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Group Exercise Programming

Phillip Mills, Dory Berman, and Lori Lowell discuss group exercise programming options:

Q: In Pakistan, we have absolutely no avenue for structured programming like group exercise. We’re limited to doing conventional exercises in the gym. That being said, I own a 7,500 sq. ft, two-story health club and have just recently rented the 5,000 sq. ft basement for group classes. Although I’ve heard of the popular group exercise programs (like Les Mills, Zumba, etc...) but the cost of acquiring license for these programs is huge.Is there a less inexpensive way to put on quality group exercise classes?

A: The industry standard for group exercise is still "freestyle" i.e. teachers create their own classes. Standardised classes for which clubs pay a license fee are a relatively new development. You can opt to go either way. Standardised choreography is basically a quality assurance method.

The industry standard for group exercise is still "freestyle" i.e. teachers create their own classes.

Programming companies like Les Mills employ top teachers to create classes to proven formulas that they have developed over a period of years. The classes are trialed and refined in live classes, then filmed and notated for learning by teachers at licensee clubs on a regular basis. In addition, some programming companies provide teacher training and certification, and other services such as group fitness management and marketing tools.

We find that clubs using freestyle programming typically experience 250-500 group exercise visits per week, whereas clubs using a significant level of licensed programming experience 1,000-2,000. Based on standard club attendance rates of group exercise members (that are higher than the norm, at around 3 visits per week), this will convert to 250-500 extra members. If, for instance, your club charges $500 per year for membership, then the extra income you stand to earn will be $125,000 - $250,000. You can do your own arithmetic on that basis to decide whether it is worth your while paying for standardised programming.

Congratulations on investing in 5,000 sq. ft. of group exercise. I am sure that whichever way you decide to go you will creat a great niche in your market.

Phillip Mills, President
Les Mills International

My first recommendation is to network. Go to as many different fitness events you can afford.

A: Your question refers to a challenge faced by all, how to offer cost-effective, quality programming lead by motivating, dedicated instructors.

My first recommendation is to network. Go to as many different fitness events you can afford. Often, instructors attending have enthusiasm and passion for the industry and bring those positive attributes with them to their classes.

Cultivate a healthy working relationship with Group Fitness Managers in your area. This may be a bit tricky, but is worthwhile. If the club is located far enough away, you are not likely to be overlap membership, and many instructors look to teach at multiple locales to supplement their income.

If you know of an instructor in your area that is considered outstanding, have them present a master class for your staff. Make it a fun social event, bringing some snacks and encouraging discussion about the class and level of instruction.

Get your instructors together to swap/share choreography. Not only does it build team spirit, but serves to help instructors increase their repertoire of moves and bring new material to their classes. Developing a mentoring program helps, too, having your stronger, more veteran instructors guide those that need work.

Dory Berman, Director of Programs & Service
The Mount Auburn Club

A: WOW! 5000 sq feet for Group Exercise is fantastic.

There are so many options. First of all, just to clarify, Zumba is not a licensed program and there are no fees associated with it that a club pays. Only the instructor pays to become a trained Zumba instructor and the cost of this is minimal. Everyone loves Zumba and it's a great energy class.

As far as Les Mills... yes, it is a licensed program model but the return that you may receive in both membership and high participation can certainly offset the cost. There is always the possibility of charging a small fee for these types of classes to offset the licensing cost but your return on investment really lies with strong member participation in classes which is the basis of Les Mills Programs. The Les Mills instructor training is fantastic and builds a strong core program in your facility.

The industry is full of wonderful class formats. You will be most successful by hiring a great Group Fitness Director who is aware of many options that are available for class implementation and is energetic and willing to try new things. It also helps a lot if the director is in touch with your membership, your demographic, and what your members will like.

A great way to learn about class formats that are available is to buy a handful of different fitness videos for review. Videos serve as an excellent resource to get ideas and develop class formats and a schedule.

There are many class options in the industry that do not require a fee, it is just up to your director to ensure that instructors are properly prepared to deliver a great class of the format you choose to implement. Organized instructor practice sessions are key to class format success.

Most of all, though, it's about having fun. Friendly and helpful instructors can take a program to the next level especially if they are able to develop strong relationships with the members. If your group fitness classes are fun and social and advertised as such, your members will be drawn to them.

Finally, if you take the basement and build a fantastic and beautiful group fitness room with lots of color and energy it will be hard for your members to resist. Don't forget to put in an amazing sound system with a good compatible microphone and a stage. Make sure your lighting is fun and energetic.

