Health club owners generally want to focus on selling, marketing and training, but often day-to-day administrative tasks make it impossible. However, manufacturers are developing more and more software to free up club owners to do those primary activities.

More health clubs are using software programs for a variety of functions, such as accounting, scheduling, marketing, training and selling, and they increasingly are realizing the benefits of doing so.

“Even the smaller clubs are realizing they need a better, more accurate way to organize their database and priorities, to work more on the development of their business,” says Sean Kirby, national sales director at ASF International in Denver.

ENROLLMENT

One of the main areas of savings for fitness clubs comes with the automation of enrollment. Plus One Fitness, which manages corporate fitness centers, has developed an electronic and paperless enrollment process in which the company sends an e-mail invitation to each employee. The e-mail points them to the enrollment process where they fill out their profile information, the waiver and billing information.

The system saves money and staff since fewer employees are needed to enroll thousands of members at once, according to Tom Maraday, senior vice president, Plus One Fitness in New York.

“It's enabled us to be more efficient in the way that we manage members as they go through the process,” he says. It also has allowed a new world of electronic marketing and data collection. Members are able to interact online with their accounts, billing and exercise program.

DATABASE

Software programs also can assist club owners in developing large databases of information about their members, which helps club owners in marketing and retention efforts.

ASF's Club Pro 3000 software houses a membership database for check-in, financial information and other member reports. Club owners can access membership and club information live via the Internet on virtual pages, which is more secure than accessing the information on a saved file, Kirby says.

Online, health clubs can enter data, make changes to membership, access financial reports, and access some of ASF's marketing programs, all of which update instantaneously.

ASF synchronizes the club's desktop with its mainframe backup so the next time a club updates from ASF's mainframe it is synchronized immediately. The advantage to that is that the clubs can update and synchronize as frequently as possible, Kirby says, so clubs have current and accurate information.

SALES

Sales is a large part of the fitness business, and several manufacturers have software to help drive sales. One of the larger companies is Aphelion, which provides salespeople with the ability to display all of a club's membership plans on a pop-up window. The program, called Sales Maker, also offers information about each membership plan and payment options, including the ability to offer discounts, change down payments or alter the length of a plan. The program also can collect information about the new member and print out a contract, complete with the club member's signature.

MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Club owners also need software that helps them manage their clubs. CSI Software in Houston offers a membership management module that maintains membership information. Anything from membership type, family members, billing information, activity preference and medical limitations can be maintained with this software. The program can generate reports as well as letters, mailing labels, mass e-mails and more in a variety of formats.

Another available software program is ASF International's daily business review. This software updates month-to-date totals for health clubs. The program lets owners know what they did month to date this month vs. last month and vs. that month last year. The program can project dues and can even compare dues to expenses.

“Now, instead of an owner calling up the manager and asking how they are doing this month, [the owner] can call the manager and tell him or her how they are doing this month,” says Kirby.

Programs such as this give owners the control and makes them the entrepreneur, Kirby says.

“What owners forget is the value of their time,” says Kirby. “While they may be able to do it themselves, if they can use their time for more project-oriented growth projects, they can truly grow their business.”

UP FRONT

The front desk is one area where software has made a big difference. The days of sign-in sheets is over at most clubs, something that has sped up the check-in process and with the right software can also improve interaction with members. Much of the front counter software that is available allows staff to track members, not only with their workout schedules but also personal information such as birthdays and anniversary dates.

Aphelion's front desk software, ProShop, offers many of these functions and more. The ProShop software offers member check-in, employee time clock, class tracker and scheduling calendars. The check-in function allows staff to make appointments, track guests, identify when a member owes money, and alerts front counter staff of a member's birthday among other things. The system also tracks guests to allow for follow-up calls by sales staff.

ACCOUNTING

Accounting issues may be one area that owners desire the most help. The time and expense to perform accounting functions can be cut considerably with the right software.

CSI Software offers one of many accounting programs out there for health clubs. The company's accounting package covers point-of-sale (POS) transactions, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory and general ledger reports. With the accounts receivable, a club can bill in several ways: monthly statement, electronic funds transfer or online credit card draft. For clubs with multiple sites, the software allows clubs to charge anywhere using the system but bill centrally. The accounts payable program not only prints checks, reconciles bank accounts and produces expense reports, but it also allows club owners to track bank accounts, cash flow, checks, invoices and vendors.

