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Entries in CBI InBrief (14)


What Your Health Club Needs to Know About EMV ‘Chip’ Credit Cards

With the introduction of EMV credit cards—ones with embedded chips—comes the promise of increased security. Many companies are now attempting to integrate the cards quickly and effectively so they can continue to manage their businesses efficiently.

EMV, in case you’re curious, stands for “Europay, MasterCard, and Visa”—the three institutions that developed a standard for the chip readers.

In the U.S., in particular, health clubs are feeling the impact of this transition, leading many operators to wonder how they can comply—safely, securely, and with the least amount of disruption and expense.

Though the switch to chip cards was designed to provide users with a deeper level of security, the implementation of EMV has proven somewhat problematic with respect to such things as dated information, equipment costs, data safety, and transaction times. While clubs are striving to get online with EMV, they’re also monitoring their administrative and financial operations to detect—and deal with—any glitches.

Dealing with Expiration Dates

Credit card expiration dates pose a few challenges.

“A challenge we’ve experienced is a significant number of account declines occurring because a member wasn’t aware that they needed to contact us to update their information,” says Cheri Terhorst, the member relations specialist at Club Northwest, in Seattle, WA. “The new cards they received had the same number, but a different expiration date, so their financial institution declined the charge.”

Steve Ayers, the chief revenue officer at ABC Financial, is also familiar with some of the difficulties involved in processing monthly EMV card payments. Fortunately, like other billing service providers, ABC is developing strategies to minimize them. For several years, the firm has utilized card updater account programs to compare the card numbers and expiration dates on file with the ones listed by specific credit card companies; this allows discrepancies to be identified and resolved.

So, while the number of first-time declines has, in fact, increased, updater programs are actively tackling the problem. As a result, the number of declined cards—and failed EFT (electronic funds transfer) transmissions—is now roughly the same as it was before the EMV cards were introduced.

Transitioning to EMV-friendly Devices

Another obstacle to implementation is the need, on the part of many businesses, to update or replace their payment terminals with costly new EMV-friendly devices. And, even after acquiring and activating them, training staff in their use, and coaching members, transaction times may be slower than with the old card-swipe systems, and there’s no guarantee that security will necessarily improve.

Research conducted by security experts at NCR, a payment technology company, has found that credit card thieves are now able to rewrite the magnetic strip code on the back of the EMV card, allowing them to continue producing counterfeit cards. To protect against this, Ayers suggests that clubs work with their billing service provider to create alternative, low-cost software solutions that facilitate point-to-point encryption in order to keep members’ card data safer. Some payment terminal companies now offer encryption options at an additional cost, which provides an extra layer of defense to shield information from hackers.

At this point, it’s unclear when the transition to EMV will be close to complete in the health and fitness industry, but, Ayers concedes, it’s taking longer than expected. One of the reasons: “In other countries, EMV came first, and, then, the software was built around it,” he explains. “But in America, the software came first, and now has to be reworked to accommodate EMV."


Managing the Sticky Wicket of Social Media

It’s agreed. Social media can be a great tool that IHRSA clubs can use to grow their membership base, as well as retain loyal customers, by connecting with them and creating “buzz” around their programs and services.

However, the public, uninhibited nature of this communication mode can pose some major challenges for club operators. What problems are most likely to occur? Here are some hypothetical scenarios that could arise in your club, and what you can—and can’t—do under the law as it stands right now.

Situation #1: Sherri S. and Christine E. are Zumba instructors at ClubFun. While Sherri loves her work, she feels that the club could be more orderly, and that she’s not getting enough break time. But, instead of speaking directly with her manager about these issues, she voices her complaints to Christine through social media, tweeting, “Not too much to ask to keep facilities neat and give employees the breaks they deserve!” The next day, Sherri’s manager says the tweet was disrespectful, and he’s considering whether or not to retain her as an employee after her sarcastic outburst.