Lori Lowell
Owner, Gold's Gym of Woodbridg& President, Group Fitness Solutions, LLC



Effective Prospect Tracking

Franklin Rice, Alan Leach, and Joe Schwar discuss prospect tracking:

Q: “Do you know of a resource that provides (or can you provide) a good prospect tracking sheet (hard copy, not software) for sales people?”

A: It has been my experience that good prospect tracking is critical to the sales process. We know that consumers have become serial shoppers and no longer walk into a gym with credit card in hand ready to enroll. The quality and services of the gym might be a perfect fit and the salesperson may be knowledgeable and professional, but the psychological buying decision of the prospect is usually not immediate. Sure, the salesperson can accelerate the decision with incentive promotions and/or an urgency (end of the month) closeout, but follow-up is still the norm. Statistics show that commitment by the prospect at the first visit is typically in the single or low double digits.

The best resource that I have found, other than Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) software, is a simple Excel spread sheet (download the Excel file). Of course, any type of tracking resource is only as good as the accuracy of the salesperson using it (and regular oversight by the supervisor).

The tracking sheet I have provided is geared toward group or Corporate Sales but can be edited easily for the individual or retail sales person.

Franklin Rice, Wellness Director
New York Health & Racquet Club

A: Success is dependent on a constant supply of prospects. Some come easy. They walk in to your club. Some phone first. Others will be referrals from members. Some will buy. Some will not. Prospect ‘tracking’ is used to monitor and manage prospects as they move through this membership sales ‘cycle’.

If you want a paper based tracking sheet, decide why you want prospect tracking. And what details you want.
  1. Why do you want prospect tracking? To record your own prospects? To record the prospects and performance of sales staff? Or is it to follow up non-joiners?

    The membership sales cycle usually starts with a ‘contact’ between a sales person and a prospect. Maybe an incoming telephone enquiry. Maybe a call from a sales person to a ‘referral’. Hopefully the prospect visits your club - and joins. But membership sales is never this simple. So most clubs use prospect tracking and follow up.
  2. What information do you want from a prospect? Name, address, email, phone number, mobile phone number, company, position at company, desired results, reason for not joining, friends at club, previous gym experience. Prospect details are collected over time. You get a name and number for a ‘referral’ from a member. When you phone, you get their address and work details. When they visit your club, you get the results they want, medical problems, reasons for not joining etc. When you know why you want a prospect sheet, and what details you want, you can simply type up your prospect sheet and photocopy it. Or get your printer to print prospect cards, and put them in lead boxes.
(Editor's Note: Although Alan doesn't use a paper tracking sheet, he did send us this download that is a good example of one.)

But here’s the bad news Mat. I have not used a paper based system in over 20 years. And here’s why...

This January I will do a Direct Mail Campaign to 102,000 prospects. I will bring in €2.4 MILLION in membership revenue - guaranteed. With a paper based system this is impossible.

When a prospect enters our sales cycle, we mail, email, text, phone, and use face-to-fact selling to turn prospects into members. This is very difficult if not impossible with a paper based tracking sheet.

But here’s the good news. I use ACT software. It costs €299. Record as much detail as you like. Set up a serious of calls, emails, and texts for the next 12 months for a prospect. You can manage your sales staff. You can email, text, and do major direct mail campaigns.

Of course, the best prospect tracking sheet or tracking software will NEVER make up for badly-trained sales staff. Invest heavily in sales training. When your staff can close 73%, follow up is not so important. In the US you have the worlds BEST sales trainers: Doug Miller, Karen Woodard, Jim Smith, Mike Chaet, Ed Tock... In Europe you have me.

Alan Leach, Area Manager
West Wood Leopardstown

A: My suggestion would be to develop a digital spreadsheet that would allow you to put all your prospects information into it. Since we don't use anything other than the software written by our IT director, here is what I would suggest as far as follow ups with prospects and members.

Hot Lead follow up:
1 day - written note, thanks for stopping in;
3 days later - phone call follow up. If no commitment then let them know you will be following up within a week to see if they have made a decision yet or they have any questions. At least this way they know you will be following up and will be expecting your phone call;
7 days later - phone call follow up;
10 days later - phone or written note.

If you don't have an answer by now, then they probably weren't a HOT lead! I would follow up again with a note and maybe an article that may be of interest to them from what you should have learned about them when they came in to see about membership. I would do this within 30 days after their first visit and then a follow up every 45 days.

