We have definitely spread the word to older adults about the importance of exercise for their future quality of life. The Alliance for Aging Research indicates that 86 percent of maturing Americans believe that exercising regularly is very important or essential to staying healthy as they grow older. According to an Internationational Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association survey, 74 percent of the 78 million Baby Boomers think belonging to a club would be beneficial to starting an exercise program.
Most of our clubs have invested in age-appropriate equipment, assigned specific staff to oversee their senior programs, and implemented special programs and classes to accommodate the aging market.
Personally and professionally, I've been encouraged by the increasing number of 60-something and 70-something people coming into our clubs in the last couple of years, but I'm also seeing a problem that needs to be addressed — soon and with gusto. The percentages aren't adding up. By that I mean the growth of our older adult memberships and/or the participation in our specially designed programs aren't coming close to equaling the available number of older adults who want and need our leadership, programs, education and direction for living a longer, happier and healthier life.
One reason senior growth in clubs and programs isn't increasing may be that you have become complacent with your club's senior program. You are aware of the 20 to 40 senior participants in the aquatics classes, yoga, Tai Chi or Silver Sneakers™ program. They attend classes regularly, so they must be happy, right? My question is, why aren't these exercise classes multiplying? Let's be honest. This market has never been here before. It's a new business within our business, and the demand is so great that we have to treat it as such. Do you have a mission statement in your club specifically for your older adult program? Do you have a business plan that includes a goal of increasing the senior membership by 30 percent each year or a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in your classes each quarter?
Clubs also need to reexamine their marketing efforts to make sure they are putting their deconditioned seniors at ease and sending the right message to older adults. First, ask yourself if you're walking the talk. For example, all clubs tell me that they have a great senior program and that they encourage older adult memberships by inviting them into their programs. However, advertising posters in their clubs portray young, beautiful, buff people, often posing with notably unattainable bodies for the typical 60-year-old. Your advertising for the older adult may be more effective if you focus your message on the attributes of physical fitness that display the joy of aging rather than the goal of getting a beautiful, toned and muscular body.
Your aging members need to see vibrant people playing with grandchildren, walking in the park with friends, riding bikes in a group or playing tennis. And it's okay if they have gray hair, a few wrinkles and a few extra bulges. Your marketing must show laughter, self confidence and energy. Show them that their participation in your programs will lead to good postures, dexterity and strength. It's life stage marketing with a more subtle way of introducing fitness at their level.
Most importantly, they must not feel that they are “the old people” trying to keep up or fit into the young world. There are millions of older adults who need and want your club, and the majority are not comfortable coming in and fending for themselves. They must see themselves in your big picture.
Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a training and consulting firm in Bradenton, FL. Coffman specializes in customer service, programming and retention. She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.