Special Delivery

by Michael Scott Scudder on Mar 01, 2003

Fitness Manager

Creating appropriate fitness programming for busy members can cement your customer relationships and your clients’ resolve to stick with their programs.

Last time, I waded into this yearlong series on managing through societal and fitness trends by examining how managers can leverage the U.S. aging trend to stem member attrition. This month, another pair of converging trends beckons:

Societal Trend #2: People of all ages are more time-crunched than ever.

Fitness Trend #2: Fitness facility members demand increased variety and breadth of programming.

Depending on how smart a manager you are, the convergence of these trends can be either a messy collision or a neat dovetail for your marketing plan. In his new book, The Wellness Revolution, Paul Zane Pilzer (2002) says, “Each year, consumers seem to have more and more disposable income but less and less time to enjoy it.” He goes on to say that, for products or services to become all-encompassing in a particular marketplace or arena of commerce, “busy consumers must have the time to enjoy them.”

The United States is a time-challenged society. This game of “beat the clock” is played daily by not only you and your fitness industry colleagues but also the facility members on whom you are so dependent. Tailored programming, such as express group fitness classes or express personal training sessions, is one way to accommodate this trend. Facilities that do not take such steps risk losing participants to competitors alert enough to recognize that old delivery options don’t work. Retool or die; it’s that simple.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve observed more 40-plussers than 20-somethings patronizing health clubs. Indeed, most reports that I have seen (including several dozen club member databases) show that almost 50 percent of current health club members are over 40.

Jim Annesi (1996) writes in his book Enhancing Exercise Motivation that “nearly 50 percent of individuals entering a regular exercise program will not remain through 6 months.” He also states that “the longer the duration of each exercise session, the higher the percentage of dropout.” If that’s the case, why do facilities persist in giving long, one-to-one introductory sessions for an admittedly already time-squeezed clientele and hourlong “big sweat” classes geared to younger, athletic bodies?

What’s Wrong With These Pictures?

In my consulting experience, fewer than 10 percent of monthly member visits are attributable to group fitness activities. These classes are frequently exclusive rather than inclusive. For example, I recently observed a group class billed by the facility to have “something for everybody.” However, a new member came into the group exercise room a few minutes before the start of class and was not greeted by the instructor, who was busy talking to other members who were obviously regulars. A late-arriving participant then displaced her, curtly saying, “Excuse me, but you’re in my spot.” The new member looked mortified and hurriedly moved to the back of the room. How many new members would return to this class or even to this facility after such a bumpy first experience?

I’ve also observed that, in general, classes in most facilities appeal to a very limited range of members, usually 18-to-40-year-old females. Where is the appeal to the 40-plus audience, the growing and powerful market segment that butters your membership bread on both sides? Furthermore, member orientations seem to focus on “personal training” and use the first hour of physical training to introduce the new exerciser to as many as 12 machines. Does a new exerciser really retain all of that information?

What Has to Change, and Why?

Age and Programming. Do you serve your base? Members become older every year. Furthermore, because most members are now either over 40 and inactive or under 40 and uninterested in fitness, they cannot be satisfied with traditional under-40 programming.

Cost and Attrition. Can you keep up? The cost of delivering fitness services is too high for the number of members served. The national acceleration of membership attrition is putting an incredible burden on new membership sales, which are not likely to keep up the torrid growth pace of the 1990s, especially in these softer economic times.

Measurable Results and Service. Do you provide your members measurable results? Most new members receive a couple of cursory trainings and then are advised that trainers are always around to help them (if they can find them) or that they should buy additional “personal training.”

What to Do?

What strategies should facility managers and fitness, group exercise and personal training directors adopt to address these challenges?

Facility Managers

Facility managers can introduce new “bundled” memberships with optional additional training at higher prices. They should strive to:

  • understand the income demographics of the various groups that make up their facilities’ membership

  • read and study fitness motivation materials and attempt to recognize the fitness needs of different populations within their facilities

  • convene their entire staffs to brainstorm new ways to appeal more directly not only to the fitness-active but also to all other members

Fitness Directors

Group fitness and personal training directors need to shake off old-paradigm thinking and embrace new options and leading-edge ideas. They must:

  • understand that exercise adherence has been shown to increase when groups are present (Annesi 1996)

  • shed textbook thinking and learn practical fitness programming delivery

  • scale back on cost-inefficient, one-to-one orientations (which have proven to be barriers to learning and are only mildly effective) and introduce more new-member group orientations, considering that “More than 90 percent of individuals prefer to exercise with others” (Annesi 1996)

  • introduce shorter, less memory- intensive member orientations in which exercisers can learn progressively (progressing at least through the first 30 days of membership)

  • give members an incentive to learn more about fitness practices and personal and group training by offering initial packages of reduced-fee protocols after the initial training protocols

  • work with group exercise and personal training directors (instead of guarding their turf while group exercise directors remain in their sphere and personal training directors act as renegades outside both systems) to make physical training programs cohesive and push them to new heights

Measurable Outcomes

Once you begin to use your fitness department as one of the two most important marketing arms in your facility (member reception being the other), you’ll note some effective and lasting changes in the way you do business. The most profound differences will occur in member satisfaction. Clients will be better served, stay longer and sing your praises. You’ll stop losing members out the back door. In fact, they will enthusiastically return through the front with their family and friends in tow.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 15, Issue 2

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© 2003 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Michael Scott Scudder

Michael Scott Scudder IDEA Author/Presenter

Michael Scott Scudder is a mentor; management expert; marketing trainer; and managing partner of Southwest Club Services, a consulting firm based in Taos, New Mexico, and Fort Worth, Texas. He can be reached by phone at (505) 690-5974, by e-mail at scuddertour@hotmail.com or on his Web site at www.scuddertour.com.