In the past few years, fitness technology has begun to home in on one of the most problematic aspects of fitness space management: cardio equipment maintenance. A variety of device-trackers, applications and even specialized consulting services are available to help facility owners optimize their fitness floor and keep tabs on equipment usage. For the operator who is devoted to customer satisfaction but also wants to get the highest possible return on their fitness equipment investment, a combination of these available technologies may be the best solution.
Many cardio equipment developers, such as Precor, Life Fitness, Matrix and Technogym, include an in-device tracking feature that allows operators to measure the usage of that particular piece of equipment, and in some cases, a built-in alert system will notify operators when the equipment is in need of maintenance. This is an important feature in a gym that has multiple pieces of the same equipment, says Dave Johnson, vice president of business development at Ecofit. "When you have 200 hundred pieces of cardio equipment on the floor and a member gets on a piece of equipment and there's something wrong, do they tell people? No, typically they go to the next piece of equipment."
In addition to the in-device features offered by equipment developers themselves, operators may find it useful to adopt certain applications that are able to centralize data stored for many pieces of equipment. At Rutgers University, for example, executive co-director of recreation Stacey Trukowski and her team utilize two applications to streamline their fitness operations. Rutgers Recreation, which encompasses four full-sized recreation centers and one stand-alone fitness center spread out over a large campus, uses a web-based application called Fitness Assets Manager to store information about its cardio equipment and to keep on top of repairs. Staff members input information about inspections and repairs that is then shared with technicians. The technicians can respond with notes, keeping the staff updated about scheduled repairs and the status of ordered parts.
The system can also keep a history of each piece of equipment, so staff members are able to see which pieces continuously break or which pieces are being overused. Trukowski says the system is a step up from the old way of keeping hand-written logs and communicating with technicians and other staff through a series of emails and phone calls. Fitness Assets Manager keeps all the information in one place where everyone who needs to can access it.
Rutgers uses another application called upace to keep track of how many people are using its fitness and recreation centers — and when. This application is available to all Rutgers students and staff, helping patrons to see how busy the recreation centers are before they go to work out. Recreation staff updates the center information once every hour. For Trukowski, this application is very important in order to keep patrons coming in and leaving satisfied. "We're on a very busy campus, and you have to go across a river to get to one of the rec centers," she says. "If I have people who are making that effort to get to a center, then they want to get their workout in when they want to do it."
upace also allows Rutgers Recreation to keep certain pieces of cardio equipment available for reservation. Trukowski says the application has been a huge help for students reserving a place in group exercise classes, since the department just started offering those classes free to students this year. "We don't want people to get discouraged when they're showing up to class and class is full," she explains.
For the recreation staff, upace allows managers to see trends in center usage, which helps them to staff appropriately for peak times.
Applications such as Fitness Assets Manager and upace are excellent tools to help university recreation centers function more smoothly and efficiently. But what about private, revenue-driven clubs that rely heavily on customer satisfaction to maintain membership? When the stakes are higher, operators might choose to enlist outside help such as GYMetrix. The United Kingdom-based fitness consultant has developed a system of reading and applying the data collected by in-device trackers and other applications to tell operators what they really need to know: not when equipment is being used, but when equipment is needed, says CEO Rory McGown.
The company provides a "heat map" of equipment usage similar to that offered by apps such as Fitness Assets Manager, but that is just the start, according to McGown. "Where the fitness industry is really getting it wrong is not where they're putting the equipment. This is not costing the industry millions," he says. "What's costing the industry millions is they can't work out what the correct quantity of equipment should be to match customer demand."
This, McGown says, is due to the fact that fitness center stocking is largely reliant on what he calls a push model: operators and suppliers meet together to make decisions about the most appropriate equipment inventory for a particular gym, and then they push that equipment onto the floor, where it is consumed by the customer. The goal of GYMetrix, says McGown, is to help operators turn this into a pull model, in which customer demand informs equipment buying decisions.
GYMetrix places two types of sensors on the equipment to measure both movement and load. This, according to McGown, enables them to differentiate between usage and occupancy. "What we're finding is that people are only using the equipment one-third to one-half of the time they're occupying it," he said. "But when they're resting, they're still blocking that machine from someone else using it."
What they're really interested in, however, is the inverse of occupancy: availability.
After they place the sensors, consultants conduct in-house surveys of customers on the gym floor, asking questions such as, "What are three equipment types you like to use most in this gym?" and, "Please match one of the following: a) It's usually available and I'm happy, b) It's usually busy but that doesn't bother me, or c) it's usually busy and it does bother me." Customer responses are then overlaid with data collected through the sensors to pinpoint the moment when customers begin to be frustrated by lack of availability. Capacity planning provides operators with a measuring system by which they can get a concrete feel for how well they are serving their customers.
This bevy of new technology available to operators is a big step toward optimizing product mix and floor space. In the words of Ecofit vice president Dave Johnson, "It helps you maximize your equipment value, make smarter buying decisions, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction and attract and retain new customers."
This article originally appeared in the January | February 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Using the latest technology to track the fitness experience" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.