The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is the fitness industry's only global trade association representing over 10,000 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 600 supplier companies in 75 countries.



From educational tools and events to promotional programs and public policy initiatives, IHRSA brings you success... by association!

Join | Renew
Pledge Your Support

Search IHRSA Blog

Welcome to the IHRSA Blog

The Online Home of news.

Blog Home |  Subscribe to our RSS Feed



The much-anticipated release of CBI magazine's new blog, CBI Unbound, is set for April 5. Please stay tuned!


IHRSA 2010 San Diego

Wow, still decompressing from a jam-packed week in San Diego. It is truly amazing how thousands and thousands of IHRSA members from all over the globe gather each year at IHRSA. The CBI editorial team has literally dozens of stories they are working on right now that are a direct result of the IHRSA show, with dozens more sure to follow...I'll let them blog about that (no spoiler alert from me).

Thanks for checking in, OK, here's something you can use, access the April CBI here:

happy reading - Jay


Personal Training and Retention

Laurie Cingle and Nicki Anderson discuss the relationship between personal training and retention:

Q: “Are there statistics on the retention of club members who do personal training? i.e. if a member does personal training how much more likely are they to commit to training vs. signing up for a membership and not attending the gym after a few months.”

A: Retention is a consequence of usage. People who use the club consistently are more likely to stay a member. People who sign up for personal training and attend consistently are more likely to continue with training. Usage is the key.

From my own experience, I have found the following:

As long as the client is engaged with the trainer and/or other group training members, they will continue.
  • People who invest in shorter-term one-on-one personal training packages (up to 3 months) have a 95% retention rate in the program.
  • People who invest in longer-term one-on-one training packages (one year) have lower retention in the program.
  • Higher pricing on training sessions sees higher retention than lower price sessions irregardless of length of package.
  • Clients who participate in group personal training see higher retention than one-on-one clients because of the member-to-member relationships that are built.
As long as the client is engaged with the trainer and/or other group training members, they will continue. Reasons for stopping training include not seeing results, injury, trainer incompetence, lack of relationship with trainer, perception of trainer not caring, trainer leaving club, placing low importance on the value of the investment.

Regarding club membership retention, IHRSA data show that 42% of club members attend their clubs less than 50 days per year. As of January 2010, IHRSA reports the average annual rate of member retention for IHRSA clubs is 75%.

Laurie Cingle, MEd, President
Laurie Cingle Consulting and Coaching

A: It’s important to remember that a successful business is possible through the building of solid relationships. Therefore, if clubs have solid trainers (with a solid staff training protocol) on staff and a great program which exposes both seasoned and unseasoned clients to their trainers, my hunch is that retention would be much greater.

We know that results create a satisfied customer which again, increases retention. Remember, trainers are a source of accountability, so in addition to the accountability factor, there is the relationship factor. Put them together and you’ve got a loyal client.

Also, those that work with trainers typically work harder which translates to results. We know that results create a satisfied customer which again, increases retention. Bottom line, solid personal training likely plays a role in retention.

Ms. Nicki Anderson AFP, CPT, President
Reality Fitness


Salespeople or Educators?

Alan Leach, Chez Misko, and Brad Wilkins discuss educating a culture about exercise:

Q: “Unlike the western world, Here in Pakistan, our market is not receptive and/or educated about health and fitness. We're struggling to raise awareness about health and fitness, but we're also having trouble adopting off-the-shelf sales techniques and tools (closing techniques, etc.) mentioned in common resources. How can my club rely less on walk-in customers? In other words, how can I train my sales staff to rely less on luck and more on going out there and making it happen?”

A: Like Pakistan now, the Western world once had a market that was not receptive or educated about health and fitness. And many clubs were extremely successful back then.

John McCarthy of IHRSA says the health club business is a “retail sales business”. And just like any retail sales business you need 3 things to be successful.

  • A strong sales culture.
  • Regular sales training.
  • Excellent sales management.
And you need them all.

"When you find staff with the right potential – train them. And never stop training them."
A strong sales culture means everybody from owners, managers, and staff are fully aware and willing to support all sales activities. Developing a strong sales culture is not easy. And it will take time (maybe years) but it will be worth it.

