OVERLAND PARK, KS — Two heads are better than one — at least that's the idea behind partnerships between fitness clubs and cardio equipment and exercise companies. While these collaborations may have been initiated before the economy bottomed out, they are proving beneficial in tough times, keeping cash-poor members coming back and cardio products in the gyms.

And the sky's the limit. From joint ventures that also feature a national charity to solid business tools that keep membership rosters full, creative partnerships are becoming a part of everyday business.

This month during National Breast Cancer Awareness month, the hottest new piece of equipment might very well be a bright pink treadmill. Cybex, a cardio fitness equipment manufacturer headquartered in Medway, MA, has developed a program designed to encourage fitness and raise funds for breast cancer research. Club owners purchase the pink 750T treadmills, and for each mile logged on them this month, Cybex will donate 10 cents to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

“This program allows us to raise awareness of the importance of exercise, especially for breast cancer survivors,” notes Ed Pryts, Cybex senior vice president for North America sales. “It also allows us and gyms to promote a cause and raise money for it.”

The promotion is beneficial for everyone: Cybex sells more treadmills as clubs and fitness centers generate buzz for current and prospective members via an out-of-the-box marketing package provided by Cybex.

After the October promotion, owners at some of the fitness centers will raffle off the pink treadmills. Others will keep them in place for use throughout the year. And if the partnership pays off, future campaigns like this one could be an option, Pryts says.

Life Fitness will premiere an online store, featuring a variety of custom marketing materials, including T-shirts, banners and giveaways. The Schiller Park, IL-based cardio equipment company wants to make it easier for clubs to launch new centers or promote membership campaigns. This effort blends well with the company's grand-opening support, which offers onsite training for a club's staff when equipment is purchased.

“For a lot of the small clubs that may not have a design or marketing professional on staff, we've created marketing materials that can be ordered for a great price,” says Neil Taylor, channel marketing manager for North America.

Octane Fitness has always promoted partnerships with its clubs, offering programs that help integrate their equipment into fitness routines and personal training.

“We're not about just selling the equipment,” says Ryan Simat, vice president of sales for the Brooklyn Park, MN-based elliptical manufacturer.

“We need to help justify that gym membership,” he explains. “We want members to see the value of the gym.”

Clubs that are interested in an Octane elliptical cross trainer can take advantage of a 30-day, no-strings-attached demonstration in the club. During this time, Octane trains personal trainers and sales staff on the equipment. Members are asked to complete a survey of the machine, which Simat says helps club managers decide whether to make a purchase.

But it's not just cardio equipment manufacturers that are establishing partnerships with clubs. Les Mills, which provides pre-choreographed group fitness routines, partnered with Chicago's Lakeshore Athletic Club, McDonald's and the Mayor's Fitness Council in Chicago to present group exercise classes in Chicago's Millennium Park on each Saturday last summer. This is the second year that Les Mills participated. Attendance averaged about 250 people.

“We've been on a nice upswing,” Les Mills' national sales director, Sal Pellegrino, says about the company's performance. “The recession has made everyone look at all aspects of their business.”

And these days, partnerships make more sense than going it alone.
Laura Laing