Feature Article - June 2009
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A Look at Trends in Health, Fitness & Sports Clubs

Health club respondents did project their operating expenditures would drop by 6.1 percent in 2009, revealing that they are feeling some impact from the economy.

IHRSA said that despite the good news its survey revealed on club performance, operators were still making changes to work through the recession, including a heightened focus on customer service, profit centers like non-dues programs, and marketing and advertising. They also were more likely to offer discounts on enrollment fees, shorter-term memberships and services offered to non-members.

"Keeping retention up is, of course, key to keeping your facility in business," Goudeseune said. "To that end, providing your clients with exceptional service and personal attention can keep them from eliminating their gym memberships in an effort to cut costs, or defaulting to a cheaper facility or trainer."

IHRSA agreed that outstanding customer service was a key to keeping existing members, as well as attracting new ones, and added that community involvement is also important. "High-quality customer service will set a great club apart from others, and community involvement will help reach new potential members," IHRSA explained. "Offering flexible membership plans will help, too, for cash-strapped consumers."

Other methods for keeping membership affordable were suggested by Goudeseune, such as waiving initiation or sign-up fees, or offering membership incentives such as free training sessions. "Also consider offering special discounts or reduced fees for group instruction or training, providing clients a more affordable option for personalized attention," he added. "Special events or promotions to show appreciation for loyal clients and members can also be an effective retention strategy."

Health club respondents need these strategies, as they were those most likely to be anticipating a decline in users at their facilities in 2008 and in 2009. Nearly a third expect to see a decline in 2008, and nearly a fifth expect a decline in 2009. That said, half or more expect to see an increase in those years. (See Figure 48.)

Also of note, this year's health club respondents were more likely to be expecting increases than last year's respondents. While 50 percent of health club respondents in 2009 reported an increase in the number of people using their facility from 2007 to 2008, just 40.7 percent projected such a change last year. And while 43.7 percent of last year's respondents projected an increase from 2008 to 2009, 54.3 percent of this year's respondents expect such a change.

Family Friendly

More than 10 percent of health club respondents said they plan to add playgrounds and splash play areas over the next three years, reflecting a micro-trend IHRSA also has identified.

"This figure is consistent with what we've found in past IHRSA Industry Data Surveys," a spokesperson for IHRSA said. "For three years, 7 to 11 percent of participating clubs have indicated that they plan to expand the child recreational areas of their facilities."

This fits right in with the macro-trend mentioned earlier of more clubs reaching out with improved opportunities for youth fitness.