Not So Hot Leads:
Within 10 days after visit - written note thanking them for stopping in;
20 days later - phone call follow up;
30 days later - written note with article. Follow up every 45 days with note or article.

I use these systems even with our members for upgrades, personal training, swim lessons, swim team and anything else they might be interested in doing or paying for.

I include my business card with every written note or article I send out. Also with phone calls, if there is no answer, don't leave a message, try calling about 3 times, then leave a message. Let them know you will be following up with them to find out what their decision is. Be honest, ask them to let you know what their decision is even if its a NO so you can stop bothering them. This usually works well. They will appreciate your honesty and you will know whether you should drop them or stay on top of them. Also let them know, if they are still trying to decide, that you will call them back at a particular time and day. This works well because they KNOW you will be following up and will be expecting your call.

Joe Schwar, Assistant Membership Director & Corporate Outreach
ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers

Revisiting Club Design

Hervey Lavoie and Fred Hoffman discuss revisiting club design and how your members will react:

Q: “How often should we revisit our club's design and layout? Also, how do members typically respond to changes in the club's layout?”

A: These days we know that “change” is a constant. This means that every club should have a forward looking, 5 year master plan and revisit it at six month intervals. Such an exercise will provide a conceptual framework for regular consideration of opportunities to improve your member experience, freshen your look and sharpen your competitive edge in an increasingly crowded club market.

... member terminations trend lower during construction of facility improvements.

A master plan will envision a sequence of high priority upgrades and allow each package of improvements to be undertaken within the conceptual context of the next wave of improvements. This approach minimizes the chances that next year’s childcare expansion will undo this year’s carpet replacement. Looking beyond current needs will always result in a more effectively allocated budget for capital improvements.

We often see member terminations trend lower during construction of facility improvements. The members want to stick around, see and enjoy the renovations. Member response to change can be influenced by how they are conceived, presented, promoted and executed. Changes need to be characterized as “improvements” and sold to the members as value propositions. Member surveys and advisory boards are effective means of gaining member participation in and support for change.

Mr. Hervey Lavoie, President
Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative
616 East Speer Boulevard; Denver, CO 80203-4213

A: I believe that owners should visit their club’s layout and design on an on-going basis. By talking to managers, staff and members, they will acquire a better understanding of how the club is functioning, and will quickly become aware of any problems or issues that affect the overall member experience.

Members want to feel at home in a club and don’t like unexpected changes to their routine.

But more importantly, a broad vision with long terms goals, careful thought, and an open dialogue with the architects and design team during the club’s planning phase will ensure both an attractive and functional design and layout. The decision to completely overhaul the club will come as a result of changes in programming, advances in equipment design and function, normal ‘wear and tear’, a changing demographic and as member’s needs evolve.

When planning to change the layout of your club, avoid negative reactions from members by communicating in advance what changes will take place and what the benefits will be. Members want to feel at home in a club and don’t like unexpected changes to their routine. (Visualize your reaction to someone rearranging your furniture without your prior knowledge or consent). Help them to adapt by providing progress updates and having staff available to explain and introduce the new layout to them.

Mr. Fred Hoffman, M.Ed., Director of International Services
The Club Synergy Group
Paris, France


What to do with old memberships when buying an existing club

Bill McBride, Diogo Angelino, and Rick Caro discuss what to do with existing memberships when purchasing a new club:

Q: “My club is thinking of adding a second location and we're very excited. However, we're entertaining the idea of purchasing an existing club and re-branding it as one of our clubs. The question I have is, when purchasing an existing club is it better to honor all existing memberships or to offer members the chance to leave or purchase a new membership? ”

A: I agree with rebranding the club to your current brand. I also think you should consider allowing the members to remain (at least for some period of time) at their current rates.

consider allowing the members to remain (at least for some period of time) at their current rates.

This is an opportunity to increase both club’s dues rate for a “dual access” membership. You could raise the dues $5-$25 per month for dual access (depending on your price point, market and value proposition). A well thought out value proposition and brand strategy could increase average dues at both sites as well as offer your members a more expansive array of services and programming.

Mr. Bill McBride, Chief Operating Officer
Club One, Inc.

A: The best thing is to avoid at all costs, that existing customers cancel their memberships and put energy on retaining them at the club. As mentioned by Philip Kotler in his book of Marketing, “it costs up to six times more to raise a new customer than to retain an existing.” This is easy to understand, you know where the existing members are and their contacts, but you don’t know where and who are the potential members, so, work your data base and maximize the contacts you already have.

