Facility managers and program directors maintain a conservative, but upbeat, outlook in the face of a difficult economy.
This year our 14th annual survey went to club owners, fitness directors and other fitness professionals in the midst of a financially unstable economy. While the fitness market may not be booming, it seems to be at least stable, which is great news when businesses all around the globe are faltering. The really encouraging aspect of this year’s results is that the diversity of classes, equipment and programs offered has continued to increase.
This is critical, as the wide range of services our industry offers needs to keep pace with the growing diversity of the populations we serve—including apparently healthy adults, clients with injuries and chronic disease, amateur and professional athletes, seniors and children. Overall, respondents have a positive attitude toward programming and equipment growth; the survey found that the percentage of respondents expecting growth in these categories was generally much higher than the percentage of those expecting declines. Stability seems to be the norm for most programs and equipment on the survey.
This year we added more questions to reflect the ever-changing landscape of the industry. While new trends are continuing to develop, our industry still revolves around tried-and-true equipment and programs as we strive to meet the needs of a varied clientele.
Although the growth statistics remained relatively flat year over year, probably reflecting the unstable nature of the economy, this data bears out that we as an industry do not believe we are in a decline. We also continue to explore ways to be creative with the resources we currently possess.
The 130 IDEA business and program director members who responded to the survey can help us expand our perspectives on how we can best serve our clients in these financially unstable times. The diversity of this group is reflected in the percentage of respondents representing yoga or Pilates studios (17%), multipurpose health clubs (12%), personal training gyms (16%), fitness-only health clubs (11%), and YMCA/YWCA/JCCs (9%). These associates report that an average of 75% of their members/clients stay with the business for 1 year or longer. How do they accomplish this loyalty?
We added two new categories to the cardio machines portion of the survey this year: arm ergometers and indoor rowing machines. Almost a quarter of the facilities surveyed (24%) offer arm ergometers, while 42% have indoor rowing machines. Treadmills, offered by 71% of facilities, are still the most common piece of cardio equipment, with recumbent cycles (68%) and elliptical trainers (67%) close behind. Survey data shows that cardiorespiratory equipment has seen some of the largest declines in usage over the past 9 years, ranging from -10 (recumbent cycles) to -28 (stair climbers) percentage points.
Personal training, adult, one-on-one, again leads this category, with 89% of respondents offering it. Increases over the past 9 years have occured in all personal training categories, with the greatest improvements reflected in personal training, 2 clients share, which rose from 56% in 2001 to 79% in 2009, and in personal training, 3–5 clients share, which rose from 34% in 2001 to 60% in 2009.
Small-group boot camps and small-group circuit training were added to this year’s personal training category. Weighing in at 47% and 55%, respectively, they are offered by a good half of all managers surveyed—and with reason. Sherri McMillan, MSc, co-owner of Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver, Washington, and Northwest Women’s Fitness Club in Portland, Oregon, has found that when a client gets laid off or if finances are tight, one of the first expenses a client will look at eliminating is personal training. “Savvy managers prepare their business for these types of conversations and situations,” she said. “Many have found that incorporating small-group training, such as boot camps or circuits, into programming provides a more cost-effective option for clients. Clients don’t have to give up training altogether, and at the same time, training departments can generate more revenues during the same amount of time. It’s a win-win!”
While technology in our world is growing at an astonishing rate, it seems as though the fitness industry is lagging. Biray Alsac, MS, fitness technologist and owner of FITTmaxx Institute in Chandler, Arizona, believes that when it comes to adopting new technologies, fitness professionals are not alone in their hesitation. “New technologies require additional time to learn and can often be a costly investment,” she points out. “And in the state of our global economy, time and money are two resources most people cannot afford to waste without guaranteeing some return on their investments.”
The survey shows that a little more than half of the respondents use online client reminders and information for their clientele (51%). Software programs for computer workout tracking (17%), nutritional analysis (16%) and online training programs (15%) are offered by less than a quarter of the facilities surveyed. Just 10% offer interactive computer training programs (exergaming).
