It's been years since fitness facilities had to store mountains of paperwork in file cabinets or spend hundreds of hours crunching numbers for a monthly report. By investing in the latest back office software programs, many facilities have improved retention, maximized efficiency and met their accounting, billing and membership tracking needs.

Jim Cimmino, the membership director for the Constitution Inn Fitness Center, a Boston-based nonprofit club that serves military facilities throughout New England, remembers spending six hours every month generating a billing. Now he can accomplish that task in a third of the time thanks to an updated version of a back office software program and a new printer. The club has generated all of its reports for billing, renewal and reconciliation with a software program since it opened its doors back in 1994. As the years rolled by, new versions of the software have continued to make accounting and reporting functions cleaner, neater and faster, he says.

“It cuts down my time as a manager as far as having to audit and double-check books,” Cimmino says.

Like other fitness professionals, however, Cimmino conceded that he's not using the software to the fullest extent. His club currently uses the program to track the daily receipts and monthly membership payments, but in the future, he'd like to use the software to sign up members for classes and track inventory. When the club sells a product, an employee fills out a form, attaches a cash receipt and sends it to the accounting office. The software, however, enables the club to track all of the sales electronically. One software manufacturer says many owners and managers may just be scratching the surface when it comes to the capabilities of back office software systems.

“Some facilities are just using the software to check in members, but if they delved deeper into the system, they would see that it offers a broad array of functionalities that can help them run their business,” he says.

Because his club is a growing fitness facility, Cimmino says the software has helped to make his job easier by streamlining the reporting process and helping to better serve his clientele.

“The market is so competitive, and you have to do the most you can for the people coming through your door,” he says.

Steve Hansen, director of club administration for the Oxford Athletic Club in Pittsburgh, PA, says his club's software does everything the club needs it to do, and even offers more capabilities than his facility needs. The fitness facility uses the software program for member billing, point-of-sale and tracking inventory levels in its pro shop and spa. All the information is saved on a server, but the club is looking to invest in an online version of the program, Hansen says.

“We are in the process of expanding it to allow our members online access to their accounts, which we think will be a valuable tool for them,” he says.

As health clubs expand their facilities, it's become more important than ever to have a well-run back office, says Keith Champagne, first vice president for Chelsea Piers, a New York City-based multipurpose club.

“More and more clubs are using the multiple functionalities of software to capture information about their members and improve communication,” he says. “The old way of looking at a health club was to turn people over and churn in new people to get initiation fees. But clubs are now realizing the value of tracking the usage of their guests and finding ways to keep them happy and make them stay, which is the best way to get referrals.”

Improving Communication

Software can help a fitness facility bridge the gap between the front office and the back office, Champagne says.

Chelsea Piers, a 30-acre club in Manhattan, invested in a back office software program three years ago, and it has helped to keep all the employees on the same page, he says. When members check in at the front desk, everything from their birthday to their attendance record pops up on the screen, which makes it easy for the employees to have information at their fingertips.

“Before, there were things that only people in the back office could look up about members and their history,” he says. “Now all the information can come up when the members are checking in, and the front desk staff can answer questions rather than going to the back office. It keeps everyone better educated about members and their habits.”

The club searched for a program that would work for all of the business units such as the skating rink, club and golf driving range. With one central management office, the club needed a comprehensive program to capture information about the members and improve the communication among the employees at the 150,000-square-foot facility, he says.

Rather than giving all the employees access to the entire software system, each staff member is granted access to only the modules that apply to his or her job. When new employees come on board, they are trained on the software program by an information technology professional, their immediate supervisor and a coworker. Twenty-two of the club's 150 employees use the software to process monthly charges, track communications with clients, schedule training sessions, monitor members' attendance and check in customers. The managers also rely on the software to analyze the sales force and create in-depth reports.

“We can use it to analyze periods that are busiest, determine who our top people are or people we can upsell to,” he says. “It's incredibly flexible and allows us to tie all of our functions together.”

Maximizing Efficiency

Janice Buck, business services manager for Champion Fitness in Grand Rapids, MI, says she can't imagine living without her club's back office software program. Using the software has become an integral part of her day, and she often has multiple modules open at the same time. She files hard copies of all of the financial statements, but a lot of the other information is saved electronically in the server-based computer system. She has used the software for the last four years and can't fathom going back to the days before the computer, she says.

“If you were doing this by paper, I can't imagine tracking all of it,” she says. “You would certainly need to increase your staff. Our software cuts down on the amount of time it takes to do credit card payments and EFT. We have about 3,500 members, and I can do it from start to finish in four hours.”

In addition to tracking membership dues, the software allows members to visit the pro shop or juice bar and charge an expense to their membership account. Everything is then billed at once on the first of the month, which makes it easier for the back office personnel, she says. The software even generates a letter to a member when his or her credit card has been declined.

Buck and one other employee have access to all the software modules, and they use all of them on a regular basis with the exception of facility management, which allows a club to track room rentals. One of her favorite features of her software program is the ability to generate reports on everything from how well a protein shake is selling to how many members are up for renewal.

Better Bodies in Fort Mitchell, KY, first purchased a back office software program 12 years ago to integrate all of the club's management functions and monitor the billing processes in house. Rob Biel, director of operations, said the software has allowed his club to get organized.

“It's a one stop shop,” he said. “It helps us to increase productivity and tie the information together from the check in at the front desk to the new member integration.”

With so many back office software programs on the market, it's essential for health clubs to research different products to find one that best suits their needs. Once they have done so, the full use of the software system will take them far from the old days of file cabinets and piles of paperwork.

For More Information

If your club is considering investing in a back office software system, check out the Web sites of the following manufacturers.