“It costs up to six times more to raise a new customer than to retain an existing.”

You should honor all existing customers, make them feel at home and surprise them with the opportunity to belong to the hall of fame for being part of the club that was renewed. If they feel special to be at your club, they will remain happy at the club and will give referrals of potential customers to sign memberships.

There’s a few tip’s to honor existing members:

  • Praise them with a honorary pack for all existing members;
  • Give them the opportunity to feel special by putting their names on a Hall of Fame Board where everyone can see and comment;
  • Give them, as a special offer, 3 free weeks exercise to give to friends, family or colleagues, in return they just have to give you 3 names and contacts (referrals);
  • Give them the opportunity to be able to help change what in their opinion was less well at the club, let them be your best consultants.

Work hard to retain existing customers and build success from there!”

Diogo Angelino


Solplay Hotel and Health Club

<a href="">View Diogo's contact information</a>

A: It is more important than ever that club owners undertake more scrutiny and do deeper analysis before purchasing a club. Given the economic climate, it is vital to understand a club’s current market conditions (supply versus demand). A club may be underperforming -- not just because management is not as adept as ideal -- but because the market is inadequate. A proper market analysis is required.

In addition, an independent valuation is needed to determine in today’s reality what a club is really worth. If it is struggling, one can not pay a substantial amount of dollars -- and maybe needs to pay them over time. Given the difficulty of attracting proper debt to go with the equity which is to be provided, the total price of a club is a lot less than 1-2 years ago. One should never overpay for a club. Also, all deals should be asset purchases (not stock), so any liabilities of the existing club stay with the seller. Re-branding a club is a process, takes real time for its effect to register in the local market and substantial marketing dollars over time.

When buying a club, one really needs a base of members to serve as the critical mass for the club to build on right away. It is part of the purchase price and part of the valuation analysis. Technically, since you did not buy the seller’s liabilities, all members will need to sign a new membership contract with you. Temporarily, you can honor the previous contracts -- although most states let members opt out if they take a proactive step to do so.

The challenge for any buyer is to “sell” the existing club members on the “new” club benefits. This may not be easy if the new club has a much higher price-point and has a different culture than the old one.

Many clubs work hard to designate an “Ambassador” who is totally focused on trying to convert the members of the previous club at that same location to the new club. This means using in-person meetings, telephone calls and emails in a series of communications. Sometimes, a seller will let the Ambassador start even before the official closing date.

A lot of variables will determine how successful the new club will be in converting old members to the new club: proximity of price points, any changes in the physical plant/programs/services, the type of demographics of the member, image, etc. In all cases, substantial efforts are critical to recruit these members already on site and then let them serve as future referrals agents for the new club.

Rick Caro ,President of Management Vision, Inc.


Non-Dues Programs And Retention

Scott Lewandowski, Chez Misko, and Jarod Cogswell discuss discounting non-dues revenue products to increase retention:

Q: “I have an idea to give members a 5% club-credit on their membership dues to spend on things like nutrition advisory, personal training sessions, or even as a credit into the fee when the amount is high enough. The goal is to increase retention by supplying a higher level of service to our members. I've seen this work in retail, do you think it will work in the fitness industry?”

A: Retention Success is based on achieving three goals: usage, variety, and relationships. Increased club usage of the member equates to increased value of your monthly dues rate. Participation in a variety of services by the member builds customer loyalty. The more activities a member experiences the more invested the member is reaching their fitness goals within your health club. Last, members join health clubs for the social component of meeting new friends and the support system offered by the staff.

Retention Success is based on achieving three goals: usage, variety, and relationships.The proposed 5% club-credit on their membership dues to spend on additional services within your facility is a member rewards program that shows your appreciation for their business. I support all member rewards programs. The money will allow the member to receive a discount on their next service or experience a new service satisfying the variety component of the retention success.

I recommend the 5% club-credit be a gift card. It is tangible. You also want this money to be used for a service not a credit to dues. Remember, variety. This program must be promoted to the member upon enrollment and announced proudly within the club when earned by members for continued success.

Scott Lewandowski, GM/Regional Fitness Director
Fitness Formula Clubs

A: Incentivizing members to participate in non-dues programs is a good idea and does improve retention. When designing an incentive program like this I would advise the following: keep it simple, make sure you can track its success, make sure the value of the program creates action, include an expiration date and most importantly - don’t do anything to devalue or affect the integrity of your membership.

