relay, 5K and kids' run. (And if I'm forgetting anything else that was held along with it, I'm really sorry). It's a fantastically well-organized event and a great day.

  • Selectorized Equipment Still Popular in Era of CrossFit

    by Paul Steinbach October 2013

    CrossFit seems to be everywhere. It's all over the fitness headlines, at least.

  • Stretching to Improve Fitness and Performance

    by John Agoglia October 2013

    Many military members don't realize that a few minutes of stretching could be the missing ingredient to reaching their goals.

  • CrossFit Stirs Passions, But Both Sides Need to Relax

    by Rob Bishop August 2013

    We want to get this straight. If you do CrossFit, you are physically, morally, ethically and socially superior to everyone, and anyone who refuses to agree that CrossFit is the best and only form of physical conditioning is a loser who doesn't "get it."

  • Judge: Yoga in Public Schools Doesn't Teach Religion

    by Michael Gaio July 2013

    On the surface, teaching kids yoga in a public school sounds like a reasonable idea. It's a popular exercise activity and helps kids stay in shape. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

  • Blog: Why Calling 'Obesity' a 'Disease' Is So Troubling

    by Rob Bishop June 2013

    Jerry Seinfeld does a bit during which he discusses topics that make people whisper. Cancer is one of them. "Did you hear about Bill? He has (whispering) cancer."

  • When Muscle Soreness May Be More Serious Than "No Pain, No Gain"

    by John Agoglia June 2013