Premium Partners

Profiting with Amenities

Offering free amenities to members can help keep them coming back. However, to keep revenue in check, there are some do's and don'ts for facility owners.

Let's face it: Members love freebies - logo-ed water bottles and T-shirts, towel usage, shampoo, soap, razors. All of those items that you supply free of charge may shave a few dollars off of your revenue spreadsheet, but they can actually save you money in the long run by enticing new members, and keeping existing members happy.

The trick is to find the right balance; that is, to offer free amenities that members want without shriveling your profit margins in the process. Following are some do's and don'ts to help you determine the right amenities to offer in your facility.

Do know your primary business goal

Before handing out free T-shirts on a whim, determine your primary business goal and how your amenities program can help you achieve it. By knowing your goal, you can better determine the best way to allocate your amenities budget.

For example, is your main concern member retention or promoting new member sales? For Doug Steinly, general manager of HealthQuest of Hunterdon, Flemington, N.J., offering amenities helps solidify the facility's relationship with current members. "We want to make it easy for members to use our facility. They shouldn't have to pack and lug around a suitcase just to come here to work out," he says. "Membership becomes more valuable when you can offer nice, free amenities to your clients."

If, on the other hand, your primary goal is to attract more membership sales, logo-ed items given to new members or for member referrals can help promote your facility in your community. Each month, Mark Callingham, general manager of LA Fitness in Brampton, Ont., Canada, offers a different promotional item to members who refer new clients. Items include logo-ed T-shirts, gym bags and water bottles. "People wear and use the items out and about, and that promotes the club," he says. "Plus, the members really enjoy getting them, so that makes clients willing to help us grow the business and refer new members." The items change monthly to help entice members to keep referring, so they can get additional types of merchandise.

Do decide if you want to offer basic or signature amenities

Bath towels and soap bought in bulk from a discount retailer may be fine for facilities whose competitive advantage is low-cost memberships. Members of such facilities don't generally expect plush towels and brand-name toiletries in the locker room.

However, if your fitness center attracts individuals with higher-than-average incomes for your region, consider offering amenities that will further endear members to your facility. For example, at Oakwood Athletic Club in Lafayette, Calif., the executive member locker room features large, high-quality bath towels, full-length lockers, TVs, shoe shine service and brand-name toiletries such as Q-tips and Old Spice aftershave. "Many of our executive members are entrepreneurs and professionals," says Stacy Spell, general manager. "They like brand-name merchandise, so that's what we give them."

Four Shopping Tips

Searching for new amenities to offer in your facility? Following are some strategies that can help you with the decision-making process.

1. Take a survey. "Ask your members what they really want and will use," suggests Jean Braun, director of marketing at Almaden Valley Athletic Club, San Jose, Calif. "Then, pick what you can afford, and go to trade shows to see what is available."

2. Subscribe to a sample program. Every three months, Almaden Valley Athletic Club gets a shipment of free samples from a promotional company that it has a subscription with. Items include razors, aftershave and other toiletries. The facility gives these away to members.

3. Shop around. HealthQuest of Hunterdon, Flemington, N.J., offers shampoo, soap, mouthwash, hand lotion, hair spray, shaving cream and aftershave in its locker rooms. Doug Steinly, general manager, says that he and his staff shopped around extensively for these items, taking a hard look at both price and quality.

4. Check out what other facilities offer. Steinly also pays attention to the amenities he sees offered in other facilities. "Whenever I visit other clubs, I always stop to look at what brands they offer and how they present them to members," he says. In this way, he can discern if his fitness center's amenities program is helping him stay competitive.

Do get creative with your amenities program

At Island Athletic Club, a full-service facility in Freeland, Wash., members who refer new clients get $100 in "club cash," which they can use to buy personal training sessions, apparel, massages or items in the pro shop. Periodically, General Manager Jay Bryan extends the club cash program to new members who go through three fitness orientations and who try a set number of group fitness classes within the first 30 days of membership. "We're trying to improve member retention in that crucial first month of membership," Bryan says. "New members tend to react very positively to this program when we run it."

Almaden Valley Athletic Club, San Jose, Calif., also has a club cash program. Members who refer new clients get either a credit of $50 toward their dues, or they can select $75 in services. The latter can include childcare services, a Pilates class, a massage or a personal training session. "Every two months, we put into a drawing the names of members who have referred new [members], and the winner gets a very nice gift, such as a $100 bottle of wine," says Jean Braun, director of marketing at the facility.

Members of The Gym Downtown, Norfolk, Va., get free protein bars or energy drinks on their birthdays. Says Kevin O'Dea, a consultant and former facility manager, "It shows [that the facility] remembered them, and it promotes the supplement line, as well."

Don't discontinue amenities once they're offered

Once members get used to something, they can get upset if you take that away. This is especially true if you start charging for something that was once free. "Make sure that if you offer an amenity, you can afford to continue offering it," says Spell of Oakwood Athletic Club. "You don't want to take it away, so do your budget planning very carefully."

Do listen to what members say they want

Comment cards at the front desk of the Oakwood Athletic Club allow members to tell management what services and amenities they want. Says Spell, "Sometimes members will tell us, 'I visited so-and-so club while I was traveling, and they have xyz amenity. Can we get that?' If there are enough requests, we'll definitely look into it. The idea is to get the best for the greatest number of people."

Don't forget to partner with your business neighbors

The Gym Downtown offers discounts to neighboring restaurants. This is a win-win for both businesses Also, if you don't have a pro shop, partner with a local sporting goods retailer to offer discounts on athletic apparel and shoes exclusively for your members. Promote it as added value of membership. You can also partner with health food stores, sandwich shops, local attractions, movie theaters and more.

Members will love it

In short, free amenities can help to differentiate your facility from its competitors, and ensure a unique member experience. If it fits into your budget, start with something small, and see the great results!
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