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Serve, Don't Sell

Nothing turns off a customer faster than a hard sell. And, while ours is a service industry, many in this profession mistakenly believe that pushing for the sale is the best way to raise membership numbers.

Nothing turns off a customer faster than a hard sell. And, while ours is a service industry, many in this profession mistakenly believe that pushing for the sale is the best way to raise membership numbers. Too bad, because what sells is not "missing out on the hottest deal of the month unless you sign on the dotted line today"; what sells is great service. Great service results in happy members who then sell your facility to others by word-of-mouth praise.

Great service means understanding what your members want and then giving it to them. What precisely your members want needs to be based on your membership demographics through either an official survey or random surveying by way of getting to know your members. But it also helps to understand what the general trends are in the industry.

In December, the American College of Sports Medicine released the findings of its second annual survey of "educated and experienced fitness professionals," which outlines the top worldwide fitness trends for 2008 in the commercial, corporate, clinical and community fitness program environments. Trends were ranked from highest to lowest based on the scores given by respondents:

  1. Educated and experienced fitness professionals. This trend is extremely important, especially as the debate regarding education and certification standards continues. Consumers aren't looking at fitness the way they once did; they are now much more serious about what they look for, which is expertise that will get them results.
  2. Exercise programs for children to fight childhood and adolescent obesity. More fitness facilities are adding children's programming, and the suppliers are doing their part by introducing innovative entertainment and gaming products to the fitness equipment mix. But, our industry needs to do even more in the way of working with schools to supplement non-existent physical education programs.
  3. Personal training. This is good news for facility operators who rely on added revenues to build their business. There is tremendous growth among different demographics that now participate in personal training, especially children. And facilities are beginning to offer more-affordable options to members, such as group personal training and new pricing packages for personal training sessions (see the sidebar, a New Billing Structure for Personal Training, on page 30).
  4. Strength training. Finally, the importance of strength training for all populations is starting to hit home, especially for women and older adults. I'm seeing more of these populations perform strength exercises where I am a member, myself included.
  5. Core training. Several years ago, core training and functional fitness were terms used synonymously among many. That's changed somewhat, as core training now centers around the use of balls and individuals' own body weight, opening up a whole new workout regimen in the facility that doesn't involve the use of cardio or strength equipment.
  6. Special fitness programs for older adults. Thanks in part to the International Council on Active Aging, pioneered by Colin Milner, FM's FitnessRX columnist (see page 55), the focus on fitness for older adults has exploded. But, fitness facilities still need to do more for this demographic, which now makes up almost one-quarter of all fitness facility memberships.
  7. Pilates. One again, the focus is on core training, and the ability for fitness facilities to add a whole new dimension to their offerings. But, Pilates is more than just core training. Women see it as a method of sculpting the body, which may be why it appeals to them more than men. An interesting programming idea: Pilates for Men.
  8. Functional fitness. Unlike core training, training for activities of daily living involves actually performing exercises that mimic those activities. As we see more older adults and athletes turning to fitness facilities to improve their lives and performance, there will be a need for specialists in this area.
  9. Swiss ball. It is surprising that ACSM created a separate category for this, as training with an exercise ball is synonymous with core training.
  10. Yoga. Still in the top 10! Amazing. It just goes to show that softer forms of exercise are extremely important to many people, which is not surprising given the growing number of new and older adult exercisers.
Use your knowledge of these trends to blend them with the specific needs of your membership, and you'll be sure your members are served well. If they are, there will never be any need to "sell" them or anyone else.

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