Some fitness facilities treat them as an afterthought — little more than a place to sell Power Bars, Gatorade, and lifting gloves. Some go the whole 10 yards and build a shrine to branded apparel, supplements and more. But very few facility managers treat their pro shop as an invaluable place where customers interface with their brand. The pro shop is an important part of how the customer perceives the overall club experience. So if you're going to run a pro shop, run it right. Here are some tips on how to improve yours.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Not every fitness club has to have the same spot for its pro shop, but placing it at a point somewhere after check-in and before the locker room seems to be the consensus. Having your shop accessible right after the customer checks in might spur a reminder that new gear is needed before the day's workout can start. And having the pro shop appear again on the way out will serve the same purpose. In fact some clubs, such as Foxy's in Baton Rouge, LA, are making their pro shops the center of a social area with a juice bar and other refreshments.

There are times when location can serve a different purpose, however. If your pro shop faces a main shopping street it might serve you well to have two entrances — one from the street and one from inside the club. This will invite non-member shopping for branded apparel or specialized equipment such as gloves, goggles or racquets.

“Put the pro shop right near your control point,” advises Bruce Carter, president of Optimal Design Systems. “Even if it's not a shop with its own separate four walls, keep it near your control point. Make sure as many people as possible pass it as many times as possible.”

WORK WITH A WEB SITE

If your club has Web site [and today it should], it represents a great opportunity to promote traffic to the pro shop as well as sell goods online. Your Web site is also an excellent way to handle special orders. So when your best squash player breaks his top of the line graphite racquet, you can at least point him in the right direction for a new one if you don't have one in stock. This can reduce your space needs for stocking items, while keeping members happy. This may also provide an opportunity to partner with traditional and online retailers through your site, allowing you to gain a percentage of sales to your members without having to maintain a full inventory of specialty items.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

To some extent the pro shop is just as important as the check in counter. It's where the customer has a personal interface with your brand and your products. It's part of the human touch at your facility. So rule No. 1: don't leave the pro shop closed or half-staffed at anytime during the day. Rule No. 2: make sure the staff members assigned to working the pro shop knows what they're talking about. Having no one in the shop when a customer needs help fosters a frustrating experience with your facility. Having someone who doesn't know his or her stuff can foster doubt about your club and staff's overall competence.

DON'T BE AFRAID, DIFFERENTIATE

Articles like this, and shopping the local competition can certainly help you craft an accessible, successful pro shop. But don't be afraid to add your own twists. Maybe your shop has a discounted speed table with a variety of loose items in the front. Maybe you have the ultimate selection of swim goggles. Maybe you have the best selection on bulk pricing on energy bars. Finding a specialty will keep customers coming regularly, not just on an impulse or as a crisis solution when they forget their equipment at home. Also play to your strengths and what sets the club apart from the competition.

If the club has a basketball league or a swim team, capitalize on that audience with logo'd items and sport-specific products beyond lifting straps and gloves.

“Sometimes pro shops do well when they don't offer a lot of options,” says Carter. “The way you have to look at it is this: you are a retailer for the population of your town. And that population is your membership. If your membership is 3,000 people, you are a retailer to them. But you also compete with all other retailers in that area. Have a good knowledge of what all your competitors offer, and you can find a way to differentiate.”

CATER TO KIDS

More and more families workout together at the gym, and more gyms include some kind of short-term day care so parents can work out. Don't ignore the presence of kids. The pro shop can be the place where they drag mom or dad after the workout for a juice box, a healthy candy, or a toy, and who knows what other purchases that can spur for both child and parent.

PITCH SERVICES AND INSTRUCTION

If your shop is positioned so customers see it after the workout and before the check-out desk it's a good time to remind them of the roster of classes, instruction, and programs you offer. Whether its yoga, personal training, swimming for the kids, or a racquetball league, post a notice outside the pro shop and have signups available inside. Make sure the inside of the pro shop is ticked with the appropriate literature as well. Moving instruction sign up inside the shop rather than at the check-in desk creates foot traffic. And it could invite impulse purchases to prepare for the new class. Or even a PowerBar.