Question: Can an employee be terminated for what a company sees as misuse of its social media accounts?

Answer: No. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) prohibits restrictions on union and non-union employees because their concerted activity is protected. Individuals are allowed to talk about conditions of employment to co-workers, even if that conversation takes place on social media.

The NLRB has issued a number of judgments in this area. One of the most recent dates from March 2016, when an administrative law judge ruled that Chipotle violated the law by applying an unlawful social media policy that required an employee to delete tweets from his personal Twitter account. 
One of the tweets that Chipotle asked to be deleted arose from a customer tweet, “Free Chipotle is the best thanks.” The employee responded, “Nothing is free, only cheap #labor. Crew members only make $8.50hr how much is that steak bowl really [sic].”

Situation #2: Tom B. is a dedicated member of the marketing team at SocialFit. As part of his role, Tom is active on Twitter.

He constantly tweets with exuberance and excitement, discussing the benefits of club membership with all of the company’s followers. Tom occasionally tweets during off-hours to engage followers who may have missed specific posts, and asks to be compensated for the additional promotion he’s been doing for the club.

Question: Should employees be paid for the work that they do on social media after work hours?

Answer: Thanks to federal and state hour and wage guidelines, the answer is—it depends. The first thing to determine is whether Tom B. is exempt from overtime requirements. If he is, then the salary he’s being paid covers tweets after regular work hours. Exempt employees are paid to complete their job duties, regardless of the number of hours.

If, however, Tom B is an hourly employee, then federal (and many state) wage and hour laws prescribe that he must be paid overtime for hours worked that exceed 40 per week.

In this era of smartphones and remote access to networks, it’s easy for a grey zone to exist when an employee is “off the clock” and away from the club, but still has the ability to send out social media posts.

Therefore, it’s very important for employers to create a clear policy that addresses whether or not work done outside of working hours is allowed.


Would an Act of Congress Help Americans Get Active?

It’s a question we’ve all been pondering for years: What will it take to get more Americans to incorporate the habit of exercise into their daily lives? Would an act of Congress help? An act that promotes physical activity by helping individuals and families more easily pay exercise-related expenses?

It certainly would, and IHRSA has been working diligently to pass such a bill... but it’s well known that government moves at a glacial pace.

Ten years ago, IHRSA, along with the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA) and the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), joined forces to introduce the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act.

PHIT would allow Americans to pay for club memberships, youth sports league fees, fitness equipment, and exercise DVDs with pretax dollars from their health savings (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs).

Although 100 members of Congress are currently sponsoring PHIT, it hasn’t yet passed. So, to gather more congressional support for the proposal, in May, IHRSA joined with the Congressional Fitness Caucus to sponsor the #WhyGetActive Health Policy Fair in Washington, D.C.

The attendees enjoyed a range of interactive exhibits and activities provided by IHRSA members and partners, which included, among other things, group exercise classes, booths for health screenings and evaluations, and stations that offered onsite massage therapy.

The IHRSA exhibitors included Steve Capezzone, the CEO of Healthtrax International, Inc., based in Glastonbury, Connecticut, and Allison Flatley, the COO of Corporate Fitness Works (CFW), based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Both are members of IHRSA’s board of directors.

Attendees also were encouraged to take part in the #WhyGetActive social media campaign, which encourages individuals to write down their reasons for being physically active on a whiteboard and, then, share that message, along with a photo, across a number of online platforms and networks.

The event was well received, and a number of congres- sional staffers and five members of Congress participated. The latter included Representatives Bob Dold (R-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

“The opportunity to engage with members of Congress and their staff at the Health Policy Fair was priceless,” says Flatley. “Regardless of their political party, the members of Congress are concerned about the health of the nation, and they’ve acknowledged the good work our industry does, and the need for our expertise to help affect policy and behavior change.”

While the May gathering was very successful, there’s more work to do, and IHRSA clubs can help.

