Already tried a triathlon group and walking club at your facility? How about a tennis or racquetball club? While clubs such as these often provide additional options for current members, why not try a club that will pull in people who are not only nonmembers but who are also physically inactive?

Today, clubs seem to rotate the same members through their doors, but the number of people who have never been a member of a health club is vast and untapped. To attract those people to join fitness facilities, club owners may have to dangle before them a few nonexercise-related options until they've built bonds with people at the club, increasing their connection and comfort level there.

For Laurie Cingle, owner of Club Programming Resources in Wyoming, OH, creating a club within a club is all about attracting the uninitiated fitness novice, which is why nonexercise-oriented clubs are a great option.

“The main reason to do a club within a club is to try to engage people who aren't such great exercisers,” says Cingle.

Of course, clubs within a club also can be retention tools since they bring together people with a common interest and give members another tie to the club. Offering a club within your club helps create a smaller group of people that a club member can become familiar with. Unless members are involved in an activity or program, the chance is high that they will leave your facility in time, says Cingle. Club owners should ensure that members feel that their memberships have a value to them beyond the weights and treadmills.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF CLUB

The impetus for clubs can come from a variety of areas, such as hobbies, social activities and trends. Ideas for clubs include those that revolve around books, animals, games and Feng Shui.

At the last fitness facility where Cingle worked, she started a dog walking club that brought together a diverse group of people that otherwise never would have mingled. The group included vets, physicians and students. Their shared love for their dogs brought them together and created friendships in the group. The topic of conversation at the get-togethers invariably turned to the club, and through encouragement from some members, other individuals in the group began participating in activities at the fitness club that they hadn't participated in before.

“If I were doing a club right now, I'd do a poker club,” says Cingle. Poker is hot right now. ESPN covers the poker tournaments in Las Vegas and the Bravo network features celebrity poker.

Clubs focused on diseases or illnesses don't tend to work, Cingle says. One of her clubs tried a diabetes group, but no one came even when the club's name changed to the catchier title, No More Needles.

“We had the right champion, but we couldn't get people to say, ‘Yes, I want to come,’” says Cingle.

The main reason that a club doesn't work is that it doesn't have a champion in its leader. “What tends to happen is that these clubs work because of the person heading it up,” says Cingle. “If that person leaves, then the club goes away. It's hard to have a backup person.”

The best leaders for the clubs often come from the members themselves, which is why you should solicit club ideas from members. However, you should also solicit ideas from your staff, another resource for leaders. To get a passionate leader, a club owner or GM can't just go to a seminar and get 50 ideas and then hand the list to a fitness director to implement. Instead, a club owner must create an environment where the staff is encouraged to come to the general manager or owner with club suggestions that they want to head. Then, reward the staff member for that by giving them the time and resources to get it started and try it out.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Once you've found your leader and the club he or she will champion, getting a club started can be as easy as putting up a signup sheet and informing members about the club through the facility's newsletter, Web site and perhaps by having the leader sit in the lobby to recruit members while passing out fliers. The publicity cost is minimal as are other costs associated with clubs within a club.

In fact, Cingle doesn't charge to join the majority of her clubs unless it is a club that requires some sort of expenditure beyond a poster or flyer to market the club. Occasionally, a club may need to pay someone to come in to offer a presentation or to lead the group, such as a dietician from outside the club leading a nutritional eating group, but usually that's not necessary. Besides, club owners might be able to trade out membership for these services.

A bigger problem than cost is space. It may be difficult for some clubs to find space within the facility for clubs to meet, particularly since most clubs want to meet at peak times when the majority of exercise rooms are already busy. Facilities without conference rooms are often out of luck unless the club can commandeer the juice bar area, an empty office, an outside patio (if the weather is nice) or the pro shop.

However, if a club can overcome space concerns, clubs within a club can be a vital tie to potential new members. Just make sure that any new club is fun, Cingle says. If they aren't fun for the participants and the leader, then let it go. Clubs, after all, have a life span.

“Never go into creating a club thinking it will go on forever,” says Cingle. “It will die out when the new thing comes along.” Or when the leader moves away. Sometimes it dies out for reasons never thought of, such as when Cingle's movie night died out after summer when the days became shorter and the members didn't want to drive after dark.

But it's okay if a club peters out. Interests change and another club is just an idea away.

EXAMPLES OF CLUB IDEAS

Scrapbooking
Book Clubs
Movie Nights
Poker/Bridge/Other
Card-related Clubs
Feng Shui
Cooking
Games
Pets
Dog Walking
Theater
Photography
Video Game
Ping Pong
Grandparents Club (grandparents raising their grandchildren)
Single Parents

STEPS TO FORM YOUR CLUB

  1. Make it known that you are open to club ideas from staff and members.

  2. Create an environment in the club where staff and members will come to you with their ideas: don't automatically negate an idea; make suggestion boxes available

  3. Give the space, time and resources needed to publicize a new club and get it started.

  4. Have an enthusiast, either staff or member, head the club (preferably, the person who came to you with the club idea).

  5. Give the club time to develop but don't waste too much time on it if it is not working.

  6. Be ready and willing to tweak a club or end it once it has run its course.