The first thing you need to do is look for staff who want to be good at sales. Attempting to turn staff who have no interest in selling into great sales people will not work. The ideal candidates for sales will have:
  • Good fitness knowledge.
  • Excellent ability to communicate the benefits of fitness.
  • Keen interest in health and fitness.
  • Strong desire to learn about membership sales.
When you find staff with the right potential – train them. And never stop training them. Becoming a membership sales ‘star’ does not happen overnight. There is a long learning curve. And that’s why you must make sales training a major part of your business model.

Another way to foster a sales culture is to build a library of sales books and tapes for yourself, your managers and your staff. Get books by Brian Tracey, Zig Ziglar, Jeffrey Gitomer, Harry Beckwith, Tom Hopkins. And again, look for staff who enjoy reading them. These staff will be your future stars.

And when you get a star sales person – PAY THEM. I have a sales person bringing me in €1.8 MILLION a year. He left his last job because the club receptionist was earning more than him.

Bring in sales trainers. In the US you have sales trainers with decades of experience working with some of the most successful health club chains. Ed Tock, Doug Miller, Karen Woodard, Brenda Abdilla, Jim Smith, Mike Chaet. Buy sales DVDs from IHRSA. These are not expensive.

Of course, all the sales training, sales videos, and sales seminars will be useless all the ideas are fully implemented. And that’s where a professional membership sales manager or sales focused General Manager is vital. But you must be willing to pay for this.

In a club with less than a 2,000 members your General Manager should be your best sales person. This will build a strong sales culture. And contrary to common belief a strong sales culture will also be the seed for a strong service culture.

Alan Leach, Director of Sales & Marketing
West Wood Leopardstown

A: I would seize the opportunity to be the health and fitness resource in your community. Here are four key areas to focus on when you begin the process of educating your community.
  1. Businesses – Offer free on-site seminars to educate employees about the benefits of exercise and how it improves their performance at work. Create corporate memberships programs.
  2. Health Care Providers- Partner with the local health care providers to create a referral network and joint marketing plan. Create programs that compliment or connect to programs or services they offer such as post-cancer rehab or post-cardiac rehab, etc. You have to show health care providers “what’s in it for me?” to be successful.
  3. Schools- Work with the local schools to provide students with information on health and wellness education. Be the strength and conditioning resource for athletic teams/programs.
  4. In-club Programming- Offer various free programs to expose your club to non-members. Tie these programs to non-fitness related topics such as reducing low back pain, reducing stress, smoking cessation, etc.
These items connect you into the community and can present your sales staff with a large number of quality leads.

I would also suggest analyzing your sales staff's compensation to make sure it is congruent with your focus and staff expectations. Make sure that you offer incentives to your staff to go off-site and sell.

Good Luck!

Chezare Misko, Vice President of Operations
Wisconsin Athletic Club, Inc.

A: The first thing to realize is that it’s not just about having good techniques and tools to make sales; and its also not about having luck. It’s about having a functional sales system/process with the right people and training in place to allow the club’s value proposition to prosper. As leaders in our organizations it’s our responsibility to:
  1. Develop systems that support our core business ideology. Every business has an identity, and it’s important that every employee understands the company’s purpose and participates in delivering the message consistently to the consumer. The systems you create need to support your company’s ideology.
  2. Implement these systems effectively to our employees. Once you develop the system you must train the staff to execute it. The employee on-boarding process and continuing professional development are critical components for long term success; because, this is where the company’s expectations are set and reinforced.
  3. Ensure the systems integrity is maintained. As leaders we must put in place accountability measures to make sure we get the results we are expecting.
With the right system in place your sales team will not only understand their role and responsibilities better; but be empowered to exploit the system to its full potential.

Brad C. Wilkins, MBA, Assistant General Manager
Commercial Club Consultant
Cooper Fitness Center, A Cooper Aerobics Company


Under New Management: How to Overcome a Negative Perception

Joe Cirulli, Bret Fitzgerald, and Paul Brown discuss what to do when a club that was poorly managed comes under new management:

Q: “How can you aggressively market a club that is under new ownership to let the consumer know you are making changes to a mismanaged facility with so much potential. What type of advertising do you recommend?”

A: The strongest marketing you can do is creating the right environment inside your center. First it means changes to the physical plant (cleaning every part of the center and making sure all the equipment is in perfect working condition). This means nothing is broken down. If something is, remove it from the floor.

