Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness and now CEO of New Evolution Fitness Co., spoke to various experts in the fitness industry for their advice about how to weather today's economy. Look for more details from these experts in Mastrov's March column, On the Mark, in the March 2009 issue of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine.

Here is the advice these fitness industry experts gave:

ALEX ALIMANESTIANU

CEO, Town Sports International, New York

  • Operational Excellence — Quality, breadth and depth of management in the clubs is key. Focus on training and development. It's a great time to be hiring talent where needed.

  • Optimize Operations — Examine club operating hours and staffing model for optimal profitability.

  • Start Utility Savings Programs — We installed automated and centralized systems to reduce waste.

  • Evolve Sales — Your selling model should include in-club sales, as well as online and corporate sales.

  • Membership Structure — The demand for month-to-month memberships has grown, so we've re-priced to be more competitive.

  • Real Estate — Look closely at lease renewals and extensions.

  • Slow Expansion — We slowed new club growth, so this is a great time to get our house in order.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

DON HARBICH

CEO, Steve Nash Sports Clubs of Canada

  • Improve Sales — In a challenging economic climate, you must have a solid foundation for stimulating internal referral business. With current costs of creating guest traffic at a premium, the emphasis on promoting from your most loyal and active customers makes sense.

  • Enhance Personal Training Revenue — Offer group sessions or dual sessions so members can train with their partners or friends. Proven trends show that members who invest in personal training stay longer.

  • Track Sales — Software programs are available to efficiently track your sales team duties from leads, calls, appointments, shows, sales, referrals, corporate sales, etc. Efficient reporting helps you properly manage your sales and fitness teams to maximize production.

  • Maximize Your Marketing — Retool your marketing calendar and extend the period of your promotions to stretch your marketing dollars. Offer mini incentives along the way so the promotions have legs for the extended periods.

  • Ancillary sales — Improve your ancillary sales with a solid nutrition offering.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

ERIC LEVINE

CEO, California Wow in Thailand and Vietnam

  • Love the One You're With — Focus on members you do have, since new member sales will be down. Add special family and friend add-on prices. We're offering a two-for-one special so members can bring a friend, who doesn't have to be a member, to work out for free. Or we have Rock Star events or one-day marathon parties in which members must bring a friend to participate.

  • Special Promotions — Partner with your local sports store to get them to offer passes to your club to everyone who purchases something in their store. By doing this, you get great leads. The name of the game today is to co-promote with your neighbors and barter whatever you can.

  • Cut Costs — Look closely at all the extra things you're doing in your clubs that are not absolutely necessary, i.e. bottled water, apples, towels, magazines, etc. If you're giving towels to members, change that. Have all members pay a small monthly fee on EFT.

  • Revisit Contracts — Look closely at all your suppliers, revisit all your contracts and demand a 25 percent lower fee in exchange for extending the contract. Now also is the time to go back to your landlords with the same idea — rent reduction for a longer period of time.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

BEN MIDGLEY

President, Planet Fitness, Dover, NH

  • Keep Marketing — Don't cut your marketing budget because marketing equals sales. Do review all of your old marketing programs to see what worked best, what promotion you offered, what the return on investment was, etc. Then think about how you could modify your best promotions with the current economic condition in mind.

  • Renegotiate — Review your leases and look to renegotiate if possible. Reassess vendor contracts to make the most efficient use of your dollars without sacrificing member service or perception.

  • Follow Up — Examine your sales process to capitalize on a positive experience for new prospects. Get creative to increase referrals from existing members since they are your best sales tool. Also, review your follow-up process to make sure you revisit all old leads with appropriate offers and follow-up techniques.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

TIM MILLER

CEO, Crunch, New York

  • Elevate the Member Experience — It is more important than ever to stand out amongst the crowd and deliver a fun, alternative and innovative workout for our members.

  • Adjust Offers — We recently introduced 30-minute personal training sessions, as many of our members just don't have the time to work with a trainer. This has enabled us to keep existing members as personal training clients and to introduce new members to this service at a more appealing price point.

  • Go Back to Basics — They say, "It's not business until somebody sells something." We committed to give each of our membership advisors additional tools, training and support to be the best sales people in the industry.

  • Vendor Negotiations — We've looked for opportunities to renegotiate with each and every vendor to examine every expense and search for new options, while maintaining the integrity of the member experience.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

IRINA RAZUMOVA

President of Planet Fitness Company, Russia

  • Foundation Building — For us, the current situation is not something new, but it's an opportunity to take time for new business development and a reason for executive system perfection.

  • Examine Programming — We're finding new methods of workouts and programming for our present and potential clients. Now our clients may choose just those programs which they really want to attend and may pay only for them.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

MATTHEW STEVENS

CEO, Western Athletic Clubs, San Francisco

  • Adjust Benefits — Restructure health care to offer only one plan to employees.

  • Consolidate Resources — For multiple club operators, consolidate hours of club usage. If you have three facilities within the same region, determine how you can adjust operating hours (close earlier, open later, weekend adjustments) but give access to upgraded product. For instance, we closed the Bay Club Financial District Club on Saturday, saving operating cost, but we give full access to the San Francisco Bay Club and San Francisco Tennis Club.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts

RAY WILSON

Founder of Family Fitness Centers

  • Work Smarter and Harder — During the 1980s recession, I told my partners that we would just have to work smarter and harder to survive. We realized that soon we would benefit from less competition.

  • Real Estate — During the 1980s, we were able to get great real estate deals for expansion.

  • Vendor Negotiation — Renegotiate discounts on advertising, services and suppliers.

Economic Advice from Fitness Industry Experts