Clubs have to be ready for change when summer ends
Wed, August 8, 2012 at 16:38
Brad Spiegel in News, Summer, fall, programming, transition

For many sports and fitness clubs around the world, the transition from summer to the fall, and beyond, doesn’t always mean a huge change in membership or visits. 

That doesn’t mean they just sail into a 9-month or so time frame when kids are in school, college students are back on campus, teachers are off to work again, or vacations and trips are no longer keeping members away. 

While overall numbers generally don’t fluctuate a whole lot, where those numbers are often do. No longer is the middle of the day – always a hectic time during the summer – the time when youth arrive. Adults now will come during school or after work. 

The change in busy and stagnant times obviously means a shift in club personnel. 

“The first time through, yeah, it’s work,” said Jim Hughes, Fitness director at Wheaton Sports Center in Wheaton, Ill. “But we track the changes over the years and figure out what works. I don’t want to sound like it doesn’t take a little planning. It does. 

“Really, it’s moving pieces around. There’s a huge shift in what’s going on at the club.” 

Trina Gray, owner of Bay Athletic Club in Alpena, Mich., actually sees a swing in who is coming through the doors. 

“We don’t see a huge change in nunbers,” she said. “Of course college students go back to school, but when they go back is when their parents come back (to the club).” 

Tommy Hodge, general manager of Fort Sanders Health & Fitness Center in Knoxville, Tenn., said he was a little surprised that his club’s numbers don’t change much once summer hits. But that doesn’t mean his team doesn’t have work to do. 

“We have a pick up in classes and group fitness a bit,” Hodge said.

What many clubs need to adjust is its programming. The schedules for the time when leaves start to change and many need to take out long-sleeved shirts and sweaters from storage is not the same for shorts and T-shirt weather. 

During the summer, youth camps, pool use, and gym visits in the middle of the day is the trend. Not so much from September through May. 

Lisa Bracken, director of Activities at Brenda Athletic Clubs in Modesto, Calif., sees this as the time to get back to “normal.” 

“We really push – in August and September – to get adults back to their normal routine,” Bracken explained. “Most of our ads and marketing reflect the normal routines, as opposed to summer when the push is for family activities.” 

Gray, of Bay Athletic Club, sees the transition as an excellent opportunity to impress those who are getting back into their routine. 

“We want to be ready to have a ‘wow’ factor in September,” Gray said. “Not only do we want to have enough staff, classes, front desk (personnel) and people working in Membership, but what are we going to do to make it an exciting return. I want people to be excited to come back. 

“I think it is a fun time. It’s a refreshing time in the industry. It is inspiring to get people to get active. That is why we are in the business. It is time to refresh and re-invent and not get stale.” 

Some areas actually are the polar opposite: numbers go down due to the area having many recreational activities and an outdoorsy way of life. 

Colorado, one of the fittest states in the country, sees most gym members take the summer off to get outside an run, bike, swim … whatever gets the blood pumping and sweat dripping. And if you add in the early start of school – mid-August – planning at health clubs can be tricky. 

Keith Moore, general manager at Pura Vida Fitness and Spa in Denver, has to take into consideration of the influx in the fall can be close to 50%, as many members put their memberships on “hold” in the summer. 

“What we do to prepare for fall is increase class offerings and create a number of special promotions in the fitness department that will appeal to someone who is coming back in the fall and winter,” he said. 

Pura Vida also ramps up its social aspect of the club. The fall starts its “arts season.” The club has partnerships with the Colorado Ballet and the Modern Art Museum where members attend the events together. 

“For our club, once fall gets here we increase our social functions. A lot people join for the social aspect,” Moore said. 

Cliff Johnson, director of Operations at the Sporting Club at The Bellevue, a 93,000-square-foot facility in Philadelphia, said that his club, too, is slower in the summer. 

“We have to step up our classes in the fall when members start to come back after going to the beach and shore in the summer,” he said. “Once the second week in September hits we are booming.” 

Moore added that once summer is in the rear view mirror that it is always exciting at the club. 

“It makes it interesting to operate a club that pretty much is in hibernation in the summer,” he noted.



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