At least one-third of the market is in the “third third” of their life and is soon to make up nearly one-third of your business. The YEEPIES — the Youthful, Energetic Elderly People Into Everything — aren't the kids, the young adults or even the older adults in your club. They're the Baby Boomers and beyond — the 50-, 60- and 70-somethings who are peering in your windows, walking in your doors and invading your classes. They're here in large and increasing numbers and are ready, willing and able. Are you?

The American Association of Retired Persons reports that the 50+ market makes up more than 35 percent of our population. Do you spend one-third of your marketing dollars on this market? Do you offer one-third of your programs specifically to this market? Do you hire one-third of your staff to service this market? Do you spend one-third of your educational time learning and teaching your staff about this market? Have you made changes in about one-third of your club to attract this market and make them comfortable? If not, why not? If not now, when? If not you, who? These are questions every club owner needs to ask themselves and their staff. Enough years have passed for us to prepare for them, but I question if enough effort has been put into the challenge.

Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., discusses the “third third” (60 to 90+ years) of our lives and emphatically mandates that everyone in that era must exercise six days a week to maintain a high quality of life. The authors even suggest that joining a health club is the best way to do so. But my recent observations indicate that many (possibly most) clubs are giving more lip service than customer service to this market. These clubs expect these clients to just enter the club scene and melt into the rest of the membership. It isn't working because this market isn't one niche market with similar interests, skill levels, personalities and schedules. We need to educate ourselves on all the niches within the niche and do a better job of presenting our programs and training our trainers to accommodate those who want us and need us most.

It's easy to accommodate those who have grown up in our industry or who have exercised regularly all their lives. They are the ones who can adjust to our clubs, programs and classes, but the vast majority of the aging market is new to fitness as we know it today. They are now realizing that they are not too old to exercise and that physical limitations don't need to keep them away from cardiovascular activities or strength-training programs. They may also come to the realization that they're going to live for another 20 or 30 years, and they'll have to work at it to make it worthwhile.

In working with today's senior market as well as many clubs across the country, my observations and personal experiences have shown that the aging market wants to stay active in recreational activities such as golf and tennis, and they are coming into our clubs for help. Their expectations are that we will be empathetic, knowledgeable and professional. Instead, we are perceived to be impatient, uninterested and too assuming.

For example, a senior with arthritis and osteoporosis may join a health club after her doctor tells her to exercise. When she attends the suggested yoga class, however, she may find it's too difficult and intimidating. You may say that personal training is the answer, but keep in mind that many (even most) of the senior market are also looking for and needing support from others like themselves. They, more than most, need sociability, a sense of belonging and a friendly, fun, positive group experience that keeps them coming back with anticipation and enthusiasm. They need and expect to make new friends in their new “club” environment.

Does your schedule of group exercise classes clearly invite the older, inexperienced adult into a class with others like themselves? In fact, is the schedule readable with a 12- or 14-point font, and does it describe the class accurately?

Will your instructor personally and professionally introduce him/herself to the members and guide them through the exercises comfortably and in a friendly manner? In too many cases this isn't happening. These are the important issues to consider as we focus on senior fitness today. We are their only answer. When they walk out of our clubs disappointed, embarrassed or unfulfilled, they don't go to the competition. They go home. Take some time to review how you are preparing your business to prepare your market for the “third third” of their lives.


Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a training and consulting firm based in Bradenton, FL. Coffman specializes in customer service, programming and retention. She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.