The Equipment Checklist: What to Ask Before You Stock Your Gym

Here’s what health club operators need to know before they sign on the dotted line when buying new equipment.

On the way to chasing new exercise trends like functional fitness, group classes, and heart-rate training, some club operators risk neglecting the importance of traditional exercise equipment. Through every fad that comes and goes—jazzercise, Tae Bo, aerobics—treadmills, stationary bikes, weight machines, and other traditional cardio and strength equipment endure as the foundation of most health clubs.

Responding to popular workout trends is important, but so is stocking your club with equipment that’s durable and appealing to members. According to The 2017 IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, “equipment utilization was the No. 1 activity at health clubs, as more than half of members indicated using either cardio machines (62.3%) or weights/resistance tools (53.2%).” Even in clubs that have more specialized fitness programming, equipment is still the foundation of the gym experience. Research in the IHRSA Health Club Equipment Report reveals that more than 80% of clubs incorporate equipment in training programs.

Cardio machines continue to be the biggest equipment investment for clubs, with treadmills reigning as the most popular choice with members. Cardio machines comprise 45.9% of fitness equipment spending, with resistance/strength training machines making up 12.6%.

That, of course, is a significant investment. Start-up fitness equipment costs can add up to anywhere between $100,000-$500,000, according to the IHRSA Health Club Business Handbook. The cost of equipment for a new club averages $17-$24 per square feet.

Before you make this critical investment in equipment, you need a checklist of priorities.

Questions to Ask Before Making an Equipment Purchase

One thing’s for sure: Even an existing club will have to buy new equipment at some point. You need to account for depreciation, or “maintenance capex,” which can cost 4%-6% of revenue per year. Exercise equipment figures prominently in your yearly maintenance and repair costs.

When shopping around, ask yourself the following questions:

Are you a high-traffic club? What’s your main demo? Durability is always important, but more so if you’re in a high-population area. And demographics matter. For instance, Generation X’s top five equipment choices are elliptical motion/cardio cross trainers, free weights, resistance machines, and treadmills.

Are you leasing or buying? Most equipment companies offer reasonable leasing terms, but some clubs prefer to buy equipment. Realize that you’ll probably have to replace equipment every 3-5 years.

How much technology do you need? Are you a “smart” club that aggressively integrates app technology and digital features? Is your membership plugged in, or are they better served with simpler interfaces on machine dashboards?

“Cardio machines comprise 45.9% of fitness equipment spending, with resistance/strength training machines making up 12.6%. ”

Are you choosing price over quality? This is not a trick question. Some club operators can make a mistake if they cut corners when deciding their equipment investment. Maintenance costs can add up if the equipment is not well-constructed. Either way, you pay.

Are you stocking with a mix of equipment suppliers or a single exclusive brand? Some companies will give you a discount if you choose them as your exclusive equipment supplier.

Is the equipment easy to operate? Does the look of the equipment fit your club’s image? Along with functionality, you want ease of use, especially if you have an older clientele or a membership heavy in casual exercisers. Aesthetics may also play a large role in your equipment selection, depending on your brand image. You want something that fits your culture.

Did you research the service record of the supplier? Do you know the warranty policy? This is key. Most club operators list “service, warranty fulfillment, and support” as their number one criteria in choosing an equipment supplier.

Terri Smith, the director of facilities for The Edge Fitness Clubs, is one of those health club professionals who puts a premium on service. Smith oversees 17 clubs in the Edge chain, mostly in Connecticut, with two more on the way. Some Edge clubs have nearly 3,000 members using the facilities every day.

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One of The Edge Fitness Clubs locations in Connecticut

“At the end of the day, customer service is number one,” says Smith about choosing equipment suppliers. “We have such a large member base coming through the door and upkeep and maintenance are extremely important.”

Responsiveness is also crucial. “You don’t want somebody taking weeks to get back to you when you have a problem,” she says. “It’s important to get a response, not just on equipment repairs, but invoicing and financing.”

One Supplier That Goes "Above and Beyond"

The Edge Fitness Clubs have a variety of different suppliers, but Smith is an enthusiastic advocate for Matrix Fitness equipment, especially when it comes to customer service.

“They explain everything,” she says. “They make sure that the equipment is there on time and working properly. They get to you right away when there’s a problem. You never have to chase them down.”

The Edge Fitness Clubs use independent equipment technicians who help service their clubs, and they all prefer to work with Matrix, according to Smith. “We have three service techs, and they all say Matrix is the easiest to maintain.”

Smith says Matrix goes “above and beyond” to keep their customers happy. One time, they even fixed the club’s cable TV. “We were having issues displaying the cable TV on the equipment. Matrix sent some people out and discovered it wasn’t an issue with the machines, but ended up being a cabling problem. They fixed it anyway. They put their resources and time into making sure that the club was up and running before we opened.”

Durability is a priority, but it isn’t everything. Aesthetics are also important, says Smith. “The look of the equipment contributes to the look and experience of the member. You don’t want something that looks chunky or outdated. You want something sleek. We feel Matrix is on par with what we’re trying to do here.” 

The Edge clubs carry both cardio and strength equipment from Matrix, and with their growing membership base, Smith plans to add more of their machines in the future. “We just opened some new clubs in New Jersey. We have a lot going on here. With Matrix, we don’t have to deal with a lot of nonsense. They’re always on top of things.”

To learn more about Matrix, visit their website or email them at info@matrixfitness.com. You can also attend IHRSA’s free June 20 webinar, “Maximizing Your Health Club’s Programming Mix,” presented by Matrix Fitness.

Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org