Despite a favorable forecast for the fitness industry, and signs of recovery in various sectors of the American economy, facility and studio owners are still taking stock. Faced with tough economic times, some owners, directors and managers continue to put off or scale back on new equipment, leasing rather than buying, or purchasing used or remanufactured equipment instead of new. Here are some of their strategies and suggestions on how to make the most of what you have and what you can afford.

Scaling Back

Martine Dedek, instructor and owner of Studio Evolve, a Pilates and bodywork facility in Seattle, says that before the recession, purchasing decisions were based on need. Through the downturn, however, despite faring well and maintaining her regular clients, she has postponed all purchases and kept inventory stock lower than normal.

“A year and a half ago, I was thinking about adding another Pilates reformer to expand studio capacity,” she says. “However, I have seen a decline in new clients. Although I had hoped to see some growth in 2009, right now I don’t see a need to add more Pilates apparatus, because we haven’t seen that growth. If it can wait, it will.”

Adriana Medina, owner and certified personal trainer at Fuerte Fitness in Seattle, says she pulled back purchasing because it was not a priority. She estimates that she spent approximately $4,300 on new equipment in 2008 and saved about $6,000 by eliminating purchases in 2009. “My personal training has slowed down a bit, so I don’t have as much money. My priority is getting my name out, more than [buying] equipment.”

However, some purchasing practices have not changed. Michele Rinaldi, owner of Rinaldi Pilates in New York City, who purchases an average of one to three pieces of new Pilates equipment per year, has not scaled back. “I have a boutique studio specializing in one-on-one private Pilates sessions, so I think it’s important to always have new and reliable equipment,” she says. “Minimizing the wear and tear on springs, mats and straps helps keep the quality of our sessions up.”

Buying Used

When Medina first opened her studio, she purchased 90% of her equipment at an auction. “Because I started this business by myself, I couldn’t afford to get new equipment,” she says. “[A] client told me about the auction a day before, and I went. I purchased the majority of what I needed and put it into storage until I found a place to lease and construct my studio and space.”

However, purchasing used equipment is not an option for Rinaldi. “I am sure there are some great deals to be found out there,” she says. “However, in a practice where safety is one of the main priorities of a session, I believe it’s important to know that the equipment is new and reliable and can be serviced by the manufacturer if and when needed.”

For owners of small studios or facilities who are interested in purchasing used equipment, Amber O’Neal, owner of Caf├® Physique, an Atlanta-based studio specializing in fitness and nutrition, suggests looking on Craigslist to find a local seller in order to avoid shipping charges. She also recommends staying in touch with colleagues in the business to find out which gyms and training studios are going out of business.

“When appropriate, I approach management and ask about their plans for selling off their equipment. More often than not, they’re looking for any possible opportunity to unload these items at a great price, because otherwise they have to pay storage or just leave them behind,” she says.

IDEA business and program director members can read the full article, “Equipment Purchasing Practices in a Shaky Economy” in the online IDEA Library or in March 2010 Digital IDEA Fitness Manager. If you do not receive this e-newsletter and would like to upgrade your membership, please contact [email protected].