Who says you must use new equipment at your club? If money is tight and you need to keep expenses down, you may want to purchase “used” or “remanufactured” equipment. The cost is often 35 percent to 70 percent less than the retail price for new equipment, says Jim Steenbergen, president, Fitness First, a company that refurbishes used equipment.

Used equipment may be equipment that another facility is replacing with more up-to-date equipment. Often, nothing is wrong with the equipment; it's simply not the latest.

Many used equipment dealers offer three levels of equipment. With “as-is” equipment, a used equipment dealer generally cleans the equipment and ensures that it is working. No parts are replaced (unless the parts aren't working) and no touch-up is done to make the equipment more aesthetically pleasing. Some dealers offer a warranty on “as is” equipment — often it's for only 90 days.

Refurbished equipment is cleaned, touched up to be more aesthetically pleasing and often parts that are known to break on that type of equipment are replaced even if they are working at the time. This equipment often carries a warranty of about six months.

Remanned equipment is stripped to the bare bones and rebuilt with new parts. This equipment often carries a new warranty that matches the manufacturer's warranty.

Purchasing used equipment can offer significant savings. With remanned equipment, the savings will run about 40 percent off retail. With refurbished equipment, club owners see savings of about 45 percent. “As is” equipment runs between 50 percent and 60 percent of retail prices.

With these savings, used equipment makes sense for smaller club owners or owners of a single club. It can offer them the cost advantages that larger clubs with multiple locations can get when buying new equipment in bulk from manufacturers.

The biggest down side to buying used equipment is that it won't have the latest additions of new equipment. If you can live without the latest bells and whistles, then used equipment may be for you. Here's what you need to know when looking into used equipment.

  • Know the type of equipment you are getting

    Your idea of refurbished may be the refurbisher's idea of remanufactured or “as is.” Make sure that you know what you are getting. Otherwise, your equipment may arrive and it may be different than you expected.

  • Know what you need

    Before approaching a used equipment company, figure out what type and how much equipment you need. Think of the manufacturers that you'd like to request and have a back up in case the used equipment company doesn't have that piece from your specified manufacturer. If you don't know what equipment you need, find a used equipment company with plenty of experience so they can help you figure that out.

  • Check credentials

    You don't want to spend a lot of money for poor equipment from a disreputable manufacturer, so do your homework and check out the manufacturer. Get references from clubs to whom the remanufacturer has sold equipment. Ask how happy they've been with the equipment, the warrantees and the maintenance service. Ask how long the company has been in service. The longer they've been in service, the more likely that they are reputable, Steenbergen says. If you are purchasing a big package from the company, don't hesitate to go to the warehouse and look at the equipment prior to it being remanufactured. Look at other equipment they have refurbished or remanned. Meet the people who will be doing the work.

  • Get warrantees in writing

    Reputable companies will offer warrantees for more than 90 days on refurbished and remanufactured equipment. You'll want a warranty for at least six months. On remanned equipment, the warranty should be the same length as the manufacturers, says Steenbergen.

  • You should look for high-end equipment

    Whether you purchase new or used equipment, you get as good as you paid for. When buying as-is, refurbished or remanufactured equipment, look for equipment from high-end manufacturers.

  • You won't always get what you want

    Look at how much inventory a company has. A good used equipment company should keep about $250,000 to $500,000 in inventory. If they don't have at least this much, then they may not have the equipment you need or you may have to wait until they can find the equipment from a club that is closing or from a manufacturer's representative.

  • Turnaround times can be unpredictable

    When you order refurbished equipment, the turnaround time can be within 24 to 72 hours rather than the six- to 12-week turnaround often required of new equipment. However, if the refurbisher has a low inventory, then the turnaround time can be longer.