It is no secret that fitness facilities are continually on the hunt for innovative ways to increase and retain their membership rolls. Tapping into underserved markets—especially the fast-growing Hispanic consumer market—could be just what the fitness industry needs in order to maximize sales today and increase business tomorrow. (Note: Hispanics, or Latinos—the terms are used interchangeably—are persons of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race; for consistency’s sake, this article uses the term Hispanics.)
Today’s Hispanic consumer market is not only showing tremendous strength in numbers; it is also composed of proactive consumers who exercise considerable buying power. Additionally, Hispanics are at risk for certain health conditions such as diabetes that regular exercise can significantly improve.
So remain competitive in tomorrow’s marketplace by investing in this community right now. You may find that targeting Hispanic consumers turns out to be both good business and a socially responsible way to Inspire the World to Fitness® among Hispanics in your area.
There’s Power in Numbers
The recent growth in the Hispanic population has become a national phenomenon that is influencing virtually every corner and pocket of our nation. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 41.3 million Hispanics now live in the United States, making Hispanics the largest minority group in the country (Bernstein 2005). To put things in perspective, this means that approximately 1 in every 8 Americans is of Hispanic origin (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association [IHRSA] 2003).
This swift expansion does not show any signs of abating. Hispanic residents accounted for one-half of the overall U.S. population growth of 2.9 million between July 2003 and July 2004 (Bernstein 2005). According to projections, Hispanic numbers will continue to grow at an average rate of 2.8% per year from 2002 to 2020, compared with a growth rate of 0.8% for the total American population (Mann 2003). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that by the year 2040, there will be 87.5 million Hispanic individuals, comprising 22.3% of the American population (CDC 2006).
Mapping Out the Growth
So where is all the growth in the Hispanic consumer market? No longer restricted to states that form the U.S.-Mexican border, this demographic shift is occurring nationwide. Currently the states with the greatest concentrations of Hispanics are New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida (see map above). This information should be of particular interest to health club facilitators in these states. The noteworthy growth in these areas opens up vast opportunities for local fitness facilities to augment their membership sales by reaching a new, underserved market.
There are two other important factors to keep in mind when targeting the Hispanic consumer market. First, the biggest escalation in the market is among the Hispanic middle class, which has grown nearly 80%—to 2.7 million households—since 1980 (Villasenor 2001). Fully one-third of all Hispanics, approximately 12 million people, are part of middle-class America (Villasenor 2001). Second, the median age of Hispanics in the U.S. in 2005 was 27.2 years (U.S. Census Bureau 2006). So to increase the chances of success, facility owners should be tailoring marketing strategies and new programs to a younger audience with average income.
Show Us the Money
In addition to sheer numbers, there is no doubt that the Hispanic community has significant purchasing power and economic clout in this country. According to IHRSA, Hispanics controlled $580 billion in spending power in 2002 (IHRSA 2003). U.S. Hispanic purchasing power has surged to nearly $700 billion today and is projected to reach as much as $1 trillion by 2010, according to the most recent estimates from HispanTelligence®, the research arm of Hispanic Business magazine (HispanTelligence 2006). And these figures do not take into account undocumented immigrants. The growth rate is nearly three times the overall national rate over the past decade (Hispan Telligence 2006).
Furthermore, between 2002 and 2020, Hispanic household income will grow by an average of 4.8% per year, 0.4% ahead of non-Hispanic income (Mann 2003). The amount earned by Hispanics will continue to escalate as the population ages and new immigrants acclimate to the American lifestyle.
So what do all these numbers mean to you? Health clubs can use this information to their advantage. This is proof positive that Hispanics have significant disposable income, meaning that reasonable membership costs are likely not to be a barrier to exercise. Health clubs must persuade Hispanic consumers to spend their disposable income on health and fitness as opposed to other products or services.
Help Improve Health
In addition to the opportunity to increase your club’s profit margin by targeting Hispanic consumers, there exists the equally, if not more, important opportunity to improve the health and quality of life of the Hispanic population. This group is particularly vulnerable to a multitude of preventable diseases. Among Hispanics the leading cause of death is heart disease, according to the CDC, and there is a disproportionately high prevalence of obesity and diabetes (CDC 2006; Pew Hispanic Center 2002). Stroke is another top killer (CDC 2006).
The health statistics for this population are outright alarming. Hispanic obesity rates, already higher than rates among non-Hispanic whites, continue to escalate. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that rates of obesity among Hispanics doubled between 1991 and 2001 from 11.6% to 23.7% (American Council for Fitness & Nutrition [ACFN] 2004). According to the National Center for Statistics and the CDC, 23% of Hispanic males and 27.5% of Hispanic females are obese (ACFN 2004). These rates are higher than those for non-Hispanic whites, which are at 22% and 21%, respectively (ACFN 2004).