I prefer programs that reward, recognize, or show sincere appreciation to the member verses a credit, because it could be perceived to devalue your membership. If you credit me 5% every month why don’t you just charge me 5% less? Sending a new member a congratulatory card and $25 gift certificate on successfully completing the first ninety days as a member and getting a personal call to explain the various ways the member could use the gift certificate might create more good-will and a greater percentage of non-dues revenue sales.

Whatever program you design I would suggest piloting it to a smaller group first; this allows you to make sure it is implementable and can minimizes costly mistakes!

Chez Misko, Vice President of Operations
Wisconsin Athletic Club Inc

A: I don't discount dues unless it's a corporate/group membership (10 or more memberships to qualify). Dues are sacred. They steer the business. They pay the bills, payroll, etc. PT and other programs are features that support retention.

Dues are sacred.Also, I'm not sure if 5% is going to motivate someone to purchase other services. My suggestion would be to leave the dues alone, create a short-term program discount that creates a call to action. In addition, develop an incentive for your staff to sell those services.

Here are some examples:

  • Member Offer: 10% off personal training services in the month of December... a $x savings! Offer expires December 15, 2009.
  • Staff Offer: Sell $4,000 or more in personal training this month, receive 10% of your total sales.

Jarod Cogswell, General Manager
ClubSport Oregon


2010 Industry Projections

Bonnie Patrick Mattalian, Steve Krum, Bill McBride, Brent Darden, Herb Lipsman, and Melissa Rodriguez discuss industry projections for 2010:

Q: “Is there any information on projections for 2010 in the areas of membership growth as an industry percentage is concerned, member retention percentage, revenue growth (non-dues), and profitability of fitness clubs? ”

A: Every community in the country is different. Your center’s response to the current economic environment should be based on where you club is in its cycle of business development, how uniquely your center’s brand is positioned in your market, the value of your membership and the efficiency of your operations, and your programs/services offerings.

Although the worst of the recession may be “over”, the jobs market is still a challenge in most areas.As you work on your projections for next year, look at the latest demographic reports for your market area to determine any changes in household income and other factors in your potential target market, and challenge who your target market is and how your competitors are positioning themselves to determine your market capture rate for the coming year.

Depending on the economics of your specific market, we recommend being conservative with your projections, averaging about 2-3% growth over last year with a solid plan for execution.

Although the worst of the recession may be “over”, the jobs market is still a challenge in most areas. Be realistic about retention, and keep this in line with your average actual retention rates from the past year.

Many centers are starting to see a positive swing for this ancillary services/programs with a tie in to incentives, especially in group training and weight management/nutritional services. Some centers report up to 25-30% of revenues, although most clubs see 15-20% in ancillary revenues.

By managing payroll costs and implementing strict expense controls, we expect to see profitability back to 5- 17% for many centers.

Ms. Bonnie Patrick Mattalian, President
Club & Spa Synergy Group Consultants

A: 2010 is an unusually tough prediction for our industry, so our "Crystal Ball" may seem a bit conservative. It is obviously critical that one considers local economies, local unemployment rates, and both local business and residential growth census.

Despite a tough 2009 we remain optimistic about the profitability of our business and project new memberships growth rates of 5-9% at our established clubs.

Member Retention remains our #1 focus, and we hope to continue to achieve a retention rate of greater than 76% through value added membership programming and aggressive hospitality.

Despite a tough 2009 we remain optimistic about the profitability of our business...We agree with IHRSA's growth prediction in non-dues revenues and overall club profitability, and feel a simple "old school" approach toward enhancing the member experience is critical. We intend to grow non-dues revenues by providing more options. Depending on the member's time and budget, they may choose group fitness, private or semi-private training, small group training, or simply workout on their own. By helping each member develop their own "fitness road map" , we grow most revenue lines and have higher member satisfaction.

Steve Krum, Vice President of Facilities and General Manager
Spectrum South Bay

A: While 2010 is expected to be better than 2009 and there is much discussion about the “rebound”- unemployment and consumer confidence are key metrics that affect our growth. We expect retention to continue to improve and sales to be stronger than 2009.

Multiple factors affect each club – strength of sales team, operational excellence, reputation in the community, supply & demand in each market, as well as your value proposition. While there is no set standard I can give as to membership growth – 0-7% would be a broad range to consider based on the specifics of your club and market.

Bill McBride, Chief Operating Officer
Club One

A: In a recent meeting with twelve industry leaders / club owners from around the country, the topic of projections for overall revenue growth was discussed briefly. The consensus of the group was that almost all were forecasting a 3-7 percent improvement over 2009. In addition, the group felt that member retention would continue to be strong and that non-dues revenue would be the primary driver of revenue growth.

