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Childcare may not bring in money, but it pays off

There are many businesses that have departments that don’t bring in a dime or always are in the red, but that doesn’t mean its importance is devalued. 

Such is the case with childcare facilities at health and sports club. Those that are offered with a membership at no extra cost obviously won’t make the facility money, and the clubs that charge a fee – often nominal – will never see it off-setting the costs associated with staffing and supplies.

But a broader look at clubs with the option of a member dropping off their child for a couple hours results in many who choose their club because of it, as well as possibly getting that person in the club when they may not have otherwise. 

“One of the things I tell moms, dads, too, is for us to be to able offer childcare makes coming to gym for them possible. For a lot of people, they wouldn’t able find an opportunity in the day to come,” said Andrea Merritt, Program and Childcare director at Sportsclub, which has three locations in South Carolina. “I often tell our staff during interviews or annual reviews that members don’t choose our clubs for childcare … but they absolutely will leave because of it. If their child doesn’t like it here, it absolutely plays into whether they will keep their membership.”

David Creech, vice president of Operations at Desoto Athletic Club in Southaven, Miss., said that his family’s clubs – there are also two in Tennessee – has always offered the service.

“My father owned a chain of supermarkets and he said childcare at the club is like Coke a the supermarket: you don’t make a dime off of it but gets people into the store,” Creech said. “We don’t make money off it, but a service we have. If I didn’t have it we wouldn’t have a third, maybe more, of the memberships we have.” 

A good way to cut the costs – and most facilities do this – is to only be open during peak hours. All of the clubs contacted for this story were open for about four hours in the morning and then closed before opening the doors for another four, starting in the late afternoon. And all limited the time a child can be at the childcare to two hours at a time. 

“We looked at our demographics to see who our target market is and it is mostly families,” said Tom Meshinsky, a managing partner at FitnessOne Management in New York, which manages Central Penn Health & Fitness Center in Harrisburg, Pa. “We know  it is an added cost but we think it is an added value to a membership.” 

For Shapes Total Fitness, with 13 locations in the Tampa, Fla., area, it was a no-brainer. As a women-only club it goes without saying that the many members would embrace the amenity.

“Having childcare was not a tough decision (for Shapes) because we are women only,” said Ann Gilbert, director, who noted that about 41% of people use childcare when they come to a club. “It is really who we want to be, a resource for women. It is part of our brand.”

Of course one of the bigger challenges is ensuring safety for the child and promising a parent that their loved one is enjoying themself. To that end Shapes have installed a camera in the childcare room and show it on a flat screen TV in the workout area, accessible for anyone to see. If prospective members brought their children along they can drop them off.

“Our members love it. It probably is the first place we go to during a guest tour,” Gilbert said. “If their kids are in the daycare and parents see them there on the screen then they are more apt to sign up that day.“

Having many options for children, like here at Desoto Athletic Club in Southaven, Miss., is a good idea.Creech, at Desoto, said a recent story about a rival club that had an issue with one of its childcare workers has helped him provide a safer environment for the children.

He acknowledges that background and reference checks, in addition to drug tests, can only do so much. So every shift’s tape is looked at – maybe all four hours, may 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there – and documented in order to make sure the workers are doing what is required of them and not jeopardizing the well-being of the children.

“We have security cameras in our nurseries, but who was watching them?” Creech said.

“You have to have the right people in childcare,” said Meshinsky. “As a parent myself I wouldn’t leave my daughter with someone I am not comfort with.”

An added bonus to a parent dropping off a child at childcare is it is a chance to get the youngster in gym and healthy environment early on. 

At Gainesville Health & Fitness, in Gainesville, Fla., Shanno Dukes, Kids Club manager, made sure to change the childcare offerings when she began about a year ago. Her yearly goals included the time spent to be productive. Now there are healthy and interactive options like jumping rope, playing Wii, arts and crafts and board games.

Kids Zone at Gainesville Health & Fitness“I look at every interaction as a chance to learn something,” said Dukes who estimated about 100 children come every day. “We are always promoting wellness and health.”

Childcare is not always smooth and easy. 

Most facilities don’t allow food due to allergies common among kids these days. But that doesn’t stop some parents trying to sneak in something. Also, parents may attempt to leave a sick child while working out. 

But those issues are tolerable when management knows that the service they provide allows members to make it to the gym more often.

“I would be very surprised anyplace in today’s age to not have some hours of the day with childcare,” said Merritt.



Reader Comments (1)

How's that for timely! Motionsoft has a webinar coming up Weds, August 29 at 1:15pm ET on beginning a successful children's fitness program titled: Children's Exercise: What are you doing for the customer of the future?

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August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHossein Noshirvani

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