As fitness professionals well know, the ramifications of being obese are widespread and include increased risk for numerous life-threatening diseases. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), studies show that Mexican Americans are hospitalized for heart attack more often than non-Hispanic whites (AHA 2006). Moreover, Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-Hispanic whites (5.7 per 1,000 compared with 3.0 per 1,000) (Pew Hispanic Center 2006). More specifically, diabetes has been reported to occur at a rate of 16%–26% in Hispanic Americans aged 45–74, compared with 12% in Caucasians (non-Hispanic) of the same age (Fraser 2005).
The elevated rate of obesity and subsequent related health conditions among Hispanics are primarily due to a sedentary lifestyle. Numerous studies show a low prevalence of regular exercise among this population. The U.S. government’s third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) reveals that 40% of Mexican Americans do not exercise in their free time, as compared with 18% of whites (Associated Press 2000).
The good news is that many of these diseases can be improved, or even prevented, through healthy lifestyle choices and regular physical activity. By encouraging Hispanics to exercise and providing services and classes tailored specifically to their needs and goals, you can enhance their health and quality of life and play a part in changing this trend.
Cultural Barriers to Consider
In order to develop new programs, classes and marketing campaigns for the Hispanic population, it is vital to understand certain cultural factors that exert a deep influence on consumer behavior.
First, family is a core value in this culture. Hispanics tend to live in large households with extended families. These families are tight-knit and do many activities together. Therefore, offering family-oriented activities could increase your appeal to this group.
Along the same lines, family plays an important role in consumer decision making among Hispanics. Advertisements about products and services may serve to pique interest; however, this interest usually does not translate into a sale until someone else in the family (a trusted source) confirms that the product or service is worthy of purchase. In fact, there is virtually no other market where word-of-mouth and grass-roots referrals are more relevant and important.
“[In the Hispanic community] it’s not about buying the latest, best, most recent and most improved,” says Rosanna M. Fiske, principal and managing partner of the Communiqué Group, a public relations firm. “It’s about buying trust and reliability—and a brand that is committed to their market.”
Next, cultural views related to dietary choices, physical activity and weight among Hispanics may actually interfere with and deter weight loss efforts. Food preparation in the Hispanic culture tends to include a significant amount of grease and salt, and emphasis is not typically placed on the importance of regular exercise. These traits, coupled with a common acceptance of excess weight, can be a challenge when it comes to improving overall health status. Therefore, education regarding healthy lifestyle choices plays a crucial role in convincing this population to exercise. It is vital to offer instruction that can help Hispanics alter their perspective on eating habits and physical activity, while still respecting these clients’ traditional cultural views.
Finally, most health clubs today process dues payments only via electronic funds transfer (EFT), whereby dues are automatically withdrawn from members’ bank accounts or credit cards each month. In general, the Hispanic population is not comfortable with EFT and may decide not to join your club based simply on this fact. So consider accepting cash payments for dues.
What Can Your Facility Offer Hispanic Consumers?
So how can your fitness facility reach Hispanic consumers and meet its needs and health objectives? Here are some ideas:
- Get a Hispanic spokesperson to promote your club. National department stores have already begun to use this tactic. For example, Kohl’s recently started carrying clothing by Daisy Fuentes, whereas Kmart features a line by Mexican singer-actress Thalia. Consider approaching national or local Hispanic celebrities to participate in your marketing efforts.
- Offer family gym classes that feature different family-oriented activities for individuals of all age groups and fitness levels. Organized basketball games or swimming leagues are ideal group activities that promote togetherness among Hispanic family members while also offering a great workout.
- Offer membership discounts for families.
- Provide on-site daycare services so that families can bring younger children and know that their little ones are safe and cared for while the rest of the family exercises.
- Take health and fitness education to local churches. Regular church attendance is a principal value in the Hispanic community. So hand-carry your education and marketing efforts directly to your targeted consumer where you are likely to reach a large group at once.
- Think beyond just offering step aerobics and yoga. Instead, develop classes that feature Latin music and teach Hispanic-style dances, such as tango or flamenco. For example, many Crunch Fitness locations offer “Latino Grooves” classes, consisting of salsa, mambo, cha-cha and hip-hop all rolled into one.
- Encourage your group fitness instructors to become certified in LatinCARDIO®, a new innovative workout dance program consisting of Latin dance moves and music (www.latincardio.com).
