Three fitness facilities, three beverage bars, three perspectives on the ins and outs of running and managing a beverage bar.
Whether your goal is to make use of an unused corner of your lobby, offer one-stop-shopping to busy members or squeeze out some additional revenue, a beverage bar offers lots of options. The focus of a beverage bar can be as diverse as the fitness centers that offer them - coffee and muffins for the urban facility, juice and snacks for the family fitness center, or shakes and bars for the personal training studio. What is best for your fitness facility, and how to implement your ideas, is up to you.
But, no matter how intriguing the idea is, it's best not to start any profit center blindly. These three beverage bar experts offer up their experience to help your fitness center suck up the profits, instead of watching them go down the drain.
Meet the experts
Matt Hussey, Operations Manager
The Works Family Health & Fitness Center Somersworth, N.H.
Food & Beverage Area
Kimberly M. de Socio, Owner
Champion Fitness Club
Dania Beach, Fla.
Health Corner & Breakfast Bar
David Hornberger, Café Manager
American Family Fitness 7
The AFF Energy Zone
Some fitness centers sell more than juice. Do you call it a juice bar, smoothie bar, beverage bar or café? Or, something completely different?
Hussey: "We call it our Food & Beverage Area, located at our service desk. We sell all types of juices, water, soda, and energy and protein drinks."
de Socio: "We refer to our bar as a juice bar, but serve healthy snacks and meals to our members to help them stay on track with their fitness programs."
Hornberger: "At our club, we simply call it the café. Its official name is The AFF Energy Zone."
For this article, we'll call it a beverage bar. How important is the name of a facility's beverage bar, and why?
Hussey: "I don't feel that it is that important. Everyone sees our smoothie area when entering the club. We do sampling around the club, also, to familiarize our members and guests with our smoothies and Food & Beverage Area."
de Socio: "I don't think the name of the beverage bar is that important. It's the friendly faces and nutritious snacks/meals that are available to our members that bring them to our bar."
Hornberger: "Names are big in marketing, but that is geared more toward stand-alone franchises. When the beverage bar is already in the fitness facility, our target market is already there. Line-of-sight and making yourself known by doing announcements and distributing samples is where the focus should be, not so much in a name."
What are the best things about having a beverage bar?
Hussey: "The best thing is that we see all types of people. We have the grandparents, ... we have the serious weight lifter, we have the so-called 'average' member and we have the kids buying [smoothies]. The good thing about these smoothies is that they can be made for people of all different needs and wants."
de Socio: "The best thing about having our beverage bar is having our members take a seat and chill out after a hard workout, and enjoy a freshly made protein shake. The bar is such a welcome area that it is inviting to everyone. It allows people to talk to others and get to know them while they are sitting at the counter enjoying their healthy snack. ... Our bar is just like 'Cheers,' where people sometimes just stop in and hang at the counter - some are real regulars, too! Our bar has brought many people together in friendships, and that's a wonderful thing."
Hornberger: "It is definitely a great amenity. It is a convenient place for the members to get something nutritious before or after their workout. Plus, if it is correctly run and managed, it produces a profit!"
What's in a Name?The experts quoted in this article don't put much stock in names. But before you slap on just any old moniker on your beverage bar, you should know that, in some places, not all "juice bars" are created equal. According to the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com), "juice bar" is "a common name for a club or bar that cannot sell alcohol, due to local law or zoning regulations. Thus, they sell juices, non-alcoholic sodas and various concoctions. [It's] often applied to strip clubs. In many American locations, a strip club can either can sell alcohol and offer dancers covered in bikini-type outfits, or allow more risque attire, even naked, but with no alcohol. California strip clubs are either full nude or full bar. Since the owner makes more money from selling alcohol, the state is filled with juice bars with hot, but clothed, women."
What are the worst?