MONITOR THE CUSTOMERS

People change. Workouts change. TaeBo was smokin' hot, indoor cycling and Pilates still are. Make sure your pro shop staff has a way to keep in touch with the clientele to they can sense changes coming. Normal interaction between trainers and customers works as long as they communicate with the store's staff. So does a questionnaire picked up at the pro shop. You may be aware of new fitness trends, but your customers may be even more aware. Many times it will be the crest of a fad, such as kickboxing, but kickboxing means new gloves and maybe shoes. You pro shop inventory should reflect what your customers will want later as well as what they want right now.

“I'd say we do a pretty good job of that,” says Andrea Bradley, assistant manager of Foxy's Pro shop in Baton Rouge, LA. “I find that sizing has changes over the recent months. We tend to sell bigger women's sizes and smaller men's sizes. We also just ran out of goggles, which have been selling like hotcakes among our members. So it is important to keep an eye on what the customer wants and provide it for them by making sure to stock the hottest items along with the staples.”

ESSENTIAL INVENTORY

Make sure your inventory is above all, relevant. It's hard to believe anybody that works out wouldn't find energy bars and energy drinks essential for a pro shop. But what about the rest of the space? Are more tank tops better than sweatshirts? Have your bathing suits been gathering dust? Is there a new line of goggles that the sporting goods store in town won't stock? Knowing these opportunities will make sure your inventory moves and moves quickly. Just because you run a pro shop inside a fitness facility doesn't mean you can avoid the basic retailing rule: If it isn't outta here, then it's outta here.

COLLECT DATA

The pro shop, as a key interface with your customer, is a good place to start a dialog with the customer. Use contests and special offers to encourage customers to give you their e-mail address. After you obtain permission to send them information about the club, you can communicate special offers, give them special discounts and invite them to give you feedback — including improvements to the pro shop.

PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE

There are hundreds of ways to spike interest in your pro shops, from one-day sales events, to seasonal equipment blowouts. At Foxy's in Baton Rouge, they have an occasional “Ball Day” where all tennis balls and racquetballs are steeply discounted. The have a Manic Monday shopping discount. And they have special member days where Gold Level members get special discounts at the pro shop. “Coupons work too,” says Bradley. “We have a lot of holiday events, but most of all we maintain awareness that there are a lot of different options to driving sales. You just need to use them.”

In the end the real key to operating a successful pro shop profit center is to keep in mind that it needs to be run well, just like the rest of the facility.

PROFITABLE PROFIT CENTERS

Most clubs spend an ample amount of their time on trying to increase ancillary business from various profit centers. According to IHRSA, clubs were asked to identify their five most profitable programs or services — i.e. those programs with the greatest net operating revenue before overhead. The following figures indicate what percentage of clubs cited a given program or service as being among their five most profitable

  • Personal Training 50.5%*
  • Massage Therapy 28.2%
  • Pro Shop 26.2%
  • Aquatics Programs 24.3%
  • Tennis Programs 20.5%
  • Food & Beverage Sales 11.7%
  • Tanning 9.7%
  • Physical Therapy 7.8%
    Summer Camps 7.8%
  • Kids Programs 6.8%
    Martial Arts 6.8%
  • WHAT TO SELL

    What are other clubs selling in their pro shops? According to Club Industry Magazine's 1999 Survey of Buying Power, here is what club operators said they were stocking:

    Apparel with Logo: 70%
    Bottled Water: 65%
    Soft/Sports Drinks: 65%
    Health Foods/Snacks: 55%
    Supplements/Vitamins: 38%
    Other Apparel: 28%
    Gym Bags: 27%
    Exercise/Fitness Equipment: 22%
    Books/Video: 19%
    Sports Shoes: 16%
    Other: 4%