Marketing Your New Services
Now that you know what types of programs and services to offer Hispanic consumers in your community, what are the best ways to promote these new offerings? According to business experts, Hispanics have been historically overlooked when it comes to marketing efforts. But the fitness industry has the power to change that. There are several ways to successfully reach Hispanic consumers and develop messages that resonate with the consumer.
The best channels for reaching the mass U.S. Hispanic market are radio, television and grass-roots marketing. Hispanics in the United States generally listen to the radio more than their non-Hispanic counterparts. And while their television viewing is in keeping with the general Hispanic consumer market, when they tune in to Spanish-language television, they tend to watch for longer periods of time. Therefore, investing in advertising on themed cable channels, such as Univision and Telemundo, could lead to significant returns. You should also identify your local Spanish-language radio stations so that you can produce several interesting radio spots.
Don’t stop there. Create innovative, targeted marketing and educational materials that speak directly to Hispanic consumers. Simply translating media and program materials into Spanish may not be as effective as understanding the cultural backgrounds of Hispanics in your area. Hispanic consumers in Los Angeles are different from those in Miami, for example, and will likely respond to different cultural references. Creating marketing campaigns that use a mix of English and Spanish, images of Hispanics and specific local cultural content could resonate well with the Hispanic consumer market.
“Materials in Spanish are helpful, but just translating the materials and providing them to the masses will not influence or change public opinion,” explains Fiske. “Information has to be delivered by someone or something they believe and trust. And then by providing the Spanish materials, the message will be reinforced.”
Another tried-and-true approach is traditional advertising. Place ads in your local Hispanic newspaper. Nearly every major city in the U.S. has a local Hispanic newspaper in circulation. For example, El Nuevo Herald in Miami is the #1 Hispanic newspaper in the country. Other examples include La Opinión in Los Angeles, El Diario la Prensa in New York and La Raza in Chicago. Find out what Hispanic newspaper is in circulation in your city and contact the circulation or advertising department.
Along the same lines, why not go national? If your facility is a countrywide chain, then consider advertising nationally through Hispanic magazines. Titles like Hispanic, Hispanic Business, Latina, People en Español, Latingirl and Urban Latino are widely read among the Hispanic population.
One further approach is to contact minority trade and professional associations. These groups can provide valuable information and offer you the chance to network with local Hispanic professionals and key people within your community. For instance, the National Society for Hispanic Professionals (www.nshp.org) has local chapters in New York, Texas, Florida and California. The National Hispanic Business Association (www.nhba.org) also has chapters in various states across the country. Consider offering health and fitness presentations at association meetings and other local cultural events to raise awareness of the importance of fitness and increase recognition of your facility.
“What’s most important to note in marketing to U.S. Hispanics in general is the need for integration,” advises Fiske. “You cannot concentrate your marketing to one discipline, such as advertising or public relations. You have to develop a cohesive, communications-driven approach that includes several disciplines for message reinforcement. That way, the buzz or word of mouth is created with the family, the key ingredient to securing credibility, trust and brand loyalty within the Hispanic market.”
Examples of Clubs That Cater to Hispanics
Several pioneering health clubs have already begun successfully tapping into the Hispanic consumer market and are now reaping the rewards. Bally Total Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, and the Long Branch Senior Center in Takoma Park, Maryland, are excellent examples of facilities effectively reaching the Hispanic population. Here’s a snapshot of some of the innovative programs and services these clubs offer to Hispanic consumers.
In June 2005, Bally Total Fitness introduced its own versions of the traditional Latin beverage Licuados in the juice bars in California locations. Licuados (pronounced lee-kwa-dohs) is an authentic beverage found all over Mexico, Central America and Latin America. A blend of milk, fruit and ice, this drink provides an energy boost before exercise or serves as a refresher after working out. Certain Bally’s juice bars now serve up to three different versions of the beverage: the “Bicep Boost Licuado,” the “Piña Colada Licuado” and the “Lean and Mean Licuado.”
On the programming front, Bally’s offers Latin-inspired workouts, such as salsa, Brazilian samba and Capoeira, a unique Afro-Brazilian art form that blends dance, music, gymnastics and martial arts. Bally’s has also updated its website (www.ballyfit ness.com) so that Hispanic consumers can click on the “Bally en Español” button, which allows visitors to view certain sections of the site in Spanish.
Last year, 24 Hour Fitness joined with Coca-Cola to reach out to Hispanic consumers by providing the tools and information needed to lead a healthier lifestyle. In partnership with the beverage giant, 24 Hour Fitness offered free health screenings at two of its Texas locations, providing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar level screenings from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Hispanic members also had the chance to meet a former Selección Mexicana soccer player, Ricardo Peláez, and engage in fun and interactive activities, including a shout-out challenge, face painting and foosball.