The second thing is the retraining of the staff. In order to do this you have to make sure your vision, mission, core values, culture and core purpose are perfectly defined. If the current staff doesn't buy into it you have to find people who do.

As you do these things, regularly update your members with signage inside the center and email them too. When everything is going at full force have a large Re-Grand Opening Party for your members, their friends and the Chamber of Commerce members. That's the point where I would do advertising on TV, the local paper and email. Word of mouth will become your most powerful adverting tool.

Mr. Joe Cirulli, President & Owner
Gainesville Health & Fitness Center

A: A lot of what you do depends on your budget and the effectiveness of your market's media mix. In Las Vegas, with six locations, broadcast advertising (TV & radio) is very effective. A single club location will not see the same benefit as a multi-club chain.

For us, print and direct mail are less effective. Door hangers may be an affordable solution that will also give you a chance to meet the neighbors and, at the same time, spread the word of your offerings.

If the previous owner destroyed the brand, you may have to invest in re-branding to club. You may even have to consider a name change if the community harbors serious ill will. You can find out by going door to door and asking a couple of hundred residents within a 2-mile radius of your club.

Bret FitzGerald, V.P. of Corp. Communications
Las Vegas Athletic Clubs

A: New Owners, New Attitude!

When you take the reigns over of an existing business be bold, be loud and be excited but there is no need to highlight the failings of the previous owners, your clients and the community around you will see for themselves and make that comparison.

How to get this message out there depends largely on the style of club, market etc but my top ten list of must-do’s include:

  1. Define your company’s vision, core values and mission first..
  2. Hold a team meeting for feedback on past performance at the club, expectations and ideas, then share your vision.
  3. Town hall style meetings with your members past and present. Avoid judging past management, simply seek positive feedback while creating a buzz on your deliverable intentions.
  4. Editorial article in local and regional newspapers and web sites. Pre-write as much as possible and invite interviews.
  5. Members blog inviting your club’s community to post feedback on the new club direction.
  6. You’ve acquired a history with your club. Some good, some not so. It may be worth a new name, slogan or fresh logo.
  7. Have a club re-launch open day. Invite local dignitaries and Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon cutting ceremony and plaque. Invite your vendors and local businesses to participate.
  8. Attend locals event from fun runs and fairs to rotary meetings and toastmasters with free passes and new “core values and mission” statement.
  9. Offer sponsorship opportunities for local sporting teams, academic institutions. Invite submissions, making it clear your support may not be monetary but prizes such as trial memberships that can be auctioned or used as rewards.
  10. New signage, a fresh paint job and lighting can all show things are changing at the club without breaking the bank.

Go make a difference.

Paul Brown, President
Face2Face Retention Systems and Training


Industry Leaders At IHRSA 2010

Amongst our collection of Industry Leaders, there are several IHRSA 2010 speakers. For this week's Best Practices, we're going to let a few of them give you a preview of their session.

Fred Hoffman and Jasmin Kirstein give a preview of their session at IHRSA 2010:

A: We know that a cohesive team and forward-thinking management is the key to success of any business. But unfortunately, as the workforce continually evolves, not all of the approaches to management are changing ‘with the times’.

My session will highlight 5 key strategies that managers, directors and human resource personnel should implement to successfully manage a multi-generational staff. Although training for traditional management practices is abundant, often the generational aspect is not emphasized, so this will be the focus of my session.

This is the first time in modern history that there are four distinct generations in the workplace, and with each one comes specific work ethics, values, and attitudes. Each generation acts and reacts differently, so managers must be prepared with the necessary tools to deal with these differences as well as with the issues that create conflict between staff.

I am certain that participants who attend my session will leave with a better understanding of each generation’s unique qualities, what makes them tick, their preferred means of communication, as well as how hiring practices and job descriptions need to change, and what impact the Millennial generation will have on the workplace during the next decade. They will also learn what they can do retain staff, how to manage and resolve generational conflict, and key strategies for creating a harmonious team. I will be presenting tips for managing this diverse ‘workforce’ with practical solutions to common problems, all of which can be implemented immediately.

Hope to see you there!

