BEST NONMEMBER PROGRAM

The Big Vanilla Athletic Club • Arnold, MD

For the second year in a row, the 90-Day Challenge program at The Big Vanilla Athletic Club, Arnold, MD, is a Best of the Best winner. Last year, it won in the Best New Member Integration category, and this year it took the Best Nonmember Program title.

The 90-Day Challenge started in 2005 as a way for the club to create member camaraderie, accountability and motivation. It was so well received by members, however, that club management decided in 2008 to offer the program to nonmembers to increase sales and help them get better acquainted with the club's services.

“Two seasons ago, we decided that if we could get nonmembers to try the program, we would be offering an incredibly comprehensive introduction,” says Julie Lincoln, director of fitness. “What we experienced was that members so liked the accountability and social aspects that even when they obtained the original goal of the program, they continued to repeat it for structure and for fun.”

Lincoln says the first challenge they opened to the public attracted 30 nonmembers, 22 of which joined after completing the program. Some 40 nonmembers signed up for the fall session, and many participants are repeats, she says.

“The really amazing part for us is the high number of repeaters — not just one season or two, but as many as eight times in a row,” says Lincoln. “They bring their success, knowledge and enthusiasm to each new group and are a valuable resource to the participants and the club.”

Members pay $150 for the challenge, while nonmembers pay $235, and repeat participants pay $100. Lincoln says the club's revenue from the program has doubled since its inception.

“This program went from producing $8,000 to $19,600, and I project the winter 2010 program will top $25,000,” she says. “The resulting memberships are valued at $24,000 annually, and that does not include possible non-dues revenue generated from the memberships.”

The program is offered twice a year. It consists of five teams with both nonmembers and members competing together to earn points and a chance at individual and team prizes, which include club services such as massage and personal training. Teams are capped at 22 participants each.

Individuals earn points by working out at the club a minimum of three times per week and by attending weekly team events, such as educational lectures and team challenges. The team challenges include aquatics, spinning, boot camp classes and more.

And although the program may seem like a takeoff of TV's “The Biggest Loser,” it's really much more, says Lincoln.

“We stress that 12 weeks is a kickoff to healthy changes that you will want to maintain for a lifetime. We hear over and over that ‘The Biggest Loser' was not what [participants] are comfortable with,” Lincoln says. “This program has become a lifestyle for a number of our members. They want to make lifestyle changes and improve their health.”

Lincoln says she and her club staff make every effort not to attach weight-loss numbers to success, but instead count success by how well members feel and the ability to meet their personal goals. In addition, participants develop a sense of community for which The Big V is known. Teams form dinner groups, Web groups, workout partnerships and more, she says.

One couple who signed up for the challenge decided to forego their memberships at another club because of the bonds they formed during the challenge.

“We chose The Big Vanilla because of all the people and relationships we had formed with them through the 90-Day Challenge,” Alex and Lisa McKeague said. “We not only know the trainers, instructors and our teammates, but even the young people at the front desk recognize us when we come in.”