Fitness in the Age of Technology
Best Practices: Harness the power of current technology to help your facility succeed.
In today’s growing fitness industry, where new facilities are popping up constantly, how can you add value to your memberships? One answer: merge technology with fitness.
With various forms of technology rapidly spreading into countless fields, it’s time for the fitness industry to reap the benefits.
From your website to software to interactive workouts, technology that helps facilities manage their business, assess members and plan exercise programs increases retention and revenue. That being said, make the most out of current technology, but not at the expense of personal touch. Technology should serve as a tool to simplify aspects of facility management so that you have more time to spend on what truly matters—personal relationships with members (Florez 2006).
Your website should target potential clients as well as existing members. The ultimate goal is to attract as many viewers as possible, reaching out to prospective clients and providing current members with another connection to your facility (Eason 2007).
Potential Members. Your site is an opportunity to make a positive first impression on would-be members. By the same token, it is an opportunity to lose them if the site is not done right. How do you use your site to attract new members? Use it to generate leads. Capture contact information by implementing an opt-in feature where visitors enter their names and e-mail addresses for your mailing list. Of course, you must provide an incentive for people. Offer valuable discounts on products and services when visitors opt in. Then, when they redeem their discounts, you get trackable marketing results (Eason 2007). Additionally, remind visitors that you don’t sell or give out personal information.
Existing Members. What about your present members? Make your site a place where they go to find current health information and to register for activities. “Company websites have come a long way, but on 7 out of every 10 that I visit, people can’t register for classes online or get complimentary passes or buy a membership online,” notes industry leader Michael Scott Scudder, whose eponymous company is based in Taos, New Mexico. Don’t let your club fall into this trap—keep your members connected to your facility through your site.
Improving Your Website. When creating or revamping your website, you can design and host it yourself or hire an outside firm, such as Health Club Sites or Ultravision Technologies Inc. On the most basic level, your site must be easy to navigate and well organized with attractive graphics and intuitive formatting (Scanlin 2006). See the sidebar “7 Tips for Designing Your Website” on the sidebar below
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It’s safe to say that the majority of facilities today employ some form of billing software to manage budgets, membership accounts and billing schedules. Using this software is beneficial. It enables gyms to track financial data and predict trends for planning purposes (McDonnell 2007). But what about tracking nondues revenue, such as earnings from pro shops, food and beverage sales, and childcare?
It is becoming increasingly difficult for facilities to be profitable with dues revenue alone. Profit centers offer an opportunity to collect additional revenue from existing members, which is more cost-effective than securing new members (Peavey 2006). The key to keeping profit centers successful is in the tracking data, which can determine long-term viability. For example, an exercise class that your facility launched last year may not be truly cost-effective; however, without appropriate data to reveal this information, deciding to eliminate the class will be difficult.
The bottom line is that documenting all revenue through one or more types of financial software is essential. If you’re in the market for new software, consider two primary factors—flexibility and security. The software must be flexible enough to run any type of facility with multiple service offerings (Peavey 2006). Furthermore, the personal financial data the software contains must be kept secure at all times.
Fitness assessment software helps members reach their fitness goals and aids staff in connecting with members. Conducting fitness assessments is an opportunity for one-on-one time with new members. Use this chance to connect and answer questions, thereby assisting clients in achieving their fitness objectives and ultimately improving retention and success (Peavey 2007).
The right software can make this job easier. Various programs not only provide members with an initial assessment of their fitness levels but also track progress on a regular basis. Software options include the following:
- ActivTrax® (www.activtrax.com)
- BioEx Systems Inc. (www.bioexsystems.com)
- eFitnessTracker (www.efitnesstracker.com)
- MicroFit® Inc. (www.microfit.com)
- Visual Fitness Planner™ (www.vfp.us)
Technology will never take the place of in-person interaction with members, but it can serve an important purpose in streamlining aspects of facility and fitness management and can ultimately increase membership and retention over time. Embracing technology can help your clients meet their fitness goals while you meet your financial ones. l
If you’re not ready to go high-tech just yet but want to add some simple solutions to your existing offerings, consider implementing these ideas:
- Purchase books on CD for members to listen to while they exercise. Audio books are also an effective tool for keeping members at your facility longer than a quick 20 minutes.
- Use e-mail to its fullest potential. Send out e-mails for members’ birthdays, to announce special events and to contact members who haven’t visited the facility recently.
- Make the most of the technology that members are already using. Download fitness programs compatible with most handheld devices through www.handango.com. Offer these programs to your members for free or for a nominal fee.
- Utilize readily available health information on the Web to create free handouts for your clients. For example, develop nutrition guides with information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.mypyramid.gov) and the American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org). Ensure that the websites you reference are credible.
- Create individualized podcast workouts that members can’t get anywhere else. You likely have a line of cardio equipment that allows users to plug in their MP3 players. Take this equipment to the next level by creating workouts designed specifically for it. Upload the podcasts to your website and make them available for free downloading.
Various programs not only provide members with an initial assessment of their fitness levels but also track progress on a regular basis.
- Keep your message short and to the point.
- Keep your content up-to-date.
- Ensure that your site is well placed on search engines by utilizing a search engine optimization firm.
- Consider the demographics of your target audience, and tailor your message accordingly. For example, when catering to a younger and more tech-savvy crowd, use more bells and whistles.
- Always include the following information: your contact information, the programs and services you offer, your hours of operation and your class schedules.
- Consider personalizing your site by including staff bios, photos of past activities and a calendar of upcoming events.
- Include disclaimers when making health claims, and have a lawyer review your content.
Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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