You can hear the same message over and over, and finally, it makes sense. That's what is happening in our industry as we continue to successfully program to the Baby Boomer and senior markets. Why do we keep trying? Because it matters. It matters to the 78 million Baby Boomers who need and want a quality of life for the remaining years of their lives. And it matters to us because we have the opportunity and the responsibility of making that happen.

Let's go back eight to 10 years. At the time, the real impact of the aging market was becoming a revelation, but there were no proven marketing techniques. We had to educate ourselves first.

One of the first marketing techniques we had was a concept that swept the industry — the “fish” theory. It was a concept derived from a fish market in Seattle where workers ingeniously educated themselves on how to enjoy their work so much that their customers enjoyed buying their product more than ever.

The four principles of the fish theory are:

  • Choose your attitude. Get yourself prepared at the beginning of every day to enjoy your work and the people with whom you work and serve.

  • Be there and be present. Always be aware of opportunities to engage in conversation or to create an enjoyable experience with someone.

  • Make their day. Be aware and appreciative of the impact you have on someone's attitude. To see a person smile or even laugh out loud in response to your greeting makes you realize how important your attitude is to others.

  • Play. Have fun doing what you do. Enjoy your work. Think of your workplace as a productive playground. You'll find the energy level will increase among the staff as well as the members.

Playing has continued to influence our industry's quest to serve the senior market. We found that as the Boomers considered retirement, their energy level, their interests and, most importantly, their abilities focused on outdoor activities. Walking, swimming and biking clubs became popular. Fitness club operators could have been more proactive in creating socialization within their fitness programs.

The facility-based fitness experts could have been looking more closely at what was happening in the parks and recreation field. For example, a few years ago in Lewisburg, PA, the playground industry built a multi-generational park with specific wellness stations and walking paths for seniors, in addition to skateboard areas and climbing structures for kids. This park drew up to 1,000 visitors a day and became a popular destination for all ages.

Recently, a park in England was built specifically for seniors to come together in a non-intimidating environment. The park had specially built swings, teeter-totters and other equipment designed to encourage movement, exercise and fun. Seniors come there to play.

The importance of playful activity is escalating in our industry today. The epidemic of childhood obesity is real, yet many schools are reducing physical education requirements. Park districts around the country, however, are changing the image of their playgrounds and creating areas and equipment that present challenges to keep children entertained.

A trend in our industry is to focus on seniors in much the same way we focus on children. Playing together just might be the key to the mental, social and physical health of your senior membership. After all, having fun is contagious. Seniors simply have to understand the power of play.

Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit in Bradenton, FL, and author of “Successful Programs for Fitness and Health Clubs: 101 Profitable Ideas.” She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.