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How four fitness centers are using computer software to turn their businesses around.

Fitness centers are always looking for ways to save money. Whether it be for salaries, marketing, facility growth or daily expenses, most facilities are looking to cut costs and make a profit. One way to cut costs that may be overlooked is by using software -- often, the software you already have for member check-in and billing. The following four fitness centers are using software to help with staffing, marketing, expansion and more. Find out if you can implement some of these ideas, or if they will spark new ideas of your own for saving money.

New Lady Fitness, Indianapolis, Ind.

It may be hard to believe, but New Lady Fitness, Indianapolis, Ind., didn't have a single computer until 2002. That was the year Kevin Calvert, CEO of United Sports Fitness Corp., Indianapolis, Ind., acquired four New Lady Fitness facilities in the Indianapolis area. Though they had about 10,000 members, everything was recorded on an index card. "Someone would call [and want] to know if they've made a payment, and they'd be put on hold forever as they'd sort through all these index cards," remembers Calvert. "When I bought the clubs, we immediately changed that."

Calvert hired ASF International, Highlands Ranch, Colo., to bring New Lady Fitness into the 21st century, and then steeled himself to meet any challenges posed by the transition. Surprisingly, though New Lady Fitness wasn't hip to new technology, its employees were -- and success was just around the corner. "Our customer service improved a hundred-fold," Calvert states. "But, more importantly, it allowed us to refocus back on the member." That attention to customer service helped New Lady Fitness grow from four to 16 clubs in five states from 2002 to 2003. "Without computer software, there's no way you can do that," Calvert says. "The whole billing process, simply issuing cards, without that technology in place, it stifles growth." By simply keeping pace with the rest of the world, New Lady was able to expand its business and improve customer service. It's exciting to imagine what's next.

Socada Health-Fitness Studio, Green Cove Springs, Palatka and Middleburg, Fla.

Tim Hewitt, owner of Socada Health-Fitness Studio, Fla., uses technology to focus less on member issues and more on actually running his fitness centers. Socada Health-Fitness Studios are entirely automated. "The buildings are automated, member check-in is automated, point of sale is automated," says Hewitt. "What I wanted [was a system] to be turnkey, so I could run this thing single-handedly." With the help of Affiliated Acceptance Corp., Sunrise Beach, Mo., all three Socada Health-Fitness Studio locations are successfully running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Two employees work in the back office entering contracts, managing corporate accounts, etc. "We're able to run this show with very little labor because of the technology," says Hewitt.

Members sign up during business hours, but they can also sign up online. Billing is completely automated. Any customer-related issue, except a problem in the actual facility, is handled by Affiliated. "With three clubs and trying to keep staff limited,... we couldn't get anything done because we were too busy dealing with customer issues," Hewitt explains. "Affiliated has a call center, so [members] get a live voice every time. They get their issue dealt with right then and there, instead of us having to research it and call them back."

For the last 12 to 24 months, the fitness centers have averaged 300 new members a month. "The growth is phenomenal, and now that it's automated, it allows me to do what I do best, which is marketing and sales," Hewitt says. "That's what gyms really need to focus on to grow their business and keep making it better. When you have to do it yourself, you have to manage labor, productivity. Through technology, it's an unlimited curve. I can grow as big or as fast as I want."

Millennium Sportsclubs, Vacaville, Calif.

Having a great fitness center is only half the battle; the other half is getting the word out. Clubs can spend thousands of dollarson marketing campaigns to attract new members, but Millennium Sportsclubs, managed by Salutary Sportsclubs Inc., Vacaville, Calif., advertises for next to nothing using the Internet. CheckFree Health & Fitness, Dublin, Ohio, software enables Millennium to send highly specific email blasts to inform members about new services, and also lure prospects into the facility.

Email blasts to members are sent as a marketing campaign once a month, in addition to miscellaneous blasts to advertise new classes. CheckFree software stores detailed information about members of each of Millennium's five facilities, which is sorted to find the perfect demographic for each blast. Blasts are sent on Thursdays, and in the days immediately following,Constance Salisbury, vice president and chief technical officer of Salutary Sportsclubs, counts around 65,000 hits a day on the club's website -- and that's just the membership.

