Programming for Profit

by Darren Jacobson on Mar 28, 2011

Programs

As the health and wellness industry has developed, so has the understanding of what constitutes fitness “product” in the minds of consumers and facility operators alike. Nowadays, a company’s product is more than a tangible “thing.” It includes every aspect of fitness: personal training, group exercise, kids’ training, the facility, staff training and development, studio-based classes, floor layout and, above all, member experience.

It is through all these avenues that facilities are offering programming for profit in ways that reflect the changing needs and desires of the members. For example, workout areas and programs now “flow” together more (think functional zones and mind-body studios), replacing stand-alone free-weight areas or single-focus group exercise classes.

Innovative shifts in approach and education have allowed facilities to provide a more satisfying experience for the membership base, and in so doing to assist sales teams by giving them a solid sales tool—a fantastic membercentric experience. Facilities now have the platform to ensure that a forward-thinking “product” division will actively contribute to the retention of members and, by extension, the bottom line. The key to this contribution is a well-thought-out, thorough and focused strategy of inclusion embracing all aspects of the facility. Gone are the days of considering divisions like personal training and group fitness as separate entities. To be financially solid, clubs must realize that all departments are interdependent and able to make a contribution to the facility’s profitability. Four key factors will ensure that your club is programming for profit.

1. Position Your Product and Your People

Your members will have a solid perception of your facility if you create that perception through a number of factors. Together, these factors become your “product.” You set your product foundation by branding your departmental staff as the educational experts in health and wellness. To achieve this, you recruit qualified, proactive fitness instructors/coaches and personal trainers. You must then clearly communicate the staff’s qualifications and skills to members, so they know they are in safe, knowledgeable hands.

Any offering that you add, whether it’s a group class, assessment protocol or new piece of equipment, will “come alive” through the attitude of your staff, so make sure employees are customer service ambassadors who reflect your company brand. A disconnected and fragmented team with no qualifications or customer service ethos will damage your brand. This will not only limit your ability to provide for members but will also place you at a severe disadvantage—due to lack of staff ability and buy-in—when it comes to generating revenue through new activities.

Excellent programming is a result of staff doing great things in the eyes of members. This is evident in the number of licensed products/programs that are available on the market—despite their structured nature, they can be hugely successful and unique when competent instructors give them life! Members will struggle to engage with a program unless it is driven from a base of competence, motivation and knowledge, regardless of how well it is marketed or how well priced the concept may be.

As the industry has matured, members have become more informed and aware of fitness trends. Managers who don’t stay abreast of the latest trends will find members voting with their feet, and not in a good way! Programming for profit is about staying current and relevant, as well as topical and a bit cheeky!

2. Satisfy Basic Needs: Build Community

One of the major trends shaping the future of the fitness industry is retention through community building; this extends from floor-based activities (e.g., express/fast classes with 5–10 members doing an activity such as an abdominal workout) to personal training and kids’ offerings. It’s important to understand the true needs, concerns and desires of the member base, not just to assume them or to guess. For example, rather than doing an intake assessment that tells obese and self-conscious clients what they already know (they do know they’re obese!), consider the underlying issues (i.e., the desire to have a safe, soft landing and not feel judged). Avoid using intimidating assessment methods that confirm new members’ fears and frustrations. Screen for risk, and then follow a membercentric intake process.

Look at your current club systems and structures. Are there entry barriers? Are the personal trainers accessible and available? Is their pricing clear and transparent, and are their packages comprehensive and affordable, with a focus on adding value (e.g., by offering extra educational materials, give-aways and sign-on products such as towels, water bottles and T-shirts)? Don’t simply default to a basic discount on the number of sessions bought. For t he kids' club, do you need a birth certificate and three witnesses to enroll your children? Why have laborious, obstructive systems in place that complicate the process? Just make sure the space is a secure haven with well-thought-out products that tap into the need for supervision and play. In each area, satisfy basic needs and you will have a solid foundation for programming for profit through retention, affiliation and brand tie-in to your facility.

3. Provide Innovative Programming

Programming for profit requires facility staff to analyze the current member demographics and then introduce innovations that will shift members’ perceptions of exercise and health, plus their impressions of the facility, into a forward-thinking model that is connected to the broader market.

One way to do this is to install up-to-date equipment that will generate member excitement and satisfaction, such as cable-based machinery or functional equipment. Also, stay abreast of group exercise trends. This is an area of huge opportunity, as the newest and latest programs are considered the “holy grail” when it comes to facility offerings. If you can provide an innovative group fitness schedule, you will have an excellent platform for influencing volumes of members. In addition, the group fitness program has a massive carryover to family training and youth-specific conditioning. There are a lot of “off-the-shelf” programs that work well for group fitness, family training and youth activities.

Do your research and find out what equipment and programs are on the rise, in both technology and popularity. The key is to build solid communities around these types of offerings and, in so doing, to create platforms for generating additional revenue. Innovation is the key to building programs and concepts that you can feature in your main sales campaigns, that you can use as retention tools and that will differentiate you from competitive facilities.

4. Offer Sensible Pricing Structures & Create Additional Revenue Streams

It is critical to analyze your facility’s fee-based offerings (the ones members pay extra for) in terms of affordability and to discover if they match your facility’s demographics. Options such as personal training (small-group and one-on-one) are standard across most clubs, but pricing must be consistent and seen by members as good value.

Value is a product of pricing, certainly, but more important, it is a combination of qualification, experience and presence. These three factors allow personal trainers to charge a price point that will be well-received by the market. If it’s not, it will be regulated by the market, which will be evidenced through declining sales and renewals. Small-group training should be offered on a sliding discount scale, and small-group activities must be actively driven to the member base through good promotion and communication, to ensure the best chance for success.

Where possible, create alliances and partnerships in group classes, as this will also create member value. There are a number of workout concepts and shows, such as The Biggest Loser, that have gathered serious momentum. Modeling your programs after some of them will create interest in the minds of members, which will make the programs good avenues for generating income.

For kids’ clubs and activities, spend time researching the childcare offerings in your area as well as the movement-based after-school programs. What’s popular? What works? What are people willing to pay for quality programs? This is a super add-on to your adult membership, and research has demonstrated that the more “links” a member has throughout the club, the longer the contractual relationship will last!

The concept of programming for profit has a clear place in the product division. In days past, most facilities realized this concept only through personal training and group exercise. Nowadays you can earn additional revenue by ensuring that your members recognize your staff’s strong knowledge base, by building community and by offering innovative, forward-thinking programs for both adult and youth markets. A pricing structure that members view as an excellent value will positively impact the bottom line.

IDEA Fitness Manager , Volume 23, Issue 3

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Darren Jacobson

Darren Jacobson IDEA Author/Presenter

Darren is the Head of Product for Virgin Active South Africa. He holds a bachelors degree in Human Movement Science and is a featured writer for numerous industry publications. In addition, Darren sit...

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