Brent Darden, General Manager / Owner
TELOS Fitness Center

A:IHRSA has collected limited performance information from a relatively small sampling of members for the first half of 2009. Overall, the commercial health club industry felt the negative effects of the national recession during the first two quarters of 2009, but most of the reporting clubs noted their ability to maintain bottom line performance by aggressively managing expenses, in spite of reduced revenues. IHRSA’s annual data survey (Profiles of Success) reports average non-dues revenue of 30 – 33% with median membership retention rates of 70-75%. Those clubs reporting results for the first two quarters of 2009 reported steadily increasing performance in non-dues revenue and EBITDAR, with EBITDAR increasing by as much as 7.0%.

As the jobs data improves so will membership sales and retention.There is no scientific forecasting data available on a broad scale at this time. Anecdotally, many of the top industry leaders are pointing to continuing challenges for membership growth during the remainder of 2009 and the first half of 2010. Many of these same leaders point to the unemployment rate as a leading indicator for a return to membership growth. As the jobs data improves so will membership sales and retention. Non-dues revenue is likely to rise in concert with household income increases. In the meantime, the most successful club operators will continue to creatively manage operating expenses until such time as gross revenues begin to show significant movement upward.

Herb Lipsman, CEO
The Health Club Company

A: In IHRSA’s new Monthly Trends Survey this year, one of the items gathered were the business outlook of club operators. Each month, an overwhelming majority of club operators anticipated consistent or improved revenues in the upcoming months. As part of an industry that has remained solid throughout challenging economic times, club operators have reason to remain optimistic.

Overall, the industry is poised for continued success in 2010.The past four years have seen steady U.S. health club membership numbers. Loyal health club members have indicated the value they place on health and fitness as non-dues revenue increased by nearly four percent in 2008. In recent years, clubs participating in IHRSA’s annual Industry Data Survey (as reported in IHRSA’s annual Profiles of Success) have reported a median range of 30-33% of total revenue coming from non-dues sources. Median member retention for these leading clubs has typically hovered between 70-75%.

Although attracting new members may be the lifeblood of a health club, successful club managers find a way to control club costs and increase spending from current members. Managing these two aspects of a club closely will greatly contribute to profitability. IHRSA’s Quarterly Index of leading club-companies reported steadily improved performance in non-dues revenue and EBITDAR over the first six months of 2009. EBITDAR increased by as much as 7.0% for participants between the first quarter and second quarters of 2009.

Overall, the industry is poised for continued success in 2010. With sound management and innovative marketing skills employed by club operators, solid clubs can be expected to lead the way in member retention, non-dues programming, and ultimately, a healthy bottom line.

Melissa Rodriguez, Research Manager


Staying Open For The Holidays?

This week, Gary Klencheski and Barry Klein discuss holiday hours, when to stay open, when to close, and when to shorten your hours:

Q: “Do most health clubs stay open for the holidays and why?”

A: It depends what holiday and how you balance the needs of yourself and your staff against the perceived requirements of your members. The “easy” holidays to close are Thanksgiving and Christmas. Your staff will appreciate it and even your most hard-core members will likely shrug and accept it. New Year’s Day and Easter are more controversial. It is ‘politically’ acceptable to stay closed on New Year’s Day, but the nature of our business and the impact of New Year’s resolutions certainly justify staying open at least short hours. Easter – always being a Sunday – is a toss up since most clubs have shorter hours on Sunday anyway. You might close, shorten your hours even more, have no group fitness classes ... or just do everything normally.

Other holidays – Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, the Day-after-Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eves – don’t make the cut to close, but you can easily offer short hours.

Barry Klein, Owner
Elevations Health Club

A: Fitcorp’s 11 clubs are open on almost all of the holidays except for Christmas, the 4th of July and Memorial Day. Our hours of operation might be reduced but most of our centers remain open. never takes a holiday so neither should we.

Our philosophy is that fitness never takes a holiday so neither should we. Plus not all members are able to spend the holidays with their families. Consequently, we want to give them the opportunity to work out. We also encourage our members to bring a friend in for a workout on the holidays.

Gary Klencheski, President & CEO


Weight-loss On TV

This week, Alex McMillan and Vaughn Marxhausen discuss weight-loss TV shows "lies" and how fitness professionals can spread the truth:

Q: “I am very concerned about current weight loss TV shows. I feel they are telling people lies about weight loss and sending the wrong message about the fitness industry and the fitness professionals. What kind of role can people of the fitness industry take to stand up against this?”