Using the company's POS module, which is integrated with the front desk operations, membership, scheduling, lockers and class registration, members can pay charges during the check-in process or when using any of these other services. CSI also has an inventory control program that can keep track of stock on hand and determine when to re-order items.

COMMISSIONS

One of the biggest headaches for club owners is keeping track of commissions. There's few things worse than dealing with complaints about commissions once a month. A few companies offer software that helps club owners track commissions.

Houston-based Aphelion offers software that tracks employee sales, commissions and bonuses, producing a report at the end. The program is adaptable to each club's way of doing business. If a club pays commission upon sign-up of a new member rather than payment by the new member, the module can be adapted to that. The program also allows club owners to set up contests and teams and to track the progress of each without much extra effort.

PERSONAL TRAINING/FITNESS

Computers have even invaded the personalized area of personal training. Now, members don't even have to go to the gym to get a workout that suits their lifestyle and goals. Using Plus One Fitness's My Fitness Expert, corporate fitness centers can offer members online personal trainers who develop an individualized workout program for them. A fitness expert at the corporate club develops the program based on answers to a questionnaire filled in by the member listing his or her goals, lifestyle, available equipment and time constraints. The routine is then available to the member through a Web site. At any time and in any location with access to a computer — or even just a Palm outfitted with a browser — the member can log on and view or print out their personalized routine complete with photos of what the exercises are to look like. If questions arise, the member can e-mail the fitness expert that developed the routine.

“The way we've used it is as an in-house facilitator so while traveling, they can stay in touch,” says Behzad Amiri, director of business development, Plus One Fitness. The member may initially go through the workout at the club with the assistance of a trainer, but then the individual can go on the road and perform the program on his or her own.

Members at most corporate fitness centers managed by Plus One Fitness can access this service for no extra charge. Non-members can also use the service for a monthly $30 fee.

CSI Software offers a Health Lifestyle Assessment program to help members develop a healthier approach to life. Part of the program, Exerdiet, designs a healthdiet. Another part of the program, General Fitness Assessment, can determine a member's level of fitness and with Exerlog, can develop an exercise program that logs a member's activity.

MARKETING

Marketing is also an area ripe for software development. ASF International has developed a program called Pass A Friend. It is a referral program that offers four bar-coded passes in mailings to members. The mailing asks the member to give out the passes to friends. When the friend brings in the card, it is scanned as an unused card, prompting the health club staff member to get the name, address and phone number of the friend. If that person later joins the club, it can be tracked through that initial contact as a new sale. Through the bar-coded pass, an owner can track how many passes he or she sent out, how many of those people visited and how many joined. The ability to track all of this allows the owner to see their show percentage and to determine the need for any changes, whether in the number of passes sent out or in the time allotted for a visit on the pass.

BENEFITS OF SOFTWARE

The use of more and more software and applications at clubs has been a major boon for club owners.

“We've seen this as a great way to save money for the people that we work for — our clients — because we've been able to use these applications to reduce workforce,” says Maraday. “By providing our platform, we've been able to reduce the cost of doing business. That's going to be vital as we go forward. Even as we come out of this [bad economy], they are going to be analyzing this closely.”

In fact, the benefits seen today will only create more desire for additional software designed for the health club industry. Some of the new applications will come from outside the industry, such as an increased accessibility of all of these programs on Palm pilots and smart cards.

Plus One Fitness's Amiri says that community-based software will be the wave of the near future with message boards and online chats through clubs' Web sites.

“That makes sense,” Amiri says. “Fitness centers are really communities where people can discuss and find out information.”

With the future at hand, that interaction in an increasingly automated world may become even more vitally important.

Software Prep

Prior to installing or updating software or applications, club owners need to ask the following questions:

  • Do I have the proper hardware ?
  • Is this an ASP or desktop software?
  • What kind of integration capabilities does it have?
  • How updated is the information going to be?
  • Is there an additional fee for tecnical support and upgrades?
  • Am I tied to a contract?
  • What is my upfront cost?