Feature Article - March 2002
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Stay-Fresh Fitness Centers

Ideas to keep your facility from getting stale

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Refreshing service

In addition to cosmetics, dedication to member service keeps fitness centers fresh. And service means knowing what your members want and how to deliver it.

At the Apex Center, for example, service translates into flexibility.

Earth tones and natural materials are also interior
design staples of Life Time Fitness facilities.

"When we were planning this, we didn't want to compete with area centers so much as supplement them," Gregor says. That meant offering daily passes and flexible hours for the heavy drop-in traffic, who often work out at the 3,400-square-foot cardio and weight area while other family members use the center's ice rinks, pools or vast indoor playground. Flexibility also meant offering a wide range of classes for different ages and abilities: Two of the most popular programs include Silver Sneakers, a senior fitness program, and an aerobics class parents can take with their toddlers.

Service also translates into attention to details that may cost extra initially but pay off in member retention.

At the Wheaton Sport Center, an upscale private facility in suburban Wheaton, Ill., the club decided to create a full-fledged spa with hair, nail and skin care, along with massages, to streamline busy members' lives.

"Many of our members were going elsewhere for these services and appreciate that they can now eliminate one or two stops; they can work out and save time," explains Lori Yone, Wheaton Sport Center membership director. She added the spa services, especially the hair salon, have become a good revenue source.

Fitness centers also can improve service by recognizing that members' wants and needs extend beyond the walls of their club. According to Gunderson, Life Time Fitness has begun adding off-site programming—scheduling mountain biking, hiking or kayaking events, offering reduced-rate greens fees at local golf courses, and participating in area cycling and running clubs.

The family-oriented Hockomock Area YMCA
in North Attleboro, Mass., recently underwent
a major renovation and expansion.

"We're realizing the fitness focus is shifting away from just the club and becoming more and more about community-based participation," he says. "We want to facilitate that experience for our members."

Extra attention to service may also include identifying a class of members whose needs aren't being fully met. The renovation and expansion of the family-oriented Hockomock Area YMCA in North Attleboro, Mass., was driven by the realization that the facility needed to offer more to preteens and teens, says Ed Hurley, the facility's president.

"We did not have any dedicated space to this group, which was important since our focus is on kids and families," he explains.

The expansion, completed by the Hodess Building Co., almost doubled the YMCA's size, from 25,000 to 45,000 square feet. It included a number of spaces targeted to teens, including a computer room, a club room to provide meeting space for youth groups, a large community room, two multipurpose rooms and a half gym.

With an eye toward increasing preteen and teen use, Hurley says, the Hockomock YMCA also expanded its fitness area from 3,500 to 5,000 square feet and added $135,000 worth of new equipment. Now, children as young as 10 years old can use the fitness and weight equipment after taking a training class. As a result, younger users are a common sight, often working out alongside their parents.

Of course, responding to member needs is impossible unless fitness centers find out what members really want. This should transcend the standard polls and surveys.

At the Wheaton Sport Center, which recently completed a $2-million renovation and expansion, employees work out there regularly, making themselves available to give-and-take from members.

"We use the club and so do our owners, so if they're on the treadmill or in the hot tub, people come up to them and say, 'Do this or do that,'" Yone says. "And then we listen."