A: The hype is captivating and can actually help people take action because it caters to our emotional side, which often influences our actions. As fitness professionals let’s not fight this, but embrace this side of “the hype” as many people that come into our doors were sparked by this hyped filled media.

To be a beacon, baby you’ve got to shine...It’s true that the hype often sets up unrealistic expectations and can downright scare some people away, but as true professionals we can combat this, dominate over it and crush it by being beacons of the truth. To be a beacon, baby you’ve got to shine and to shine means that we’ve got to be outstanding and outspoken at the “captivation game”.

Let’s take a cue from the over the top hype filled TV personalities and the producers behind them. Let’s turn it on, turn it up and turn it out! Let’s start our own online TV shows and our own community video blogs, let’s be the shocking, fun, engagingly vibrant personalities that people remember, can’t wait to see and talk about constantly, but let’s spice it up with the truth.

People watch the TV shows because they have shock value and are quite entertaining, can’t we do that as good if not better?

Let’s dominate the hype by entertaining with the truth!

Alex McMillan, Ownerr
Fitness Profit Solutions

A: Whether it‘s a weight loss TV show, or other form of media, there will always be someone or a group of individuals that may not represent the fitness industry in the best light. This comes up in any industry: sports, entertainment, politics, legal, as well as the fitness industry.

While we cannot control what others do or say, we can however manage ourselves. Focus on being TRUSTWORTHY. Trustworthiness is a combination of high character and high competence. Unfortunately, there are people in our industry who lack in one or both of these areas, but it is up to us as fitness professionals, as true leaders, to maintain high competence and to be of high character.

In the political world, when politicians are campaigning, they have the tendency to spend their time bashing their opponent, and quickly it becomes a circus when everyone bashes each other. What would our views be of a politician who didn’t engage in that sort of behavior, but demonstrated the attributes of high character and high competence and focused on the truth, the issues at hand?

As fitness professionals, stay the course, maintain your trustworthiness, soon the others go away and will be forgotten.

Vaughn Marxhausen, Area General Manager
Houstonian Lite Health Club


Independent Club vs. Franchise

This week, experts Barry Klein, Amanda Oborne, and Constance Ruiz discuss the benefits of both independent start-ups and franchise businesses:

Q: “I am looking to invest in a start-up health club and trying to decide between an independent club and a franchise. What are the benefits of each?”

A: There are benefits and challenges to opening either an independent or franchise health club. Regardless, PLEASE gain all of the experience you can by at working at a club and studying business before jumping into ownership. Loving fitness is not enough. Having had personal success in a gym is not enough. You are opening a business that happens to be a health club, not just a health club business.

A well-run franchise can eliminate an enormous amount of risk to its franchisees with best practices, advertising, purchasing programs, mentoring, etc. This comes at a price with both up-front and recurring fees, as well as in giving up flexibility in how you run the business.

Both models can work, but it will be your experience, intelligence and hard work that will be most important. Independent gyms are the polar opposite. You can run your gym however you want, but there is no “mothership” to turn to – or pay - for coaching, best practices, advertising, or discounts. This is an emotional decision as much as a business decision.

Franchisers say that their franchisees have a higher rate of success. Independents point out the large number of failed franchises in our industry. Both models can work, but it will be your experience, intelligence and hard work that will be most important.

Barry Klein, Owner
Elevations Health Club

A: Based on what I’ve learned working with the independent club owners who are members of the FitLife Club Network, the choice between independent and franchise really comes down to what kind of owner, and really what kind of person, you are.

Independent owners want to retain complete control over their brand, operating procedures and member experience. They are loathe to pay royalty fees for what amounts to a product created out of their own blood, sweat and tears. They also believe the buck stops with them and don’t want to be beholden to a centralized office that may or may not come through on promised support or make decisions that don’t fit their local needs.

That said, there are some very strong practical reasons for considering a franchise. The business model for a good franchise has already been proven, the brand is already known (there’s no underestimating how expensive it is to build a brand from scratch!), group purchasing lowers equipment and supplies costs, and it can be easier to recruit good staff to a known entity.

Many of the benefits of franchising are available to independents if they join a good regional trade association like the FitLife Club Network or one of the IHRSA regionals. Such associations offer education and networking opportunities, group purchasing offers and a backbone of support and information to assist the independent operator. Visit to learn more about regional associations.

