Tearing Down the Gym Walls: Time for Bulldozers or a Fitness Boon?
By tearing down your gym walls and reaching out to your community, you make your club more than just a gym.
By: Neal Spruce
To the deconditioned market, visiting a hard bod health club is "right up there with a visit to the dentist or a car salesman". It now requires programs that are "out of the box". Neal gives us fresh ideas like a Level One approved weight-loss program that's tax deductible for qualifying individuals and corporate underwrited fitness. Learn that by tearing down your gym walls and reaching out to your community, you make your "club" more than just a "gym".
"Tear down the gym walls!"
Heard that phrase lately? It's beginning to echo
throughout the fitness industry-and perhaps for good reason.
No, it doesn't mean bring in the bulldozers and wrecking balls. In fact, it means exactly the opposite. It means building a whole new industry concept based on non-dues revenue.
Change is Inevitable
We have no choice but to change. If we want to survive and thrive as an industry, we have to serve the needs of more than 14 percent of the public (the most recent statistics available). And to do that, the very first thing we have to do is get rid of the typical gym stereotype-that intimidating place where hard bodies go to strut their stuff among the towering, "surgical" machines, and high-pressure sales people find a way to tap your checking account for six months or a year-whether you come to the gym or not!
I tell everyone I meet (and very forcefully, by the way) that the stereotypical "gym" has to become the new "Community Fitness Resource." And not just in the minds of the 14 percent of people who already go to the gym, but the entire general population. My position is simple: 86 percent of Americans won't go near a gym and for most of them it's because of the stereotypical image we've created. These people have to start relating a visit to the gym with an experience that's comfortable, enjoyable and most of all, non-threatening. Today it's right up there with a visit to the dentist or a car salesman.
That's why my company has been developing programs that are "out of the box." Or in this case, "out of the gym." How many times have you sent a mailer to households or run a newspaper ad publicizing gym membership? While these may be effective means of getting the word out, at some point you'll have captured the majority of people who will join a traditional gym. The real challenge is attracting a new group of people and keeping them (as well as the members you already have).
There are several different ways to do this. First, consider that some people are intimidated at the thought of a long-term commitment to a gym membership. My answer to that is a program that is short-term and doesn't require a traditional membership. Maybe they come through your doors to sign up for a limited time weight-loss and exercise program. Perhaps they don't want to work out beside your hard-core, super-fit members. Then give them exercises they can do at home. Maybe they just want to eat right. Then show them how. Design fitness on their terms!
We all know that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. But these folks are so intimidated by the thought of stepping into a gym where they perceive everyone else to be slim, trim and fit that they continue their sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, even though they really want to change the way they live and look. How do you reach them? And what do you do once you've got them in your doors?
If you don't already have a Level One approved weight-loss program that's tax deductible for qualifying individuals, you should investigate your options in making weight-loss programming part of your offerings.
And if you do have a weight-loss program that fits IRS and health insurance criteria, what are you doing to market it? Are you trying to reach physicians-the people who are recommending that their obese patients lose weight to save their lives? These are the professionals you want in your court. If you've got an effective, safe and valid weight-loss program with successful clients to back it up, you want local doctors to know about it so they can refer their patients to your program!
If you haven't already considered partnering with local businesses, then you're missing out on a huge potential. Employers have a vested interest in keeping their employees healthy. Sick days cost money. Many larger employers have wellness programs for their workers. Why not make your gym the local companies' wellness partner that includes weight management and conditioning programs? If you offer a qualifying weight-loss program, employees with orders from their physician can deduct the related costs as medical expenses through their employer's Flexible Savings Accounts. Some employers and insurance companies reimburse their employees for completing fitness programs. Also consider offering membership discounts to a corporation's employees. In exchange, the company could promote your discount through internal newsletters or other means of communication. Offer memberships and programs with our without membership so everyone can participate. Again, give them fitness on their terms.
What about the weekend warriors who would like to play a better game of golf or improve their tennis or bicycling skills? Attract those folks to your facility by reaching them where they're at-the pro shop, the bike shop, the runners' club. These are the perfect candidates for non-membership programs. For a set fee they can come to your gym and pick up a training program that they can complete at your facility or at home. You can work directly with local retailers to run reciprocal marketing programs. For example, they allow you to put up posters or brochures about your training programs in their store; you allow them to promote their store in your gym.
A sure-fire way to attract both members and non-members to your facility is by offering a fitness seminar. In my experience, I can guarantee that if you can get them in the door a dynamic presenter can sign them up-especially for weight-loss programs. I keep going back to our Apex programs, because that's what I know best. We've found that approximately 60 percent of seminar attendees will sign up for an Apex program within 30 days.* So the more people who come to a seminar (100 - 300 people is not an unreasonable expectation), the more people who sign up. You do the math!
A Fitness Resource
By tearing down your gym walls and reaching out to your community, you make your club more than just a gym. You make it a complete fitness resource center-not just a room full of cables and steel. It won't happen overnight, but the goal is that eventually no one, no matter how fit or out of shape they may be, has any hesitation going to your facility for their fitness needs.
That's our goal at Apex Fitness: to guide the entire world toward successful participation in fitness.
About the Author
Neal Spruce is a fitness specialist, author, licensed teacher, researcher, bodybuilding champion, personal fitness consultant and speaker.
Spruce holds a health and fitness teaching credential from the State of California. He developed the curricula for the Apex Fitness Systems and National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer certification programs. He also co-authored the supplement reference book, "An Evaluation of Popular Fitness-Enhancing Supplements," which assesses the effectiveness and safety of various dietary supplements in today's marketplace.
A nationally recognized nutrition and fitness expert, Spruce delivers more than 150 lectures annually on fitness-related topics. He has been a featured speaker on more than 300 talk shows on radio and television and hosted his own television fitness show in San Francisco.
Neal is CEO and founder of Apex Fitness Group, a research and development corporation that produces innovative fitness programs for health club members. Using computer software, Apex Fitness Systems are interactive, educational programs individualized to help members achieve their fitness goals. Apex systems are now used in nearly 1,000 fitness centers worldwide.
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