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

A:In my first session on Wednesday, 1.30, at the women´s summit, I am very happy to have the opportunity to help women to further develop their career. I want to encourage women to take on opportunities by demonstrating how they can overcome difficult situations by growing and developing from them. Through my 25 years of experience, I hope to give them insights into how I have created a successful women’s Club that is truly catered towards women’s needs.

In my session at the European leadership on Friday 1. 30 I will talk about "Empowering Women" and the great potential we have to really addressing the lives of women in our Fitness Clubs. I will explain the newest trends in the Old World, such as the holistic approach to fitness, Hormonyoga and our newly opened Cooking school, which we believe are answers to the current needs of women of today. Moreover, I will talk about the My Sportlady Trust, a foundation to support women and children, and about new ways to keep members for the long-term in a Fitness Club.

Jasmin Kirstein, Owner
My Sportlady Fitness


Pricing, Sales Staff, and Market Research

Everyone once in a while, we get some answers that aren't quite comprehensive enough to post on their own. That's why today, we've got a special edition featuring three important questions and three informative (though short) answers. Enjoy:

Q: “What is the appropriate number of sales people at a club?”

A: The right number of sales people depends on the right type of sales people, 2 good ones can do the job of 4 poor ones. Based on selling around 200 memberships per month it would make sense to have 3 or 4 good sales people based on the number of prospects they can see and number they are likely to close. All staff should assist in selling but part-time people can be very useful at peak times.

Andy Jackson, Global Commercial Director
FitPro LTD

Q. We are planning to open a yoga studio, and are curious where the best information can be found regarding all of the business needs for a small health club facility? Is there a guide or something you recommend to startups?

A: The best course of action for someone who is opening a studio is to shop comparatively in their area and look at health clubs and studios to see what is working and what is not. YogaFit also offers consulting and a partner program to assist businesses. Its important to look at local demographics as well and choose carefully where they open.

Download Studio Success by Beth Shaw (PDF)

Beth Shaw, Founder & President
YogaFit Training Systems Worldwide, INC.

Q. We know some of our competitors are going to undercut our prices significantly this January (for the New Year's rush). How can we continue to attract prospects without lowering our prices to an unreasonable level?

A: I feel strongly that we must refrain from the dangerous and vicious discounting cycle. IHRSA is the association of "quality" clubs. Even during the most challenging economical times I feel the consumers will pay for quality athletic club memberhips, automobiles and other personal consumer items.

Competing on price alone hurts all of us and sends a message to the consumer that we are only worth the discounted price. Rather, we need to be doing anything possible to stay the course with our pricing but add value in other ways. I urge all of us to compete by adding quality services and member experience and not on discounting.

Steve Krum, VP of Facilities & GM
Spectrum Clubs


The Recession is Waning: Time To Hire?

Diogo Angelino, John Atwood, and Keith Callahan discuss the conundrum of to hire or not hire full-time staff´╗┐:

Q: “Throughout most of 2009, we weren't replacing employees who left our club. Now that business seems to be (on the surface) picking up, we're feeling the demand for more staff. However, we're very weary of hiring again just to lay people off in a few months. How do we know when it's the right time to start hiring again?”

A: When you feel the demand for more staff, you should hire or you may start feeling that costumers want more attention and start losing them. If the members of your club start feeling unhappy your retention rates will decrease, so you should consider hire more staff. When thinking of hiring you should pay attention to:

  • The seasonality is important to decide when to hire, you should do it when your club is increasing the number of memberships and when you have “strong/good” months (when the demand of costumers is bigger);
  • Hiring for a 6 months period should be an option;
  • Contracts should have a base fee and a variable fee, like that you will find that staff will be more “motivated” to work;
  • You should find out what is your club’s retention rate and improve it, by doing this you will find it more unlikely to have the need to lay people off.

Diogo Angelino, Assistant Director
Solplay - Family Health Club

A: In essence you want to work your staff as close as possible to the limits of their capabilities before risking re-hires. If that means overtime for an interim period, well, that may be a plan to consider.

Overtime is not as expensive as you might think. While 30 hours of paid overtime is the equivalent of 45 hours of regular pay, there are no health insurance costs or other pay based benefits (vacation time, sick time, disability, unemployment taxes) on top of the 45 hours of pay. This means that often 30 hours of overtime equals 40 hours of labor cost. The additional value in overtime is that it can be managed easily and no one loses their job when it comes to an end.

