When you limit fitness measurement to new members, you limit your profitability.

If revenue, retention and referrals are your club's goals, consider follow-up fitness assessments as a tool for meeting all three.

Follow-up assessments - those performed a few weeks to a few months after a member begins working out - can be a key revenue stream for clubs, as well as a way to retain members. Yet the marketing of follow-up fitness assessments is considerably underutilized, according to some industry experts and club operators.

"There's an incredible amount of potential for using assessments as a foundation for building ancillary-related profit centers in the area of personal training, nutritional counseling and supplementation," says Shane Fleming, owner and managing partner of The Fitness Experience in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Fleming uses follow-up assessments as a tool to drive members to personal trainers, nutritional counselors and supplementation purchases - all additional revenue streams for the club. In fact, he's so committed to the use of assessments, he's developed a complete marketing program, called PAARNS, to draw attention to the assessment services his club offers.

"PAARNS is a name I created which is an acronym for Personal training, Assessment, Aerobic conditioning, Resistance training, Nutri-tional counseling and Supplementa-tion," Fleming explains. "It's an integral part of our club, and we provide a menu of assessment options for purchase. We don't do training and throw in assessment as a tool for trainers. We use the assessment as the foundation to build upon training, nutritional counseling and supplementation. We want to be able to give the customer tangible feedback, so we're going to base our whole program on the assessment program."

Fleming's club, which uses manual and computerized testing equipment, sees follow-up assessment not only as a way to direct members to various services the club offers, but also as a revenue generator itself. "I think this is a permanent revenue stream that will add 25 percent to my club revenue, and approximately 40 to 50 percent of that revenue will go to the bottom line after I take off commissions to trainers," Fleming notes. "My first month of doing assessments we generated $1,700 in revenue."

In the minority among club owners, Fleming has chosen to charge his members outright for follow-up assessments. And since new members get a baseline assessment, he has also chosen to increase his enrollment fee to include the cost of conducting the tests. "We've raised our enrollment fee by $50 - it's now $150 - and now include the $49 [fitness assessment] package listed on our menu in with the enrollment fee," Fleming says.

At the time of sale, a member can also purchase one or more follow-up assessments for $25 each. "We feel a test is only as good as its follow-up test, and we strongly suggest a 90-day follow-up," Fleming offers.

And the club doesn't stop there. Fleming tries to encourage new members to purchase a series of four follow-up assessments for a total of $100. "In an ideal world, I'd sell them four assessments so they can continue to see their progress," he shares. "The new member is the most open to change at the time they begin an exercise program. They're making a decision. It's a good time to focus on results. This $100 they spend is almost more important than their membership cost."

Selling Personal Training At Nirvana Athletic and Fitness Center, Bristol, Pa., Timothy Zauzig, vice president of marketing, offers follow-up fitness assessments along with a personal training session for about $30. The assessment includes a cardio assessment on a bike or treadmill; a flexibility sit-and-reach test; muscular assessment via push-ups; body fat analysis; and body measurements. A typical fitness assessment will use all of these tests to create a baseline, although software from Fitness Age will also determine the chronological age with which a person's fitness level corresponds.

Nirvana doesn't sell assessments, opting to allow the personal trainers the opportunity to sell their services along with assessments. The $30 fee goes to the trainers, as opposed to the club, but the trainers pay a fee to the club to work there.

The club does offer a brief, free initial assessment and a 30-day follow-up assessment for no charge, which includes the recording of health information, measurements and weight. "We leave the more involved assessment to the trainers," says Zauzig, who sees the benefits of follow-up assessment as membership retention and traffic-building.

"We look at this as a member service," Zauzig continues. "We've found that the people that do the assessments stick with the club so it's worth it to us not to make a direct profit from these assessments."

Jerrod Rushton, manager, Ver-mont Sun Sports and Fitness in Middlebury, Vt., recently began offering follow-up assessments for $60. The assessment includes body composition analysis; a flexibility test; a cardiovascular endurance test; heart rate and blood pressure tests; and a customized exercise program based on the members' goals. The assessment takes between an hour to an hour-and-a-half to complete.

"We really encourage members to purchase assessments right off the bat because it's a great way to give them a starting point, then continue with evaluations as they go along," says Rushton, who suggests that members get an assessment every three months.

Educating Through Assessment The club emphasizes assessments because it feels that education is very important for keeping members happy with the facility and staying fit. "Education is the key to successful retention," Rushton points out. "And a detailed assessment like what we offer gives people the information they need to stay motivated."

Rushton based his $60 fee for each assessment from his research on what other clubs were charging for similar services. Although his assessment program is relatively new, Rushton says he'd be pleased if as few as 5 percent of his membership takes advantage of the offer by year's end.

