Happy kids = happy members = a happy bottom line.
How can you increase your membership value for today’s family market and reap the profits over time? One word: childcare. Fitness professionals must adapt to the continually changing needs of members. The family market is growing; thus, a high-quality childcare program can make a significant difference in how many parents become and/or remain members. It is imperative to remember that many clients and potential members are parents first and health-conscious consumers second; therefore, opening your doors to children is good business.
According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), in 2002, more than 25% of all U.S. clubs provided children’s programs and only 8% had dedicated kids-only sections (Davis 2005). With these low numbers, there is certainly an existing need for childcare and children’s programming. Tapping into this market can substantially grow your membership and increase your revenue—and who does not want that? Here are several helpful ideas to get you started.
When it comes to establishing childcare services, you can choose from three options: supervised childcare, themed play areas or children’s programming. Whichever route you choose, your program must be safe and professional so that parents can feel at ease when leaving their children in your care.
The first and most basic option is supervised childcare—in other words, babysitting. Your babysitting service should provide responsible care in a positive, safe and playful environment so that members can consistently complete their exercise programs without worry or guilt. Childcare staff can engage children with activities such as circle time with songs and stories or simple crafts projects. Art contests in which children draw pictures of fitness or health-related activities that are proudly displayed around the facility will also help to bring attention to your childcare services (Staver 1996). Equip the room with puzzles, books and toys for a variety of ages so that children can play independently as well.
Another option is designing themed play areas where space is dedicated to various creative play options. Unique themed spaces could include a play kitchen stocked with pots, pans, a refrigerator and other kitchen essentials; a workbench with toy tools; or a dress-up area complete with costumes, a playhouse and a puppet theater. You can take this concept a step further and help the children develop large motor skills in an area equipped with jungle gyms, a ball pit and obstacle courses. All of these types of activity areas encourage interaction with other children and creative, energetic play (Klatt 2000).
Trinity Fitness and Spa in Dulles, Virginia, runs a successful KidSpirit program that falls under this model. “KidSpirit offers a designated infant area, a computer learning center with two toddler computers and two older children’s stations, a play area, a reading center and an activity/crafts area,” explains Amy P. Kelly, ACSM, CPT, co-owner and executive vice president of membership for the company. “The primary goals for KidSpirit are safety and creative stimulation in a nurturing environment.”
If your budget allows, implementing children’s programming in your facility can lead to significant profits over the long term because you can charge additional fees for participation.
- For younger children, you can offer music and movement classes involving play with parachutes, bean bags and balls that will develop a variety of motor skills.
- For slightly older children, you can create group classes such as dance, tumbling and age-appropriate, noncompetitive skill-related activities (Atkinson 2006). For instance, a class that puts a twist on the board game Monopoly might include a different fun exercise, such as jumping rope, jumping jacks or sit-ups, for every space on the board.
- For preteens and teenagers, consider creating teams and leagues based on the existing sport amenities in your club, such as a basketball or swimming league or a tennis team.
West Valley City Family Fitness Center (Utah) is a prime example of a club that runs successful children’s programming. Their Edutainment Play Center offers licensed childcare for children 6 weeks to 6 years old. It also offers a variety of activities for older children, such as youth soccer, basketball and slow-pitch softball programs. The Busy Bee Play Hour for preschool-age children includes crafts, music and letter-recognition games.
Once you have selected which type of childcare service your facility will provide, considering your answers to the following questions will help ensure that your program will thrive:
Cost. The fee you charge for your childcare program is up to you. Keep in mind that childcare will never be free; the costs must either be absorbed indirectly through monthly membership dues or directly by parents who use the program and who pay incremental fees per month or per visit (Russell 1996). The fees must be reasonable or parents will go elsewhere.
Staffing. Hiring quality, responsible staff is essential to the success of any childcare program. Parents will not leave their children in your facility unless they are confident that they are in good hands. Look for childcare professionals who have experience with children of various ages; strong references; infant and child CPR; and first-aid certification. You might even find qualified personnel among your membership. A low ratio of staff to children is also a big plus for parents. “Finding quality, dedicated and educated [staff] is extremely important to any childcare program. Avoiding [staff] turnover [is crucial],” explains Christine G. Groth, creator of The Guide to Instant Daycare Profits (CG Groth Inc. 2006).
Hours of Operation. Should the childcare area operate only at peak times of the day or whenever the facility is open? Some centers prefer to offer childcare at all times with fewer staff present at any one time. Others maintain a larger staff of childcare workers only during class times and busy hours (Russell 1996).
Ages of Children. Decide what ages to admit. Your decision will depend largely on the type of services you provide and the number of staff you have available. For example, if your facility can afford to offer only a basic babysitting service, then the best approach would be to admit only very young children, as older kids will grow bored in an environment with few activities and little stimulation for them.
Safety. The safety and security of your facility is crucial. To ease parents’ concerns, implement a policy that allows only parents and staff in the childcare area and mandates that all children are signed in and out at each visit.
In addition, facilities should also strive to provide easy visibility of the childcare room, while making it difficult for outsiders to have access to the children. Make sure that all exit doors have childproof locks and have either windows or cameras set up in the room so parents can monitor their children’s activities (Russell 1996). Gold’s Gym in Woodridge, Virginia, has a two-way mirror that allows parents to peek in on their children without being seen (Dvorak 2002). The area should be completely childproofed, and a first-aid kit must be readily accessible.
Cleanliness. Cleanliness is essential in the prevention of illness among children. Ensure that staff wash their own and the children’s hands often. Clean and sanitize daily—this includes door handles, tables, toy shelves, bathroom areas and toys. You can use store-bought disinfectant or make your own by combining one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Steam carpets every 3 months, and immediately clean up any spills or dropped food.
Successful childcare services can increase the value of your facility in a variety of ways. You can use them to build ancillary revenue and increase family memberships. Savvy consumers choose health clubs that cater to their children as well as to themselves, making it easier to integrate exercise into their lives. When parents are happy, they will continue renewing their memberships and will recommend your club to their friends. Increased membership and increased positive word of mouth equal increased profits. And that makes everyone happy.