Hussey: "The only thing that could be considered bad, if selling lots of smoothies is a 'bad' thing, would be that we can get so busy making them that we may have problems keeping up with all the other tasks at the service desk."
de Socio: "I don't know that there is a 'worst' [thing about] having a beverage bar, other than maybe cleaning up after everyone. I wouldn't think of opening a health club without a beverage bar. It's a place to bring people together, keep them in your business longer and create additional revenue. It's a win/win situation!"
Hornberger: "The worst part about having a beverage bar is it can be a gathering place for members and staff, which can cause congestion problems and traffic flow [issues]."
What is the biggest mistake fitness centers make with their beverage bars?
Hussey: "I really can't say what mistakes other clubs may make. Our smoothie bar was retrofitted into an existing facility. If you were to build a new club, I believe that the smoothie or juice bar should be a separate area by itself."
de Socio: "I think the biggest mistake a club makes is not to have a beverage bar. I think the only mistake a club can make with their bar is not having adequate inventory [of] their products. Many times I have been in clubs and the items on their menu are not available because someone didn't order the inventory in time. That's bad business, and lost business. Beverage bars should always be stocked with ample inventory."
Hornberger: "Marketing! When you don't make an impact and you aren't noticed, no one will come. First, the beverage bar staff must up-sell the product; if they do not up-sell, no one will buy. Second, the beverage bar must make an impact with announcements and samples, or the customer does not know what you have to offer. Third, the beverage bar staff must be well educated on the products they offer, so they can better assist the customer."
What did you not anticipate about running a beverage bar? In other words, what surprised you or caught you off guard?
Hussey: "The only thing that I can think of is that is was easier than I thought. The process of making them is easy, and the profits are easy to take."
de Socio: "I did not anticipate the amount of space we would need for our bar. Having enough counter space, sink space, blender space and product display [space]. I guess I was surprised at how much people were going to want to hang out at the bar. Some just want to sit and talk and enjoy just hanging out. ... I didn't think it would be a big social area like it has become. We have a TV over the counter, so sometimes they come and watch TV."
Hornberger: "How fast it took off and how well we have been doing since we started! The demand for our shakes is through the roof. We started off with one blender and one employee per shift. Within days, we had to add a second blender to keep up with the demand, and a second employee during prime times."
How long until your facility started seeing a profit from its beverage bar?
Hussey: "I can only speak for the profit from the actual purchase of the smoothie system until we recouped our investment. It was about three months when we started seeing profit from it."
de Socio: "We started seeing a profit in our bar early on within our first year. We kept our bar and product line on the simple side, so it didn't take us long to see profits from this area of our club."
Hornberger: "I'm not sure exactly when we started seeing a profit, but I would say about three months."
What are your best-selling refreshments?
Hussey: "We sell lots of salads and sandwiches that are made from Sodexo food services, and pastas and salads from Amato's sandwich company. Our best-sellers [are] our protein-based smoothies. We have over 30 varieties to choose from."
de Socio: "Our best-selling item is our Banana Berry Boost shake. It is delicious banana protein powder with frozen blueberries and frozen strawberries. Our second runner-up is our Strawberry Orange Crush, made with orange Gatorade, strawberry cream protein powder and frozen strawberries. Third runner-up is our Chocolate Peanut Butter Club: chocolate protein powder blended with creamy peanut butter."
Hornberger: "The PFC shakes are definitely our No. 1 seller. We have seen such demand that over 1,000 shakes can be sold in a week."
You found the keys to a time machine. What would you go back and do differently with your beverage bar?
Hussey: "I think that would be my thought from earlier: Make the smoothie or juice bar a separate area from the service desk."
de Socio: "If I got to go back to the drawing board for my beverage bar, I would create a larger space to allow small tables [and] multiple TVs, and create an Internet café with access to computers for our members to go online. The more pleasant the atmosphere, the more people will want to stay, spend money and bring their friends!"
Hornberger: "I would have to say size and storage space. ... In a very short amount of time, we outgrew ourselves, and renovation plans are in the works."