For the comfort of those who choose to purchase an assessment, Rushton and his staff conduct the testing in a private office. "There's no group testing with assessments," Rushton says. "That's just not going to set a good tone with the member, especially one who's considerably out of shape."

When asked about assessments being a profit center, Rushton re-sponds, "It's a one-shot deal for the equipment investment, and it's something we can grow from here. While we don't expect it to be a huge profit center, for the people that want and need baseline information, it's definitely going to help them and help us with retention." And follow-up assessments will definitely help by showing people they have progressed.

Retention Tool Mike Briehler, the owner of the Pennington Athletic Club in Pen-nington, N.J., is also an advocate of follow-up assessments. However, he doesn't see assessments as a direct revenue generator; instead, he cites assessments as one contributor to his club's outstanding retention rate of 96 percent.

"We look at assessments as a way to welcome people to the club and help them become familiar with their goals," Briehler says. "The atmosphere within our club is not at all intimidating, and we make sure our assessment testing is non-stressful as well."

As part of the enrollment fee, members receive a computerized assessment, a meeting with a trainer to set up an exercise program and a follow-up meeting one month later. The club encourages members to purchase additional follow-up sessions for $25 each.

"We're looking to break even on the assessments," Briehler says. "We use them to help retention and continue to provide very personal service to our members, which is what they've come to expect from us."

Members should expect personal service, but that doesn't mean they should also expect assessments for free. For your club, a fitness assessment carries the price of time and money; it requires a staff member to conduct the tests and the purchase of equipment and technology (if your club uses assessment products). If the assessment costs your club, why should you give it away?

If the price of the assessment becomes a sticking point for your members, do what the employees at Vermont Sun do: Ask the members how much they're willing to spend on their health. Make them see the assessment as an investment in their long-term fitness. "The money you spend initially isn't going to seem like much if after six months, you drop 20 pounds of fat and gain 10 pounds of muscle," Rushton explains.


Take It Outside

Marketing fitness assessments beyond the health club.

While many clubs are looking for ways to market follow-up fitness assessments to their members, they may be overlooking an opportunity to market to other groups outside the club. One manufacturer of computerized fitness assessment equipment has been conducting fitness assessments since 1974 with his product. He charges around $75 per person and conducts 20 assessments per day.

According to this supplier, fitness/wellness assessments can be contracted out to police officers, fire fighters, security personnel, emergency response teams - in fact, any profession that includes "physically fit" in the job description. Since everyone who holds these jobs isn't in ideal condition, these groups can benefit from the fitness tests that clubs contract out.

Fitness assessments don't need to be limited to people who are expected to be in top shape for their jobs. Most corporations also could benefit from knowing how fit their employees are; after all, healthy employees are the most productive and least expensive (in terms of health care costs).

For mass testing at employee health fairs, clubs using computerized equipment can conduct shorter tests to accommodate 15 to 20 people per hour. At $5 per person, in an eight-hour day, the club's gross would be between $600 to $800.

Making money is only one of the benefits. Every time a club goes on-site to provide fitness assessments, the club is cultivating new members. Follow-up seminars on such topics as exercise, nutrition, stress, back safety and smoking cessation can also be offered as additional ways to grow revenue and increase exposure of the club.

- J.G.


Motivating Products

One of the strengths of fitness assessments is that they provide motivation for members, showing them how much they have progressed and how much further they need to go. The following advertisers all know the importance of motivation. Their products help members stay focused on their fitness goals.

BIO|Analogics
www.bioanalogics.com
The company provides the Health Man-agement System, a comprehensive collection of Windows-based health management and wellness promotion tools.

BSDI
www.bsdifitness.com
The company offers software for health and fitness assessment, exercise programming, and activity and performance logging. Products include Fitness Publisher, Motivation and the Retention Manager.

MicroFit
www.microfit.com
The company offers a fully interactive, computerized fitness assessment system. MicroFit programs include Fitness Pro-file, Fitness Profile DB+, Wellness Profile and Exercise Planner.

New Life Technologies
www.heartalker.com
The HEARTalker is a talking, ECG-accurate heart rate monitor that features the voices of Kathy Smith and Denise Austin. It also provides progressive workout programs with motivational feedback and calorie counting.

Polar Electro
www.polarelectro.com
The company provides a variety of heart rate monitors perfect for all exercisers - from beginners to serious athletes. Polar Electro's products allow users to check heart rate accurately and continuously during exercise.

Tanita
www.tanita.com
The company's health care products include an integrated body fat monitor and scale for professional use. Tanita's latest models can assess fat mass, fat-free mass, fat percentage, total body water and BMR in one step.