A Club Manager's View of Technology - Dataports

Fitness is recreational, fun and, in today's fast-paced competitive world, a necessity of life. But providing fitness and health services is a highly competitive business where it is increasingly difficult to be profitable due to the variety of services available to the consumer. So what to do? At The Fitness Club of New Canaan, I have set a strategy that strongly differentiates us from our competitors. We have wholeheartedly embraced technology. We have integrated computers and data collection devices into every part of our operation.

Dataport is a term used to de-scribe an electronic "window" that allows information to flow from one device to another or to a central computer. In the fitness world, a dataport can exist between a piece of cardiovascular or strength equipment and the central computer of a fitness network. Through this dataport, data on an individual member's exercise program can download from the central computer to a treadmill, and then at the conclusion of the preprogrammed 20-minute workout, the completed exercise data can flow back to the central computer to be captured in the individual's exercise history.

At our facility, it was important to choose fitness networking technology that would allow us to network more than just a few select pieces of equipment; we wanted the ability to link a treadmill from Brand X to a stepper from Brand Y and a strength machine from Brand Z. Fortunately, our fitness networking company has worked with dozens of equipment manufacturers to establish a common language for these pieces of equipment to communicate and share data.

Before starting with fitness networking, I invested to increase the efficiency in our accounting function through technology. This has allowed more time for our management to concentrate on developing more fitness programs. With this extra time, I continue to ask myself one key question, "How do I keep from becoming like everyone else? How do I stop from becoming the 'C' word (a commodity)?"

Since I embarked on this venture, integrating technology with our fitness programs, I have recognized that the technology and the staff who manage with it have become the key elements of success for our programs. With our interactive fitness network, we now have the same easy access to data about our members' exercise history as we do their billing information. We can identify members who are at risk of quitting their exercise program and have our trainers intervene to help these members at their moment of need. With this new technology we have:

* Increased personalized training revenue by 100 percent

* Increased profits by 50 percent

* Become more familiar with our clients and their needs

* Helped more people achieve success for the first time with their fitness programs

* Differentiated ourselves from our competitors

* Become an Internet leader by creating a "click and mortar" fitness operation - managing a traditional fitness facility inside our four walls while keeping in contact with our clients outside of the club through the virtual world of the Internet!

* Added virtual members (That's right. They don't use our equipment, and we still get dues!)

I know that some of my fellow club managers will comment that technology and computers depersonalize. Maybe that happens sometimes, but not at The Fitness Club of New Canaan. We have become more familiar with our clients' wants and needs. We have added real service, not just talked about it. Our clients are happier, and I'm happy because we are more profitable. Everyone wins!

- Glenn Hutchinson is the managing partner of The Fitness Club of New Canaan, a small, service-oriented club in New Canaan, Conn. A 1984 graduate of Babson College - nationally known for its business college - Hutchinson credits his success at the club to his unique perspective because of his business background and his creative problem-solving ability.


More Techno Notes & News....

Netpulse Honored
Business Week selected the new Netpulse Z-Series as one of the Best Products of 1999. The Z-Series is the second generation of the company's Netpulse Station product line, which transforms standard cardio equipment into broadband Internet-powered fitness machines that enable exercisers to surf the Web while they work out.

Schwinn Expands
In response to the success of its club tracking network - the Fitness Advisor - Schwinn is expanding its technology-based product offerings by forming a new and independent division. The Schwinn Technologies Division will help place Schwinn as one of the leaders in fitness industry technological advancements, the company reports.

Bradley's Steppin' Out
At a press conference, presidential candidate Bill Bradley revealed his fitness training regimen, which he feels has contributed to his improved health and fitness level: regular use of the StairMaster 4000 stairclimber. Bradley even indicated that while on the road he makes a special effort to locate hotels equipped with the Stair-Master stepper.