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Replacing equipment is not as easy as writing a check

A trade show attendee tries out Jacob's Ladder at IHRSA's annual Convention & Trade Show.In a perfect world, all of the equipment in a club would last 15, 20 years. With so many moving parts, constant use, and different members using pieces in a variety of ways, as well as putting different types of stress on them, it is inevitable that apparatus breaks down sooner than owners and managers would like. 

But what is the best way to go about replacing treadmills, spin bikes, free weights and whatever else is in disrepair? Should you switch out all of the same models from one company at the same time, or is staggering it OK? 

And what about input? How much do you value your employees’ and members’ opinions over what you may have seen at a trade show?

The difficulty when making the choice to replace old equipment, or when and how much to put in, budget-wise, is there is no industry standard. Like any goods, it depends on quality. 

The easiest answer for one of those questions is that it is fine to stagger purchasing new equipment. Buying one this year, and a couple more next year, is sufficient. Then again, not many clubs have the money to buy 10 new treadmills. 


IHRSA tips

“From an equipment replacement standpoint, you always want more, but if you buy in phases then you can probably buy more in long run,” said Nicole Beverage, Membership director at Charlotte Athletic Club, in Charlotte, N.C. 

For most clubs it is all about planning. Usually the practice of purchasing equipment, or anything at the club, begins with the crafting of the budget. Sure, there are emergencies, but for the most part if it isn’t in the budget then it will have to wait. 

Joe Santa Maria, general manager at Worcester Fitness, in Worcester, Mass., said his club, which has been around since 1978, has a process in place that has worked pretty well. 

The club has a team of four employees that go to manufacturers and trade shows to try out equipment. They then report to Santa Maria who, if the budget allows, purchases the suggested equipment. 

“If you are lucky enough hire people that you are very confident in, you give them autonomy that they are the decision-makers. If it doesn’t work out, they are accountable,” he said. “As far as equipment goes, we probably have a high batting average of success.” 

Bob Bourassa, master Trainer and Exercise Physiologist at Worcester Fitness, one of the group of four making purchase suggestions, coordinates all maintenance of equipment at both locations. Having one person in charge of all of the work on the machines keeps things in order and one person who knows the history of all of the pieces, which in turn saves money. 

“Bob comes to me with reports of what needs to be worked on, with serial numbers, parts going to order and people coming to fix the equipment,” Santa Maria explained. 

Many clubs value their members’ opinions, though. They are paying to use the equipment so bringing their feelings into the mix will keep them happy and continued members of the club. 

“The members are the ones who are using (the machines),” said Karen Croteau, general manager at Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in Enfield, Conn. “We will take into account what they have requested throughout the year and then we will decide what is the best avenue.” 

Croteau said Healthtrax, which has 17 locations, will then let their members know there is a new toy in the club with balloons on tied to it. 

Beverage said her club doesn’t go as far as balloons, but there are signs on the old piece alerting members it will be “retired.” Then there is a placard on the new arrival, explaining how to use it and to be sure to ask a staff member if unsure. They all send out e-mails to members before and after. 

Susan Cooper, owner of BodyBusiness Health Club & Spa in Austin, Texas, said that with her two small clubs like an extended family, the members feel like they are owners, too. Cooper feels their opinions are vital. 

“We will absolutely will look at it what they request,” said Cooper. “But their suggestions need to fit in with our demographics and fit with the club. If only a small sliver of our club would use the piece, I am not sure if we would purchase it.” 

New purchases don’t always mean replacing something old with a newer version. Oftentimes it can be trying the machine with newer technology, or something completely novel like Jacob’s Ladder or TRX Rope Training. 

Bob Bourassa, master Trainer and Exercise Physiologist at Worcester Fitness, and a member in the Fitness Evaluation Lab.When jumping in on something new clubs can often get trial periods from manufacturers. 

“A couple years ago we got a machine we really wanted, an Ab-coaster,” Croteau explained. “We weren’t sure if our members would like it. So we got a 30-day trial. You aren’t always sure if a new purchase is going to work for membership clientele.” 

Cooper said past experiences has shown her bringing in a machine for a trial isn’t always a good thing. 

“We go (to the IHRSA Convention & Trade Show) every year to look at everything,” she said. “Manufacturers try to get you to try a new product in your gym. We’ve found out that it is not always a good thing: if a member likes it they want you to get it.” 

“You are never going to have everything you want or need,” Santa Maria said. “You could spend $100K and then five years later it isn’t new anymore (and you want to replace it).”


Reader Comments (1)

Save the travel expenses of sending your employees across the country to a vendor show. Use the extra funds to buy more durable equipment from a local distributor who will help you maintain the equipment for long life. This is what will save you money in the long run. Also, buying from your local friends & neighbors will build a sense of community along with being a good business practice.
September 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReal American

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