Another option is to hire some part-time staff with the plan to have some of these jobs eventually transition to full-time as the business get much stronger.

The right time to add staff is when business (and net income) has come back for an extended period, say at least two consecutive months, to the point where club management believes it can permanently support the reinstated labor cost.

John Atwood, Principal
Atwood Consulting Group

A: I think that there are a few basic questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a budget = operating plan?
  2. Do you believe it?

Answering these two primary questions should allow you to make this decision. That said, an alternative is to hire “Temporary Workers” without much risk, and then make them Regular Workers once past any doubt. If things turn worse, you can let the Temporary Workers go at the end of their agreement, and suffer little consequence as they were temporary to begin with. Check with your HR advisor and be sure you are compliant with federal, state and local laws.

As for the economy, don’t wait on the government to tell you what to do. They don’t have a clue. Changing the economy will be driven by you and operators like you who choose to make it happen. And stop watching the media. It’s all doom and gloom.

Consider that it is high season for your business, (most likely) and that you may see a drop off in demand. If you do, why add new costs to your operation?

Always drive your revenue up and your expenses down.

Mr. Keith Callahan, G.M. / Managing Partner
Manchester Athletic Club


Balancing Programming And Costs

Scott Lewandowski and Anne Whiteside discuss balancing group programming and costs:

Q: “Our members love group cycling and are flocking to the classes in droves... so much so that we've dedicated a large studio with over 30 bikes and each class gets filled plus at least 10 people on the waiting list. In balancing costs vs. programming, we're stuck. Should we add another class at the risk of attendance dropping at some point and being stuck paying two instructors rather than one?”

A: The member experience is most important and should factor into the final decision on whether you add an additional class. There are ten members not being able to participate in a class who will eventually quit your club. Remember, it costs more money to add a new member than it is to retain a current member. How about adding a few more bikes to your current studio?

“Remember, it costs more money to add a new member than it is to retain a current member”
If adding bikes are not an option, I would add classes. Members who participate in group exercise classes build strong bonds with your employees and other members in the class. These relationships are priceless and drive retention upwards.

How about a seasonal group exercise schedule? By changing your schedule quarterly along with the seasons, you could remove additional classes if participation numbers begin to trend downward.

Do you track cost per participant for each class on your group exercise schedule? The amount will identify weaknesses in your schedule and help adjust or reduce your class offerings to maximize the return on investment of your group exercise program. I recommend a goal of $3 per participant per class.

Scott Lewandowski, Regional Fitness Director
Fitness Formula Corporate

A: I would say add another class and advertise that you will reevaluate the class in six weeks. If attendance is high enough, keep the class, if not, then you can cancel the class without upsetting the membership and will not get stuck paying another instructor for low attendance. Make sure the instructor knows this class will be a “trial class”. It sounds to me like you will not have any problem filling another class.

Anne Whiteside, Program Director
Yakima Athletic Club & YAC Fitness

Inexpensive Staff Training

Vaughn Marxhausen discusses inexpensive staff training systems:

Q: “Is it possible to give a good experience to members without paying a lot for expensive staff training programs? If so, how?”

A: A variety of things can be done in order to achieve extraordinary member experience through staff training that won’t drain the budget. Training can get expensive, so it’s important to be creative in order to watch the bottom line. Here are some options that are very effective, but not expensive.

  1. Select a book about customer service that is in line with your company culture and give it out to your staff. Develop an in-house training program around it.
    "...if your staff is attentive to the members... and gives them what they want before they ask for it... you have just WOWed your member."
  2. Select a training DVD to purchase, which can be repeatedly used and implemented in a teaching modality or at employee meetings.
  3. Google customer service, you will be surprised at all the things that come up that you can implement with your staff.
  4. Role play with staff about handling various situations that may come up with members (a proactive approach).
  5. Use industry articles about member experience. If you use your creativity, you could actually develop a training program from an article.
At the end of the day, if your staff is attentive to the members, shows them genuine care, assists them without being asked, hands out water and towels while exercising, gives them what they want before they ask for it and personalizes it, you have just WOWed your member. The trick is getting your employees to do all this without being told. It all begins from your company culture and developing a mission statement that your employees embrace.

Vaughn Marxhausen, Area General Manager
Houstonian Lite Health Club