Boston — Two industry surveys detailing January 2009 club performances paint a different picture of club membership sales during a difficult economy.

Results from an online survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) found that when comparing January 2009 revenue to that in January 2008, more of the IHRSA-member club respondents said total revenue this January was better or much better than those who said it was worse or much worse than January 2008. Of those surveyed, 9 percent said revenues were much better, 32 percent said they were better, 28 percent said they were equal to last year, 26 percent said they were worse, and 4 percent said they were much worse.

About the same number of IHRSA respondents had a better or much better January in terms of new memberships sales than had a worse or much worse January. Ten percent said their January 2009 was much better than January 2008, 27 percent said it was better, 28 percent said it was equal, 30 percent said it was worse and 5 percent said it was much worse.

IHRSA surveyed its member clubs in February and received 269 responses, mostly from one-club operators with 1,000 to 5,000 memberships.

Membership sales numbers in a separate industry survey conducted by Michael Scott Scudder of MeetingZone, painted a more negative picture. Of the 442 for-profit respondents to the February Club Management Education & Training Online survey:

  • 27 percent reported higher new membership sales for January 2009 versus January 2008.

  • 29 percent said January 2009 new membership sales were about the same as last year.

  • 44 percent said their January 2009 new membership sales were down from last January.

About 60 percent of Scudder's respondents said they were increasing new member referral efforts, 35 percent said they planned to increase marketing/ad spending and 31 percent said they would offer lower initiation fees for new members.

Many of the IHRSA respondents also noted changes they were making due to the recession, including an increased focus on customer service, profit centers (such as non-dues programs) and marketing/advertising. The owners also said they were offering discounts on enrollment fees, shorter-term memberships and services offered to nonmembers.

IHRSA said club owners are paying close attention to staffing schedules and expenses while considering whether to postpone equipment purchases — although the majority are maintaining their pre-planned capital expenditures.

Forty-two percent of IHRSA respondents said that non-dues-related sales remained equal to January 2008, with 32 percent saying it was better or much better and 26 percent saying it was worse or much worse. Forty-one percent said that non-dues revenue remained the same in January 2009 as January 2008. However, 31 percent said it was better or much better, and 28 percent said it was worse or much worse.

IHRSA's recently released Annual Financial Index found that among 14 U.S. for-profit health club companies, membership dues revenue and non-dues revenue improved slightly in 2008. The companies in the index represented 183 facilities.

Membership dues revenue for these companies increased by 3.4 percent over 2007, while non-dues sales improved by 1.3 percent. Total membership accounts increased by 1.7 percent in 2008, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization and rent also improved by 3 percent.

Although these clubs improved performance over 2007, they reported only a slight increase in total membership accounts in fourth quarter 2008 compared to fourth quarter 2007, up 0.4 percent. However, total dues revenue dropped 0.7 percent compared to fourth quarter 2007, while total non-dues revenues were down by 5.6 percent.