Amanda Oborne, Executive Director
FitLife Club Network

A: An independent start-up is a good idea if you have two essential elements: knowledge of the industry, and knowledge to work “on” your business and not “in” your business. The book that explains this the best is the E-Myth by Michael Gerber. It is a mistake to be a good “technician” and believe that is the only skill set you need to be able to successfully run a business.

A fitness franchise business helps when either one of the two essential elements is missing. If you are from the industry and invest in a franchise, hopefully the systems and support are sufficient enough for the business to take-off. This will allow you the opportunity and time to invest on running the business including administration, marketing, and overseeing that all the processes are in place with the right people to carry them out. On the other hand, if you have management and business experience but don’t have the industry background, again franchising can teach you this.

The best case scenario is if you have both the above skill sets and invest in a credible fitness franchise that knows they are in the franchising business along with enough industry knowledge to make it work.

Constance Ruiz, President


The Role Of Foam Rollers In Fitness

This week, experts Kathie Davis, Annette Lang, and Mark Slavin discuss the use of foam rollers in fitness:

Q: “How significant of a role do foam rollers play in proper fitness? With all the different types of rollers in the market today (polyethylene foam, molded bead polyethylene, eva, etc) which is the best and why?”

A: In simple terms, a foam roller is like your own personal massage therapist. Massage is used to release muscular tension, and as a result, improve muscle tissue quality for improved force production and flexibility. Prior to an exercise session, use of the foam roller is thought to help improve blood flow, muscle warmth, tissue elasticity, joint range of motion and neuromuscular efficiency.

Other benefits include improved exercise recovery and decreased post-workout soreness. All of these components are highly beneficial for improved fitness. Much of this information is anecdotal, however, as minimal research has been performed to support such claims.

The appropriate type and density of the foam roller is up to the individual. The appropriate type and density of the foam roller is up to the individual; the denser the foam, the greater the intensity of the rolling session. Those familiar with massage might liken it to the difference between a soft tissue and deep tissue massage. For example, polyethylene foam is less dense and may be suited for someone who is new to rolling and/or does not have significant muscle mass. Molded bead polyethylene is much denser and might be appropriate for more muscular individuals.

Kathie Davis, Executive Director
IDEA Health & Fitness Association

A: Some form of foam rollers are seen in many health clubs today, and can be an important component of fitness programs. They are used for self massage (self myofascial release), relieving tension in the muscle fibers. This tension is caused by adhesions, or knots that form along the muscle fibers. They can be uncomfortable at one end of the continuum, and evolve into true trigger points which can be ultimately debilitating at the other.

The degree to which you need self myofascial release depends on several factors:

  • Muscle imbalances caused by repetitive habits such as training for a marathon where the same muscles get over-used and opposing muscles under-used.
  • Acute or chronic trauma from accidents or sustained postures like sitting at a desk all day.

The original styrofoam rollers are made of foam cells, that get compressed from the user’s weight over time. Molded bead rollers do not have cells. Beads of polyethylene are injected into a mold and then heat and high pressure is used to compress them. This gives the roller much more structure, and can withstand more weight over a long time.

EVA is a combination of ethylene, vinyl and acetate materials. They are very strong but still smooth. The type of roller depends on how much pressure you can withstand, and how often the roller is being used. If you are using it yourself, then the original styrofoam type is probably fine. If you are buying them for a commercial health club where many people will use them, consider the other types.

Annette Lang, Owner
Annette Lang Education Systems

A: The use of foam rollers has become quite prominent in the fitness industry today and trainers are finding them to be a quite versatile for their clients.

Foam rollers can be a versatile and inexpensive tool for balance and stabilization training as well as an inexpensive way to provide “self massage” to sore or overly tense muscles. In addition they are used for myofascial release and are especially popular for the Iliotibial Band and IT band syndrome. They are also used by Therapists and Athletic Trainers for treatment, injury prevention.

Foam rollers can be a versatile and inexpensive tool for balance and stabilization training as well as... “self massage”. However there are some in the industry who feel that the use of the foam roller may be out of the scope of a trainers function, unless that trainer has received training on the proper use as well as what medical conditions would warrant a caution or in some cases may be contraindicated.

As far as material the difference lies in both durability and density. For high use (commercial) and/or when a more intense pressure is needed the firmer Eva or molded bead polyethylene rollers are more likely to hold their shape. For light use (home) or when a more gentle pressure is desired, the softer foam rollers would be a better choice.

Dr. Mark Slavin, International Director of RTS
Genesis Health Club