Health Clubs Hustle To Stay Fiscally Fit

Time was when going to a health club meant little more than an exercise in jogging, lifting weights and looking for a spotter. Well, it’s definitely not your father’s Spartan gym – or marketplace – any more.

From Bally Total Fitness to the local YMCA, more than 15,000 companies and non-profits are now soliciting a market of health-conscious consumers, not just the workout-warrior niche. It’s a $15-billion industry.

Sure, the racks of free weights and exercise equipment remain – but amid the cardio centers, bright colors, piped-in music, roving personal trainers, yoga classes and enough TVs for every Dow Jones compulsive and ESPN obsessive. And hardly atypical: saunas, tanning booths, baby-sitting accommodations, member-appreciation-day treats, spa packages, apparel lines and, increasingly, 24-hour access.

Not offering a sampling of the hottest fads and perks could be fiscally unwise in an ever-burgeoning market.

Exhibit A could be Tampa Bay Health & Fitness in north Tampa. It incorporates the Giovane Institute/Clinic Med Spa within a traditional club framework. Thus, under one eclectic roof, members can be found pumping iron, boxing (in an actual ring) and undergoing botox treatments, laser hair removal, hormone therapy and mesotherapy for fat and cellulite reductions.

For those wanting something more exotic than Pilates, there’s the popular Salsa class at The Athletic Club in Brandon or “urban rebounding,” offered at any of the Bally Clubs, which incorporates contemporary music and a trampoline. And probably the hottest group-fitness trend is “Zumba,” a combination of aerobics and international music. Shapes Total Fitness even has a “Zumba Gold” program for seniors.

“The health club business is great,” gushes Scott Coultas, the general manager of Tampa’s Harbour Island Athletic Club and Spa. “There’s no finish line.”

But there is a bottom line that is unforgiving of the competitively unfit.

“It’s all about membership retention,” explains Coultas. “It’s all about the ‘wow’ factor.” At HIAC, a fitness hybrid with about 2,500 (membership) sales units (including families), that means courts for tennis (clay), basketball, racquetball and squash, a swimming pool and a well-provisioned café. Plus a spa, where Sonya Dakar skin treatments range from green tea peels to “Visualift” eye treatments.

It also means ongoing marketing efforts that integrate year-round holiday and other themed socials with sophisticated direct mail campaigns and even overtures to the corporate community to pump up their workforces.

And then there are the basics – as well as the “sweet treats.”

“Sure, you want the latest equipment,” notes Coultas, “but it’s also as simple as keeping it clean and maintaining a friendly staff. Sometimes we role play, and out of that will come a ‘sweet treat,’ such as grabbing an umbrella and walking a member to his or her car when it’s raining.”

Over at Lifestyle Family Fitness, “user-friendly” is the member mantra at its 37 sites, including facilities in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

“Of course, you have to be on top of the industry, but often it’s the little things that help keep members,” underscores LFF founder Geoff Dyer. “Can you easily adjust the seat? Can you change the weight without getting out of the chair? Are the numbers and the instructional-sign letters big enough for an aging population?”

And then there’s the music – no minor matter. According to Dyer, LFF centers program more contemporary, up-tempo sounds later in the day. LFF also allows for more demographically-skewed markets.

“For example, in Seminole and Sarasota you’ll hear more ‘Oldies’ music,” points out Dyer. “Whereas, it’s up-tempo all day at (Tampa’s) Hyde Park, which is the youngest in the company. Music is certainly a big part of this business.”

And on a personal note, for those who skew the hot-bod demographic at Lifestyle’s Hyde Park Village facility, you just don’t want to leave home without your “Oldies.”

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