You can encourage your staff and members to call or e-mail their congressional representative to express their support for legislation such as PHIT. Targeted communications play a vital role in emphasizing the importance of physical activity, says Helen Durkin, IHRSA’s executive vice president of public policy.

“As we’re in the midst of an election year, it’s more important than ever to send the right message to our political leaders so they clearly understand the impact they can have on the health decisions of our citizens,” she explains. “If we make physical activity a priority, then we’ll be able to make a real difference in the lives of all Americans, and, by doing so, help ensure the nation’s future prosperity and stability.”


Why Passing WHIP and PHIT Increases Access to Exercise

Imagine a day when federal legislation would afford favorable tax treatment to club memberships, regarding them as an employee benefit, rather than treating them as additional, and, therefore, taxable income.

Then, beyond that, imagine a day when government and the healthcare community would recognize the importance of exercise as an effective preventative measure by permitting club members to treat part of the cost of their membership as a qualified medical expense.

Those sunny days might, in fact, be approaching. Recent developments in Washington, D.C., suggest that physical activity has once again become a prominent topic of discussion on Capitol Hill.

Most notably, in November, the Workforce Health Improvement (WHIP) Act, which IHRSA has supported since 2003, was reintroduced in Congress by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). This act would make it easier for firms to offer club memberships to their employees. The current tax law permits companies to deduct, as a regular business expense, the cost of either onsite or offsite exercise facility subsidies for employees. Employees who take advantage of the offsite benefit must pay income tax on the value of the subsidy, while those who make use of an onsite facility aren’t required to do so.

The WHIP bill, if enacted, would resolve this inequity. It would eliminate the tax on offsite fitness center subsidies, and allow employers to deduct the cost of the benefit regardless of where the fitness services are provided.

The WHIP Act isn’t the only physical activity bill poised for passage. For the past nine years, IHRSA also has been working to promote the adoption of the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act, which was reintroduced in September.

The PHIT Act would encourage more Americans to become physically active by providing them with a tax incentive that would help them pay for club memberships, fitness equipment, workout videos, and youth sports league fees. The act would change the current federal tax law, allowing individuals to make such purchases using the money held in their flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), or medical savings accounts (MSAs).

Like the WHIP Act, the PHIT Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance for approval.

IHRSA has worked diligently to promote passage of these legislative initiatives, since they’d provide real benefits for the association’s member clubs. The WHIP Act would provide incentive for companies to fund memberships for their employees, while the PHIT Act would help people pay for a variety of fitness-related expenses.

A number of broader implications are posited by these acts. If enacted, both of these bills would promote healthy lifestyles as an important form of preventative medicine, helping to reduce overall government, businesses’, and personal medical costs. The bills would also, over time, lead to a healthier population, increased worker productivity, and lower rates of absenteeism among employees.

These are goals that the health and fitness club industry constantly strives towards. Therefore, it’s crucial that we work to increase the number of cosponsors for both bills by reaching out to members of Congress, and asking them to endorse and support WHIP and PHIT. “Primary prevention—supported by legislation such as the WHIP Act and other public policy initiatives—is the most cost-effective means of securing the future health of Americans,” observes Helen Durkin, J.D., IHRSA’s executive vice president of public policy.

Working together as an industry, and with the support of forward-thinking legislators, we can make primary prevention a reality.


Pioneering Health Club Sets the Standard for Cardiac Rehab Programs

Cardiovascular disease—which includes heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions—is currently the leading cause of death across the globe. 

For decades IHRSA clubs, as proponents of regular exercise, have been playing an important role in helping the nation improve its heart health, since physical activity has been shown to improve cardiorespiratory fitness, reduce cholesterol, and lower blood pressure and the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Some clubs have gone so far as to partner with healthcare facilities to enhance their cardiac rehabilitation programs. For example, the Reh-Fit Centre, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, pioneered a cardiac rehab program in the early 1970s in a stress-test laboratory at St. Boniface General Hospital, and the program has continued to grow over the past 35 years. 