Alsac further observes that “besides corresponding with clients and colleagues via technology (such as e-mail or text messaging), fitness professionals have successfully made their face-to-face efforts and hands-on approach to training a priority—it is in their kinesthetic DNA. However, the technologies in today’s digital age are quickly enhancing multiple fitness initiatives and expanding the industry’s professional and global reach. The technological developments in the coming decade will be less about ‘this new software’ or ‘that piece of hardware’ and more about how these tools will effectively impact the cultural and social norms of our anthropology. In essence, ignoring or resisting technological trends may keep business static in a dynamic market and fitness professionals less relevant to their digitally savvy audience.”
Pilates has steadily increased as a mind-body offering over the past 9 years, going from 47% to 70%. On average, facilities offer 14 Pilates and yoga classes per week, with an average of 13 members attending each class. Pilates equipment has also enjoyed an increase in usage, from 29% to 44%, over the 8 years in which it has been surveyed, although the growth in equipment use has not been as robust as that seen in programming. This difference can be explained by facilities offering only mat-based programs as opposed to equipment-based sessions.
Yoga programs and equipment have both shown a slight decline over the years, from 69% to 62% and 73% to 70%, respectively. Interestingly, mind-body fusion programs have declined from 27% to 16% over the past 2 years, but the majority of facilities that offer these options believe the format is growing (81%).
What does the survey tell us about the future of our equipment offerings? Once again, the focus is on equipment that is small, portable and versatile. Resistance tubing or bands (94%), stability balls (92%), barbells and/or dumbbells (91%), foam rollers and small balls (81%), balance equipment (80%) and medicine balls (79%) are offered by most facilities surveyed. Overall, these results reflect a desire for portability and versatility in our equipment, a shift to more functional exercise and less emphasis on big, bulky pieces that emphasize one-dimensional movement.
This year’s respondents are expecting balance equipment and suspension training apparatus to gain in popularity, with 55% and 52% anticipating growth in their usage, respectively. These are the only two categories in which more respondents expect growth than expect no growth or a decline in usage. Most equipment is thought to be stable in its usage, with very few pieces of equipment expected to decline to any large extent. The largest declines were reported for stair climbers (25%), pneumatic machines (20%) and interactive computer training programs (20%).
Fraser Quelch, director of training and development for Fitness Anywhere (TRX) in San Francisco, explains his view on the trend toward more portable equipment: “Small, portable equipment is very popular now, due to economics and trends within the industry. Clubs are looking for cost-effective ways of increasing retention, attracting new members and augmenting nondues revenue. They are interested in creating new, exciting programs that meet the needs of many with minimal costs and that impact multiple revenue-generating areas. For the cost of two new treadmills, you could add an entirely new line of small equipment that would support personal training, boot camps, special interest activites [such as marathon training, triathlon training, etc.], group exercise and ‘on the floor’ express programming. The increasing acceptance and integration of functional, movement-based training, where these tools truly excel, also explains why balance and suspension equipment have such significant growth expectations.”
Disseminating health education and fostering family support are steps that many of our colleagues are taking as they share the responsibility of helping a vast number of unhealthy individuals get back on track. Educating local communities also provides a way to creatively increase business opportunities.
This year’s survey shows that family and community health education is clearly prevalent in the industry. Respondents are offering nutrition coaching (47%), weight management classes (38%) and clinics on special topics (64%). In addition, they’re getting the whole family—as well as the community at large—involved by conducting kids’ fitness programs (31%), teen fitness programs (30%), health fairs (44%) and social activity groups (walking or running clubs, group trips, organized group activities) (45%).
