Feature Article - November 2012
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Fitness Gets Personal

Find Your Niche(s) and Stand Out

By Julie Knudson

Today's fitness club members are looking for more than an off-the-shelf workout. They want programs and activities that address their individual needs and concerns. Here, we look at a handful of niche markets that are on the rise.

Kids and Teens

As childhood obesity reaches epidemic proportions, fitness and recreation centers are increasingly targeting youngsters with programs to get them fit and keep them active. At Rye YMCA in Rye, N.Y., kids have the option to participate in activities such as the Teen Strength Camp, or they can work with a trainer in private sessions if that's more their speed. Both offer intense workouts, and class leaders provide the kids with helpful feedback. "We are inclusive," said Ann E. Ivan, fitness center director at Rye. Participants range from accomplished young triathletes to overweight teens.

The team at Rye YMCA sometimes partners with school coaches to spread the word about available activities. In addition, they offer after-school programs and summer camps, some of which are held in other locations to encourage participation and facilitate easy access for the kids.

"We also have Healthy Kids Day once a year, and we make a big thing out of that," Ivan said. Marketing to kids isn't the same as marketing to adults, and Ivan said they come at it from a couple of different angles in order to reach the younger audience. They count on their web site and e-mail blasts to do a lot of the heavy lifting, but old-fashioned chatter is also important. "There's a lot of community word-of-mouth," she explained. "We rely on that quite a bit." Because they're part of a small, tight community, she said they've seen good results from parents and their kids recommending the programs to friends.

One thing to remember is that this demographic has some behavioral tendencies that can quickly turn participants off from exercising. "We will not tolerate any bullying or anything like that," Ivan stressed. "It's just not part of our atmosphere." It's isn't something that usually crops up in adult-only classes, so Ivan said it's something centers need to be on the lookout for as they roll out kid-focused activities.

At Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club in Greenwood Village, Colo., consistency and convenience are two keys to the success of their children's fitness programs. Kids' classes are scheduled at the right time—often shortly after school—and the calendar doesn't change much from month to month. "For the parents, they need to know it's something they can expect, and that it's offered on a regular basis," said Tiffany Levine, the club's director of sales and marketing. Different age groups enjoy different activities, but all are focused on keeping the kiddos active.

As they get older, the kids have more choices and more autonomy in their activities. Once they reach 9 years old, they can join their parents in cardio classes "as long as they're in visual contact with the parent," Levine said. At 14 years of age, the kids have the option to become "youth certified," which allows them to check in at the service desk and use the facilities on their own. Greenwood also offers the kids incentives for staying active, such as prizes for working out three times. "Now the parent doesn't have to say, 'Please stop playing your video game and come to the gym with me,'" Levine said. Instead, the kids know that if they stay active, they'll get a fun gift in return.

The real perk for grownups at Greenwood comes from the cost: Kids' activities are complimentary with the parent's membership until the child reaches 18 years of age. If they're enrolled in college, that age cap increases to 24 years. "We really promote it at the point of sale, so parents know right away when they're joining that they have this opportunity," Levine said. There's also a notable convenience factor, because it's a drop-in system for the kids—no sign-up or scheduling needed.