It was a bold move because, at the time, the conventional wisdom was that physical activity was harmful for cardiac patients. However, as the importance of exercise was recognized and became better understood, more people came to the lab, says Janet Cranston, the director of support services at Reh-Fit. 

“They began to understand, intuitively, that the key to recovery was exercise, not bed rest, which in those days was the standard prescription offered by many in the medical profession,” she says. 

Currently, Reh-Fit’s cardiac rehab program is delivered by a team of physicians, nurses, fitness professionals, physiotherapists, dietitians, and psychologists via a series of information sessions, interviews, and 16 weeks of education and exercise. 

Upon completion of the program, participants are familiar with the level of activity they need to safely rebuild their health and strength, and are well schooled in improving their diet and overall lifestyle to lessen cardiac symptoms, manage stress and anxiety, and develop a sense of well-being. 

Read the full article in the February issue of CBI.


Health Clubs Must Prepare for the New Legislative Session

With a new year comes a new legislative session—and health clubs need to be prepared.

Last year, state legislatures introduced more than 100 bills with the potential to either help or hurt a club’s bottom line.

At the start of each new legislative session, IHRSA works diligently to identify and track bills that could impact clubs, supporting those that encourage regular physical activity, and opposing those that make fitness service more expensive or that impose punitive restrictions on clubs. And, working with IHRSA member facilities, the effort yields results.

During the past year, club owners in Pennsylvania managed to prevent passage of a sales tax on memberships, and industry advocates in Washington, D.C., helped stall the imposition of burdensome requirements on personal trainers. 

Here are four measures you can take to get involved: 

  1. Educate yourself on the issues that impact your business so you can contribute, knowledgeably and effectively, to conversations about the industry and its future. Begin by logging on to There you’ll find information on a wide range of critical industry topics, including taxes on dues, bonding requirements, employment and consumer protection laws, the licensure of facilities, personal trainer regulation, and tax-exempt competition.
  2. Write letters to your legislators. Showing them that you care about legislation that affects clubs is a crucial step toward achieving your goals.
  3. Schedule a meeting with your legislator to discuss pressing issues in person. Use this opportunity to make your voice and opinions heard. When important legislative matters are pending, act quickly, because developments—either good or bad—can take place overnight.
  4. Use social media. Today, in society, having an active online presence is an effective way to express your thoughts on a variety of topics. By joining the conversation on a number of platforms, you can demonstrate how passionate you are about these issues, and, conceivably, position yourself as a respected spokesperson.

Check out the Advocacy Action Center for more ways to get involved. And support IHRSA's efforts to Grow, Promote and Protect your business by making a contribution today.


CBI: The ‘Halo Effect’ of Community Service

Community service is a popular way for businesses to show their appreciation to customers and enhance their reputation in the community. As an added bonus, charitable initiatives tend to create a "halo effect" and give members and potential members a more positive perception of the business.

Two IHRSA clubs with thriving community service programs were featured in the December issue of Club Business International

Newtown Athletic Club’s Financial Assistance Program

Community service is a constant, ongoing effort at Newton Athletic Club (NAC) in Newton, PA, in part because it appeals to members.

“They love belonging to a club that’s seen as caring and generous,” said Linda Mitchell, director of public relations and community partners for NAC. “That’s how they want to be, too. It helps them relate to you on an emotional level, which will serve you handsomely for the life of your business.”

NAC supports the community via charitable donations and volunteerism, but it’s also developed a financial assistance program for deserving individuals that, it believes, is one of a kind.

The 20-year-old program is predicated on the belief that everyone in the community should have an equal opportunity to become healthy and physically fit. Interested applicants are asked to fill out a form that reflects their ability to pay for a club membership; it’s then reviewed by NAC’s Financial Assistance Review Committee, which consists of the club’s owners, and its general manager, general counsel, and director of charitable giving.