Getting the word out to prospective members is as easy as purchasing marketing lists and clicking "send." The main target market for the email blasts are new homeowners in the area -- and, the earlier Millennium gets to these prospects, the better. "One location has 13 different competitors within a 6-mile radius," says Salisbury. And the success rate is impressive -- out of 500 email blasts sent, 25 percent of recipients will either join or visit the facility.

"We don't regularly do TV ads and do very minimal newspaper ads because we're able to market to clientele via email," says Salisbury. As a result, marketing costs are kept way down. Millennium has committed to using its computer software as completely as possible, and with great success. Money can now be allocated to other areas of the fitness center, helping it to sit head and shoulders above the competition.

Gold's Gym International, Venice, Calif.

The Internet is an amazing resource, but where would your business be without a telephone? And, if your fitness center has multiple locations in different area codes, long distance charges can be crippling. That's true for Gold's Gym International, Venice, Calif., and it's taking steps to reduce those costs byusing new and innovative technology. Right now, all 40 corporate-owned and 610 franchise facility offices have separate phone systems and three separate network connections. However, the corporate-owned facilities will soon move to a private computer network. "Being able to ... transfer phone calls over the private network," is why Kurt Koenig, IT manager for Gold's Gym International, says he's making the move. Using Avaya, Basking Ridge, N.J., technology, Gold's plans to converge network and phones together. This means that, whenever an employee makes a call to another Gold's Gym, long distance calls are ported to another phone system in that area, making them local calls.

Koenig is excited about the new technology, but is testing the waters before plunging in. "We're trying to take it slowly," hesays. "Before I replace a time-tested technology -- the analog and digital phone systems that everybody uses today -- I want to make sure that it's 100 percent." Avaya phone systems allow Gold's Gym to try voiceover IP technologyat the same time that the digital phone system isrunning. "I can run both of them on the same system side by side," explains Koenig. "If there are any problems, I have the tried-and-true digital system as a backup."

New ideas are always risky, but Gold's Gym International has taken every precaution. And the rewards are sweet -- Koenig anticipates a savings of $6,000 to $7,000 a month in long distance charges, which is about 50 to 60 percent. "One day, I want to have all of my gyms up on the phone system ... so that when you are in the corporate office, gyms will have their own extensions," says Koenig. Until then, taking small steps into the future is a smart way to start.

Checkfree, Affiliated, ASF and Avaya are just a few of the companies that offer software solutions for fitness industry businesses. A list of other companies in the industry is listed below.
ABC Financial Services Inc., Sherwood, Ark., 800 622-6290,
Affiliated Acceptance Corporation, Sunrise Beach, Mo., 800 233-8483,
Aphelion, Houston, Texas, 800 324-9800,
ASF International, Highland Ranch, Colo., 800 227-3859,
Aspen Information Systems, Houston, Texas, 800-414-0343,
Avaya Inc., Basking Ridge, N.J., 866 GO-AVAYA,
BSDI, Califon, N.J., 888 273-4348,
CheckFree Health & Fitness, Dublin, Ohio, 800 242-9522,
ClubRunner, Jupiter, Fla., 800 554-2582,
Conexion, Baltimore, Md., 866 955-1234,
Coral Springs Software, Coral Springs, Fl., 800.827.2567,
CSI Software, Houston, Texas, 800 247-3431,
Custom Design Systems, Freehold, N.J., 732 294-0003,
Efit Financial, Denver, Colo., 877-772-3348,
Electronic Billing & Collecting Services, Timonium, Md., 800 766-1917,
Fair Finance Company, Akron, Ohio, 800 735-3247,
IFitness Solutions, New York, N.Y., 800-506-1673,
InnovaTech Software, Dallas, Texas, 800 275-8636,
MicroFit Inc., Mountain View, Calif., 800 822-0405,
Twin Oaks, Berlin, Conn., 860.829.6000,
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