Staying Strong in a Weak Economy

by Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES on Aug 25, 2008

According to the Kiplinger Business Resource Center, “The United States economy in 2008 should limp along, with little or no growth in some quarters and a lousy feeling to many businesses and consumers” (Idaszak 2008). When economic conditions create a difficult market, the fitness industry must respond quickly in order to weather the storm and prevent financial problems. Begin by reviewing your budgets and identifying costs that appear superfluous or redundant. Pay special attention to four key areas: staffing, equipment, Internet service, and marketing and advertising.

Shape Up Your Staffing

Scrutinize your current staffing level. If you are overstaffed, or if some employees work more hours than required, take steps to remedy the situation without hurting employee morale. First of all, do not downsize. One of the biggest unintentional effects of layoffs is that the proficient employees who remain on staff quickly leave the company for greener, more secure, pastures. Here are some better solutions:

  • Streamline Employee Hours. Slightly reduce employee shifts during slow periods. Restrict overtime to only the most critical needs.
  • Provide Cross-Training. If employees can handle more than one job, you can combine positions or avoid hiring temporary help during peak periods.
  • Hire Interns. Interns can do some of the front-desk or administrative work. Look to your local high school or college for students pursuing careers in the fitness industry.
  • Implement Incentive Pay for Employees. Rather than setting a fixed salary, offer employees compensation that is tied to performance and results (Winters 2000).

Acquire Equipment on the Cheap

Exercise equipment ranks high on the list of health club costs. Making all of your purchases from one company can lower your overall price tag. Alternatively, consider leasing your equipment. Many manufacturers offer competitive commercial lease programs that will considerably lower your monthly costs. Another option is to purchase used, refurbished or remanufactured equipment.

Save on Internet Service

Although you may have had your Internet service for years, now is the time to see if other providers offer the same service at less expense. Sizable competition exists in the Internet market today, so check the prices; chances are, with a little investigation, you can find a service provider that can offer the same hosting services at a much lower cost (Gerson 2003).

Keep Marketing and Advertising Costs Down

Even when your budget is tight, you need to keep promoting your facility. You may think you need big bucks for marketing and advertising, but you can employ many creative strategies to promote your club on a fairly small budget.

  • Use the Barter System. Develop relationships with owners of local businesses that serve the same target market as you do; for example, sporting goods stores, sports injury clinics and spas. You can partner with these organizations by displaying your marketing materials at their locations and, in exchange, letting them post their materials at your gym (Metcalf 2004). Another idea is to swap ad space in your newsletters.
  • Help Yourself by Helping Others. It is a well-known fact that schools and community centers are cutting back on physical education classes. Use this information to your advantage by volunteering your staff to teach exercise classes at local schools or community centers.
  • Use the Right Media. Rather than spend significant dollars on large television ads or national consumer magazine spreads, focus on targeted media in your community; for example, local lifestyle publications; local cable talk shows; or inserts in newspapers in your geographic area (Mullich 2003). You will not only reach more potential members but also save money.

For more specific tips on cutting costs and for a full reference list, refer to the complete article in the July-August issue of IDEA Fitness Manager or online in IDEA's Health and Fitness Article Library.

Tell Us What You’re Doing: How do you get creative in a slow economy? What cost-saving steps have you taken to stay within budget? E-mail your responses to, and we may publish your comments in a future issue of IDEA Fit Tips.

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About the Author

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES

Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES IDEA Author/Presenter

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