Over the years, the program has given thousands of Newtown-area residents the chance to exercise in a safe, supportive environment—despite financial difficulties.

Franco’s Athletic Club’s Inclusive Programming

Ron and Sandy Franco, the owners of Franco’s Athletic Club (FAC), in Mandeville, LA, have developed a number of programs that have been specifically designed to be inclusive, making club services available and accessible to groups that, otherwise, wouldn’t be able to take advantage of them.

The club provides exercise classes for special needs children and individuals with disabilities to show that it’s possible for them to take part in regular physical activity, and to encourage them to do so. It also offers employment opportunities to local residents with limited mobility.

The gesture not only demonstrates FAC’s commitment to helping those in need but, thanks to the halo effect, also helps sell memberships. The club’s charitable efforts create a positive public impression, making belonging more appealing.

“We invest in our community, because giving back to others has helped us to grow our facility, our membership, and our value,” Sandy Franco told CBI.


IHRSA Clubs Venerate Veterans Day

Every year on Veterans Day, America honors and celebrates all of the members of its military, including active individuals and veterans. These courageous men and women have dedicated their strength, determination, and training to protect and uphold Americans’ rights and freedoms.

Honoring and assisting veterans was the defining objective of IHRSA’s Joining Forces Network (JFN), a program created in 2011 at the suggestion of first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s wife. JFN gives clubs an opportunity to provide health, fitness, and stress-reduction services to military personnel and their families.

At the moment, 801 clubs are participating in this initiative. “We’re grateful for their support,” says Joe Moore, IHRSA’s president and CEO.

IHRSA clubs are also demonstrating their gratitude in a number of other ways.

According to a recent survey, they’re offering a variety of programs that “give back” to our men and women in uniform. Some of these efforts provide veterans with the access, options, benefits, and resources they need to become, and remain, healthy and physically fit, while others provide special employment opportunities.

For example, Anytime Fitness, the Hastings, Minnesota–based franchise, has recently partnered with Tee It Up for the Troops, a national nonprofit organization based in Burnsville, Minnesota (see “Anytime Fitness Helps Vets to Open Clubs,” pg. 22). Tee It Up’s mission is to inspire communities to support their local veterans. Together, the two groups have created Operation Heartfirst, an initiative designed to help veterans open their own health clubs.

The program not only will give them a chance to become club operators, and to offer jobs to other discharged veterans, but also will enlist them in the fight against the nation’s inactivity crisis.

YogaFit for Warriors, another project produced for military personnel, offers strategies to assist them in coping with a number of service-related conditions, including post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The program’s instructors are required to have 100 hours of training in methods to help participants manage and, hopefully, eventually overcome these serious limitations.

Studies, of course, have shown that regular exercise has a number of healing benefits, including, importantly, the reduction of mental distress. This can help make it possible for veterans to deal with PTSD and TBI, as well as depression and bipolar disorder.

Other programs for veterans are more philanthropic in nature.

For example, in August, the acac Fitness and Wellness Center, in Charlottesville, Virginia, served as a major sponsor for the 5th annual 4 the Wounded 5K race at the city’s University of Virginia Research Park. All of the proceeds were donated to three local nonprofits serving veterans, and to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). The WWP, based in Jacksonville, Florida, is dedicated to helping the 3.6 million men and women with service-related injuries readjust to living a normal life once their active service is over.

“In the end, our strong sense of national unity extends far beyond what we achieve on the battlefield,” concludes Moore.

Veterans Day takes place this month, on November 11. What are you doing then, or during the rest of the year, to acknowledge our nation’s military heroes? Let us know by taking the Military Wellness Programming survey.

“We’d like to know what your club is doing, because we’re so proud of the giving nature of IHRSA members,” says Moore.