Fifty-seven percent of surveyed facilities also conduct community outreach events. Bethany Diamond, founder of Ovarian Cycle Inc., in Marietta, Georgia, started a program to reach out to her community. “Our main fundraiser is a 6-week training program on indoor bikes, culminating in a 6-hour, indoor ‘century’ ride,” she explains. “Among all participants who ride with us, we attract folks that haven’t ridden a bike in years and years. We attract women who are undergoing chemo. Some of our riders become instructors, triathletes and outdoor cyclists. Ovarian Cycle: Ride to Change the Future brings folks to fitness! Our community outreach program changes not only the lives of those who participate but also [the lives of] those we raise money for.”
Group exercise classes provide a valuable service to our clientele. The average number of group exercise classes on the schedule is 39, with approximately 14 people participating per class, which equates to 546 members per week entering the group exercise room.
Abbie Appel, group fitness programming consultant in Boca Raton, Florida, calls the group fitness department the “heart” of the club. “Classes create energy and excitement that no other department is able to replicate,” she says. “Studies show that group fitness classes drive members to fee-based programs offered by the club and that members who partake in group fitness are more likely to stay active participants in the club. It’s all about creating relationships in a fun atmosphere and delivering customer service that exceeds their expectations.”
While group exercise participation remains steady, class format offerings are dynamic. The past nine surveys have seen increases in abdominals classes, core- conditioning classes, indoor cycling and dance; however, aerobics classes (including high-, low- and mixed-impact), step aerobics, combination/hybrid classes, boxing-based/kickboxing sessions and martial arts–based aerobics have all declined. Sara Standerford, area group exercise manager for 24 Hour Fitness in Costa Mesa, California, suggests that managers need to be flexible but also cognizant of class metrics and staffing when making changes. “As new formats make their way into the clubs, we need to log off certain classes to make room on the schedule. The choice to remove a class is determined by class attendance and the number of instructors able to teach the format. Typically, attendance has been smaller in the traditional and step aerobics classes. Also, our new instructors have chosen to specialize in the latest formats (dance, core, etc.) instead of classes such as high-low or step aerobics, leaving fewer instructors to teach those methods.”
Rochelle Schwab, director of faculty and staff fitness at Oregon State University in Corvallis, also suggests that diversity is the key to a successful group exercise schedule. “When you leave out a format or focus on just certain types of formats, you may be missing something that the members want,” she advises. “Having a variety of classes on the schedule that cover all the elements of fitness, cardiorespiratory training, strength, flexibility and balance means that there is something for everyone.”
In these fiscally uncertain times, the fitness industry continues to look for ways to provide quality services to the community. We are reaching out to our clientele by offering a means to promote not only fitness but also general well-being.
The survey shows that in our quest to do this, a key ingredient for facilities is personal training. It can be structured for individuals, partners or small groups, allowing clients the freedom to tailor the cost to fit their budgets. It also offers a choice of workout practices, and sessions can be performed indoors or outdoors. Moreover, a variety of equipment is used within training sessions, with the greatest focus being on small, easily transportable equipment.
Group exercise offers many formats to meet the needs of a diverse facility population. There are classes for beginner to advanced members; for sport-minded individuals; for members craving a connection between mind and body; and for those who want to develop cardiorespiratory endurance, strength, flexibility, balance or all of the above.
Providing educational and social opportunities for our clientele may help foster a sense of community in these difficult times. Allowing clients to be part of a group can reduce anxieties in other parts of their lives. What’s more, a community atmosphere may inspire clients to continue the healthy habits they have worked so hard to develop.
In short, maintaining customer service through sound practice in personal training and group exercise and fostering creativity through community engagement will help to advance your business, despite the changing economy. n
The complete results of the business member survey are available in the July–August 2009 issue of Digital IDEA Fitness Manager. There you will find the full list of programs and equipment being offered; growth trends; and multiyear comparisons. IDEA business and program director members receive this issue as a membership benefit. If you wish to receive a copy, contact IDEA member services for details at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.
In September, look for training-specific data in the 2009 IDEA Personal Training Programs & Equipment Trends report in IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Trainer Success.