There are many reasons to consider upgrading, replacing and adding new equipment to your facility. Adding new equipment prevents things from feeling stale, allows you to keep up with innovation, gets members excited, demonstrates to members that you care about their fitness experience, and most importantly, keeps members safe.
Keeping your equipment up to date makes for a true differentiator in a competitive marketplace.
Obviously, there is a cost associated with making changes, and that can be daunting. Throughout my career as a club owner, I had moments when I worried about allocating money for equipment. Over time, I improved my ability to make decisions regarding equipment purchases. By sharing what I have learned, I hope to help you make better decisions, dodge mistakes and avoid buyer’s remorse.
1. Establish your needs
Upgrading equipment is an investment. With any investment, you need to maximize your ROI. Taking steps to ensure you know what you need is essential. The last thing you want to do is invest money in unnecessary equipment.
The first step is to look at your current equipment. How old is it? Which equipment categories and individual pieces are seeing the most use? Which pieces have the most wear and tear?
The second step is to look at industry trends. What has become popular? What are other facilities doing? What equipment technologies have dramatically changed in recent years?
Next, review the demographics within your facility and any survey results or member feedback. When investing in new equipment, this information provides real data to help make purchasing decisions, rather than basing decisions on what you simply “feel” might be a good idea. At our last club, we were trying to decide which cardio pieces to upgrade. In looking at member surveys, we realized that most of the negative feedback dealt with treadmill issues. This data led us to make the decision to start by replacing the treadmills. It allowed us to feel confident about that investment.
It is crucial to compile as much data as possible to accurately determine which equipment to upgrade, replace or add.
2. Do your research
Once you have accurately assessed your needs, it is time to do some research. Start by looking at the space. This may seem like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe how often facilities make purchases only to find the new equipment doesn’t fit.
Once you are certain the new equipment will work within the layout, it’s time to test drive it. A great way to do this is by attending trade shows, such as AB Show 2022, Nov. 16-19 in Orlando. If you can’t attend a trade show, ask companies’ sales reps for recommendations of local facilities that carry those pieces and visit them.
We learned the hard way at our last club. We purchased ellipticals based on the sales rep’s recommendation, but we didn’t try them first. Their functionality was significantly different from the ones we had previously, making for a difficult transition for our members. While it ended up working out, it took a lot of effort and energy to explain and train our members to use them and appreciate them. Had we stuck with something closer to what we had before, it would have been an easier process.
If site visits aren’t possible, still ask for and call references, and at least read product reviews in trade journals. In addition, research costs for service plans, preventative maintenance and warranties. Sometimes a particular brand may be a little less expensive than another, but parts and repairs cost more. Make sure to do the due diligence when it comes to financials.
Finally, stick with reputable brands and, if possible, the same brand for most of your equipment. Using the same brand creates a seamless user experience. It also generally leads to better prices when you do business with the same vendor.
3. Make the purchase
After establishing your needs and researching them, it is time to make the investment.
First and foremost, always do business with a salesperson with whom you feel comfortable. Great salespeople take the time to build a real relationship. You don’t want someone who disappears after the sale. You should be able to count on them for help when you have an issue or need service.
Once you’ve established a relationship, you can begin negotiations. The art of negotiation could be its own article, but remember this: You are the customer. Don’t hesitate to ask for discounts and negotiate based on your knowledge of comparable products. If you are looking at a particular brand of treadmills, for example, know what the other brands cost. This will give you leverage.
Another key decision is whether to lease or buy. Leasing preserves capital now but tends to cost more in the long run. Buying equipment has higher initial costs, but is less expensive in the long run. The buying versus leasing decision depends on the status of your facility’s finances, business model and cash flow.
At our clubs, we tended to buy strength equipment because it was generally less expensive than cardio equipment and lasted a long time before becoming outdated or in need of replacement. On the flip side, we would typically lease the cardio equipment. Cardio equipment can become outdated more quickly due to wear and tear plus technological innovation. Once a lease expires, you can easily lease new cardio equipment. You need to decide which strategy works best for your facility.
Finally, consider staggering purchases. You could add a bunch of new equipment all at once or add the same amount of equipment over the course of a year. While both yield the same results, the second method creates the perception that you are constantly improving the facility, which makes an impact on members. The bottom line is you are investing in the member experience, and to get the biggest ROI, you need to make sure every member knows about it.
4. Promote the purchase
Once you do purchase new equipment, you need to celebrate it and promote it to members. Even if a purchase doesn’t directly affect a member’s fitness routine, it still has an impact on how they feel about your facility. When members see upgrades or new equipment, they realize the facility is committed to improving their fitness experience. This helps with retention and referrals.
Tactics to promote new equipment include signage, balloons, social media posts, newsletter announcements and more. Make sure your staff is trained on how to use the new equipment so they can assist members. I mentioned the importance of having a great relationship with the salesperson. When the relationship is good, the salesperson is there when the equipment is delivered and will do training for staff and sometimes even members.
The above focused on big equipment purchases, but the principals also apply to accessory purchases, merchandise and facility improvements. If you are thinking about adding new accessories for group exercise classes, figure out what is needed, do the research, negotiate pricing, and then promote it to members. If you are looking to add new gear to your pro shop, go through the same four steps. Even if you are simply painting the entry way, use this formula.
Lastly, it is important to mention budget. When budgeting, always allocate funds for adding, replacing and upgrading equipment and accessories, as well as for overall facility improvements. Investing in improvements is essential to differentiate your facility and demonstrate to members that you care.
Success for fitness facilities is measured by the three Rs: revenue, retention and referrals. When you strive to improve your facility, you positively impact all three. And that ensures a fourth R: relevance.