Promoting a healthy lifestyle isn't just about exercise. Nutrition plays a significant role in the overall well-being of your members. And since wellness is what you're selling, wouldn't you want to offer the complete package?
OK, so you don't have the space or the resources for a full-fledged health-food stand or snack bar. That doesn't mean you still can't offer something nutritious for those highly mobile members of yours. Whether it's an energy bar for that busy executive who had to skip lunch to work out, a health drink mix to supplement the member's protein intake or even a simple vitamin, selling nutritional products in your facility can make for quite a lucrative little profit center.
Even if it means putting a small, 24-count box of nutrition bars on your front desk for members to purchase, you're providing one more service for which your club population will be grateful. "Data shows that the more non-dues revenue areas a club has for members, the more retention clubs tend to have as well," says Dorene Robinson, director of Nutrition and Health Education for Beyond Fitness, a division of Peak Performance. "So, full-service facilities that offer [more] tend to have higher retention rates."
Aside from embracing the health benefits of bars, drinks and vitamin supplements, members are attracted by the convenience of having those items in their fitness environment. It's all about one-stop shopping, especially in these on-the-go-times. "If the members are interested in these products, and they're available at a club when [the members] are engaging in other health-related activities, it's easy for them," Robinson notes. "Otherwise, they'd have to shop around at other food stores."
That's one of the big selling points at the Midwest Athletic Club (MAC; Cedar Rapids, Iowa), which stocks nutrition bars, vitamins and health drinks. Gross sales of the items at MAC total about $48,000 annually. "Members really appreciate the fact that we sell these things, especially a lot of people on a rushed pace of life," observes Wayne Meier, president of the club. "They are happy that they don't have to go to the local fast-food place to grab a burger on the go."
And, he points out, it's not just the members who benefit. Staffers find that the products, especially the energy bars, help them get through the day. "Employees who are there for eight to 10 hours and don't have the time to grab dinner or lunch often have a bar to keep going," Meier says.
With all of the nutritional items popping up on the market, how can you be sure about what to buy? Experts say the approach varies from item to item. For instance, with energy bars, it's pretty much a trial-and-error process.
Stock a few different brands initially, and see which ones really catch on. The MAC stocks four different brands of energy bars with three flavors of each brand. "It's all determined by inventory - what sells and what doesn't sell, what we discontinue and what we order," notes Meier. "When companies get new products and flavors, we do a little test market with our members."
The test-market endeavor usually consists of cutting up a few bars and giving members free samples. Members offer their feedback on what they like and don't like, and the club orders based on what the consensus is.
The Weight Room Plus in Moriches, N.Y., employs a similar tactic in its "Sample Nights," which are not limited to staff handing out free trials of nutritional products. When the club toys with the idea of carrying new brands or flavors, representatives of the company manufacturing or distributing the items come to the club to meet with members.
"They provide a lot of nutritional information, such as what drinks or bars they recommend for consumption either before or after the workout, depending on the type of workouts members are doing," explains owner Wanda Neppell. "Usually three or four of [the company representatives] will come in at a time. They always seem very eager to do that."
Members appreciate that kind of attention, Neppell contends. She strongly recommends that other clubs follow suit. "They enjoy the fact that we're able to change products to meet their needs," she says. "We find out what the best sellers are and keep up with that demand."
While selecting energy bars is mostly a hit-or-miss process, choosing the right beverages to carry requires a bit more research. Your club's demographic makeup plays a greater role with the health drinks than with the bars. "Are there more body-builders [in your club] or are there more weight-loss people?" asks Peak Performance's Robinson.
If you cater more heavily to the iron-pumping crowd, you'll want to stock more of the protein-based weight-gainers than the mixes more closely associated with losing weight. If you have more of a diverse population made up of fewer high-intensity lifters, the protein-heavy drinks probably wouldn't sell as well.
Robinson suggests that you shy away from products with too many vitamins and minerals. That may appear contradictory, but if you choose to sell supplements, common business sense dictates that you wouldn't want the drinks to cannibalize your vitamin business. Besides, it's usually healthier for your members to take vitamin supplements separately, Robinson reveals.
"By having all the vitamins and minerals in the shake, it could become a deterrent from taking the supplements themselves," she says. "People really need to take a basic multivitamin these days. The best way to do it is just to take one. That's the bottom line."
Besides, she adds, vitamin-heavy drinks may be a little hard for your members to swallow. "People are going to buy the product more if it tastes better," Robinson points out, "and it's going to taste better if it doesn't have all of [the vitamins and minerals in it]."
Meier takes the taste factor into consideration and test markets the beverages in a manner similar to that of the bars. He offers periodic "Drink Days," when members get a chance to sample new drink mixes MAC might stock.
In recent years, Meier contends, improvements in the energy drinks' taste have helped break down the demographic barriers and broadened their market. Drink manufacturers, he explains, have begun to tailor the flavors to different individuals' tastes, which has enabled the companies to attract more consumers.
"The products have changed over the last five years," he explains. "Everyone used to think they were only for the heavy body-building crowd, but now they're big with females and executive individuals -the demographic makeup of a lot of clubs today."
Location, Location, Location
When it comes to the hot sellers, the energy bars are the big winners, hands down. And it's no surprise, since the bars are a consumable food. "It's something someone can buy every time they come into the club," observes Robinson. "They're not going to buy vitamins and minerals every time because when they buy them, they buy at least a month's supply."
Since the bars are supposedly moving like hotcakes, wouldn't you want to make sure members had the easiest access to them? The trick is to adopt the supermarket mentality and market them at the club's equivalent of the check-out line: the front desk. "You'd want them to be near where people are checking in and checking out so they can trigger an impulse buy," advises Robinson.
Of course, if your facility has a stand-alone pro shop, your best bet would be to sell them at the counter of that venue, as well.
With other products, such as health drink mixes and vitamin supplements, a greater degree of education comes into play when selling them. "With those products, I think they require a little more thought for the member to make the purchase," Robinson offers.
In those cases, a staffed pro shop or front-desk area with an attendant knowledgeable enough to answer nutrition-related questions would be the ideal sales sites. "Unfortunately, a lot of times the club doesn't have anyone on staff who's knowledgeable about nutritional products and tries to sell the items based on the information the companies provide," Robinson admits.
And that could create some health and safety concerns. You obviously don't want members with certain medical restrictions to consume something that might adversely affect them. While energy bars and beverages are considered by most experts to be safe, the Weight Room Plus' Neppell doesn't like to take any chances. "We have a gigantic sign where we sell the products advising members to consult their physician before they purchase any of these," she reports.
In situations where you're uncertain about the effectiveness of a particular nutritional product, you may need to seek outside help, usually in the form of a dietitian or nutritional counselor. Doing your homework is the best way to find the safest, most effective products.
Robinson advises that you only offer products whose effectiveness can be backed up by science. Don't fall for out-landish claims made by less-than-reputable companies. "There's a lot of stuff out there, so stay away from products for which research doesn't hold water or barely holds water," warns Robinson. "Clubs need to establish a level of integrity along with what they're promoting."
What's for Sale?
Club Industry asked club operators what they sell in their pro shos. Here's what they are using to stock their shelves: