Here we are again, soon looking at September 1st, and everyone in the health club industry knows that the programming calendar begins September 1. Yes, it gives you the opportunity of another “new beginning.” Kids go back to school and adults get back to the routine following a summer of fun in the sun. Moms look forward to taking some time for themselves and men schedule their workouts to meet with business associates — or escape from them. People make exercise commitments in the fall much like they do in January with New Year's resolutions. Take advantage of this time and create a program that puts people together to ensure participation, fun, and retention, while generating lots of new business too!

THE FOUR FOCUS GROUPS

  • Introductory Focus Group: Specific programs professionally designed as “introductory” and “group orientations” are a must for the influx of new members that join clubs in the fall. Remember, most members quit clubs or quit using clubs before they ever get started! Creating programming to make them commit to your club is a great way to boost the bottom line and let your club's personality shine through.

  • Former Member Focus Group: This is also a great opportunity to get all the inactive members back into the club. Take advantage of this time to create programs that begin with personal invitations to the members who haven't been to the club in several weeks or months. These programs should be much like those for the new members, but your inactive members want to feel that they are remembered. They must be invited to a specific event at a specific time, and they must recognize other members (club friends) at that time so that they will feel comfortable making a return. This is where a direct mail (or e-mail) piece can let them know about the “get back to the gym” special you are running on beginners' yoga or indoor cycling classes.

  • Guest Focus Group: Special “guest days programs” are a must for this time of year. Niche programming is the key here. Programs for different ages, genders, interests, abilities, and even time frames will help the market realize that your club will provide friendships, camaraderie, and sociability as well as activity. They will want to become members!

  • Member Focus Group: September is also a great time to offer new programs to your existing members. Special competitions or member appreciation events will give some excitement to the members who stayed active and attended familiar classes or tried new ones over the summer. Offering “thank you programs” specifically designed to meet the needs of your very fit members will ensure retention while you are growing your membership.

  • STAFF FOR SUCCESS

    Before putting together exciting programs, promoting all sorts of activities for the new programming year, and making all kinds of promises, be sure to take a good hard look at who will be implementing the programs. Without the right staff, the programs will fail.

    First, hire “fun” people with upbeat, energetic, enthusiastic personalities. Fitness experts that are degreed, certified, and experienced, but don't enjoy creating a lively, social, fun environment will not be successful with the new, inactive, prospective member. Fitness center “sentries” that wait for people to approach them with questions or help in getting started will never get the programs filled to drive the new year forward. Programming starts with programmers being proactive.

    Teach them how to use professional communication skills to encourage participation, create fun environments, and help your members develop relationships with other members. Train them how to be fitness coaches rather than fitness experts.

    Sandy Coffman is president of Programming for Profit and can be reached at slcoffman@aol.com

    Lashaun Dale, MA, is group fitness manager for Equinox Fitness Clubs, NY, and can be reached at (212) 663-9209 or antoinette.dale@worldnet.att.net.