Wearables, Health Data, and Privacy

The desire to lead a more physically active life has increased significantly over the past five years. There’s no better evidence of this than the soaring sales of wearable fitness devices (“wearables”) such as iFit, Fitbit, Jawbone, the Microsoft Band, and the new Apple Watch. (See “Don’t Be Wary of ‘Wearables,’” August CBI, pg. 49.)

These biometric marvels, designed to help people pursue, achieve, and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, track functions from the simple and straightforward to the impressively sophisticated. At the low end, they can count the number of steps or miles a person walks, and calculate the number of calories they burn, during a day. At the high end, they can monitor heart rate, blood pressure, and even the duration and quality of one’s sleep.

And this technology is just getting started.

Health clubs, of course, have been helping people to live healthier lives, well, for as long as health clubs have existed. Until recently, though, they’ve found it difficult to precisely measure and accurately quantify the success of their programs and services.

The advent of wearables may provide a satisfactory solution.

Their acceptance by the public has been nothing less than remarkable. Parks Associates, a market intelligence firm based in Dallas, reports that, by the end of 2014, fully 30% of Americans had adopted some sort of wearable. And now clubs are following suit.

The Atlantic Club, with locations in Manasquan and Red Bank, New Jersey, introduced the MYZONE MZ3 program in 2013, and is utilizing it to improve member outcomes and increase retention. Thus far, some 750 to 800 individuals have taken part. The program, based on a gamification strategy, involves five wellness challenges per year. The participants’ individual activity performance data is displayed at the club, and also sent to them via e-mail so they can monitor their progress.

Each challenge concludes with an event that rewards participants and confers special prizes on top achievers.

“The program is great because it fosters friendly, healthy competition that promotes club usage, wellness, weight loss, and healthier living, all in a fun-filled environment,” says Kevin McHugh, the CEO of the club.

Though wearables up the ante with respect to exercise documentation, they raise questions not only about how clubs can capitalize on the technology, but also about data security. Because the devices gather a wealth of health information, and, in the future, will likely gather even more, there are concerns about possible violations of club members’ privacy.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently addressed the issue, questioning how the data is being used and by whom, and it’s been suggested that federal laws might need to be amended.

Some of the most basic metrics, e.g., number of steps walked per day, probably wouldn’t be considered medical information, and could be safely shared with, for instance, a personal trainer or wellness program administrator. Other, more intimate matters, e.g., blood pressure and resting heart rate, are clearly medical in nature, and, therefore, would need to be dealt with more carefully.

If new regulations were issued to prescribe acceptable practices for the handling of this sort of data, clubs might be obliged to create systems to ensure and monitor enforcement, incurring additional costs. It’s conceivable that such restrictions might also have an impact on program design, participation, and growth.

It’s important that club operators be aware of these issues, which could become serious ones in the future. Pending further formal clarification, though, they should be cautious in deciding what type of health information can be shared, and when and for what reasons, in order to avoid legal difficulties.


The Fine Art of Forecasting

Anticipating future trends and capitalizing on them is one of the cornerstones of success. Doing so keeps your business fresh, fun, and ahead of the competition.

Just ask Magnus Lindkvist, the futurist and trendspotter, and a keynote speaker at IHRSA 2015 in March, who captivated his audience and earned a rousing standing ovation. He had the same effect when he spoke at the 14th Annual IHRSA European Congress in Amsterdam last year.

Lindkvist may be adept at getting a feel for the future, but how can others go about it?

“To trendspot,” says Lindkvist, “the first thing you need to do is overhaul your ‘information diet.’ … You should strive to be provoked by a new idea, or concept, or person, at least once a week.”

Taking that advice to heart, IHRSA has asked a number of industry leaders to share their thoughts on the progress the industry has made thus far, and their recommendations on how it can move beyond that to encourage more people to adopt healthy lifestyles in the years to come.

That valuable feedback has now been compiled in a new report, Forecasting the Future of the Health Club Industry, with the generous support of IHRSA’s Industry Leadership Council (ILC).

Read more.

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