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Programming by Numbers

by Carol Scott on Jan 01, 2004


Use statistics to build a group fitness schedule that meets the needs of members and management.

Programming a group fitness schedule is like arranging several puzzle pieces into a picture that makes sense. You need to balance a variety of class types, time slots, member requests, instructors and instructor fees. Depending on the goals of your facility, you may also need to balance proven mainstream programming versus cutting-edge programming.

Just which programs and instructors will create the perfect balance is an ongoing challenge. However, the more information you have, the easier it is to determine which direction to follow. Use program statistics such as those described in this article to devise the best group fitness schedule for your facility.

Total Members Using the Facility

To see if your current group fitness schedule is meeting the needs of your members, you must deduce what percentage of members take the classes. To get this percentage, you need to know how many total members attend the club per day. You can find out these numbers by asking front desk people to tally attendance. Collect the figures using a simple paper chart with slash marks or set up a spreadsheet on your computer. Before tallying this information, ensure that your general manager and other managers who directly impact the accumulation of the data are supportive of the effort. Since accuracy is a key factor in accumulating data, have a managers’ meeting with all parties concerned and discuss the importance of the task and how the data will be used. Explaining how the data relates to the overall profitability of the program should justify the task to management.

Total Members Taking Classes

Next track how many people are in each class. These counts must be accurate and should be collected within the first 15 minutes of class to ensure correct attendance. Designate one person or department to count each participant per class, per day. Asking the instructor to do the tallies may not be the best strategy; teaching should be her primary concern. The instructor may even be tempted to exaggerate the numbers, as it is in her best interest to achieve high class counts. At Equinox Fitness Clubs, we utilize either front desk employees or fitness desk representatives. These individuals vary at each club and at each time period.

To make this data collection easier, design an information sheet listing the date, day, time, type of class, name of the instructor, and class count. (See “Sample Class Counts” on page 11.) Have your staff record the results and leave the information at a designated location for you or your group fitness manager. You or the manager can keep a record of the daily, weekly and monthly tallies. You can make this as simple as recording the class counts next to each class on the printed group fitness schedule. The daily, weekly or monthly total can then be averaged against the total number of members utilizing the club during this same time period to gain a percentage of members taking group fitness classes. Here’s the formula for calculating this percentage:

the number of the people taking group exercise รท total amount of people in the club

Divide the group exercise number by the club membership number to calculate your final percentage. For example, if 1,000 members used the club in a day and 250 took a group fitness class, you know that 25 percent of members opted for group exercise activities that day. Now you have a firm reference point. If your group program is solid, you might find approximately 30 to 40 percent of monthly participants are taking classes. At Equinox group fitness participation is high—typically 35 to 40 percent of members take classes. (On weekend mornings the percentage is even higher.) If your figures show less than 30 percent, your next step will be to determine why.

Class Counts

Now examine class counts. You have already recorded this information, so take another look at it to gain new insights. Using the monthly average of a class count will give you a good indicator of each class’s success. If a class is a mainstream offering in prime time, such as body sculpt on Saturday morning at 9:00 am, you should, on average, expect at least 20 members to attend. A non-prime-time or specialty class will draw fewer members. However, the count should remain consistent from week to week. Examine the count for an entire month, one week at a time. Did the class count hold steady or were there upward or downward fluctuations? Consistent weekly downward fluctuations are red flags that the members either do not like the class format or the instructor.

If you see a steady downward trend, you can change one of the variables or wait another month and look again. Typically I suggest waiting up to 3 months when you are in doubt, as it can take time for an instructor to build a class, especially if it is new to the schedule or time slot. When you do change instructor or time slot, examine the counts again. The numbers will give you another good indication of whether that class should remain on your schedule.

Instructor Fees Relative to Class Size

Class counts can also indicate if you are getting the most bang for your buck with instructor fees. Have you hired highly paid instructors? Are they worth it? Determine this by looking at how many participants they draw compared to their monthly fee for a class. Take the average number of participants within a month’s attendance per class, and then divide it per person by the instructor’s fee. For instance, if you are paying an instructor $50 per class and he is averaging 10 members per class, you are paying $5 per head for him to teach that class.

Measure this amount against other classes and instructors and you will get a full picture of which instructors are preferred by your members and are therefore worth their compensation. This is a great tool to use to assist you when performing evaluations. Instructors who want additional compensation can be shown their results based on the club average and either be rewarded or kept at their original salary based on the findings.

Completing the Puzzle

In later columns we will also look at the “intangibles” that relate to group fitness success. For instance, even if a class is not attracting as many members as others, it may be what sets your club apart from your competition, responds to member feedback or satisfies a particular demographic you are hoping to entice for new membership. Savvy program directors will weigh the intangible with the tangible to make a successful decision.

Used wisely with other measurements, industry awareness and good common sense, however, numbers are the backbone of a successful program. Your ability to forecast new trends and recruit new and top quality instructors are other key ingredients to a winning program, and I will examine them in following issues.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 16, Issue 1

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About the Author

Carol Scott

Carol Scott IDEA Author/Presenter

Carol Scott is the CBO of ECA World Fitness Alliance, a global organization for fitness and wellness professionals. She has presented workshops all over the world and has appeared on network TV and in numerous publications, including the New York Times. Carol holds a bachelor's degree in physical education and was awarded the 2003 IDEA Program Director of the Year award. Certification: ACE