In Takoma Park, the Long Branch Senior Center, which is affiliated with Holy Cross Hospital, offers a Spanish PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) program for their primarily Hispanic and Vietnamese population. The program is sponsored by a grant from the Arthritis Foundation, and technical assistance and program support are provided by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s arthritis project. Each participant in this program receives a Spanish PACE manual written and produced by the Arthritis Foundation.
“Part of the mission of Holy Cross Hospital is to provide community outreach that improves health status,” according to Sarah McKechnie, MA, the clinical exercise specialist who teaches this class. “The PACE program helps to achieve this goal through appropriate exercise for a vulnerable population, namely our aging Latino community. The health benefits for our participants include improved mobility, balance and strength, but of equal importance is the fact that we have fun.”
Viva La Diferencia!
Be part of the fitness revolution when it comes to helping the Hispanic community get active and moving. As a fitness facility operator, incorporate diverse programming and marketing campaigns targeted to the Hispanic consumer market as part of your long-term growth strategy to produce optimal results and profits. Taking this step will give your facility a competitive advantage over other clubs, while simultaneously contributing to the well-being of the Hispanic population.
Here are some key points to consider if you want to better service and appeal to the growing Hispanic consumer market:
- Approximately 1 in every 8 Americans is of Hispanic origin.
- Currently the states with the greatest concentrations of Hispanics are New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
- The biggest escalation in the Hispanic consumer market is among the middle class, which has grown nearly 80% since 1980.
- Because the median age of Hispanics in the United States is 27, facility owners would do well to target a younger audience when it comes to programming and marketing strategies.
- Hispanics controlled $580 billion in spending power in 2002.
- This group’s purchasing power has surged to $700 billion today and is projected to reach a whopping $1 trillion by 2010.
- Because this population has significant disposable income, reasonable health club membership fees should not present a barrier to exercise.
- Hispanics have a disproportionately high prevalence of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can be controlled with lifestyle changes.
- Obesity rates among Hispanics doubled from 1991 to 2001 and are higher than those for other ethnicities.
- Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.
- Hispanics tend to abstain from exercise, which is not surprising considering the low importance the culture generally places on physical activity.
- Family values weigh heavily on purchasing decisions; no market is more likely to be influenced by word of mouth from family members.
- There tends to be a common acceptance of excess weight among Hispanics.
- This population prefers to pay for things in cash, not via electronic funds transfer (EFT), so offer several payment methods to these clients.
- The best channels for marketing to the Hispanic consumer are radio, TV and grass-roots marketing. A good strategy is to advertise on Hispanic cable channels, such as Univision or Telemundo, or in local Hispanic newspapers.
- Creating marketing campaigns that use a mix of English and Spanish, images of Hispanics and specific local cultural content could resonate well with the intended target.
- Working with minority trade and professional associations will increase your reach.
When targeting the Hispanic consumer market, it is essential to continually focus on retaining your newest members by keeping current on this population’s changing values, priorities and buying patterns. As the Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow steadily and become more acclimated, certain cultural aspects will change. Here are several resources to help you keep up-to-date:
- American Multicultural Marketing, www.american multicultural.com
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Minority Health: Hispanic or Latino Populations, www.cdc.gov/omh/Populations/HL/HL.htm
- CIA World Factbook, www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook
- Hispanic Health Council, www.hispanichealth.com
- HispanicOnline, www.hispaniconline.com
- Hispanic Research Inc., www.hispanic- research.com/home/
- HispanicSURF, www.hispanicsurf.com/culture_surf.htm
- National Alliance for Hispanic Health, www.hispanichealth.org
- National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, www.hcfoundation.org/
- Pew Hispanic Center, http://pewhispanic.org/
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McFadden, J. 2003. Cross-cultural marketing. Fitness Management (April).
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Pew Hispanic Center. 2002. Hispanic health: Divergent and changing. http://pewhispanic.org/factsheets.
Plouffe, J. 2003. The role of the emerging Hispanic population: Power in numbers. The Galt Global Review (August 26).
Rifkin, J. 2000. Good health challenges Hispanic food. Hispanic Times (March).
Suro, R. 2006. A growing minority. The World Almanac Special Section: Hispanic Americans. www.facts.com/ wfea70050.htm; retrieved June 27, 2006.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2006. Press release: Nation’s population one-third minority. www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/006808.html; retrieved Sept. 6, 2006.
Villasenor, J. 2001. Martinez in the middle: Marketing to Hispanic Americans. Brandweek (May 14).
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