The cost of building and maintaining a pool is too much for most health club owners. Jen Keet, an aqua fitness professional, says that her facility removed its aging 30-year-old pool three years ago after the owner decided to create a second group fitness room rather than build a new pool. This story is common. Club owners often remove their pools because of the expense of maintenance and the low returns they feel they are getting from their pools.
However, you do not need a pool to create steady streams of aquatics programming revenue. A facility without a pool can still be an oasis of aquatic opportunity. By reaching out and sharing pool space with a community center, neighboring hotel, high school or country club, fitness facility owners can create partnerships, build revenue, and open networks within the community and within the club. These partnerships can entice people into aquatic exercise. The aqua population is a large demographic with dedicated, loyal, female customers. These women, from ages 35 to 65, are the decision-makers for their families.
To increase your aquatics revenue without building a pool, follow these simple steps:
Partner with a neighboring hotel. When the owner of Keet’s club closed the pool, she continued with aquatics classes by partnering with a nearby hotel. The added benefit to this arrangement was that Keet did not have to worry about pool maintenance or checking chemicals. For the price of a room, the hotel gave her free reign at the pool during non-peak hours, and she was able to pack the pool during those hours.
Keet says that attendees grew to love the location and classes.
“There are some people who may want to take aqua classes but may not want to in a health club because there is a fear of judgment, of being seen in their bathing suit. In the hotel, we got away from that,” Keet says.
I also have hosted aquatics classes at a hotel that didn’t charge us to use the pool or charge our participants for parking. In return, we opened the classes to the hotel guests for free. Though a hotel guest might only come once a month, the hotel liked being able to advertise that fitness classes were complimentary for hotel guests. We advertised the hotel’s restaurant to the students, which then increased business at the restaurant. All of this helped develop a better relationship between the health club and the hotel, providing reciprocity between the two. The partnership became a no-brainer.
In addition, class attendees began to feel like they were their own little club. Some of them would even stay to sit in the sun during the summer.
Co-promote with a private pool or country club. Melissa Jokisch, a fitness professional whose facility was looking into aquatic programming, partnered with a private pool and swim club that had no programming. Jokisch and her club offered classes at the private facility. The classes were open to the members of the private club and to the members of her gym. They charged a small fee for each class, and the two clubs split the revenue.
“You don’t have to be a member at either facility to do the classes,” Jokisch says. “It was appealing to a larger demographic as both groups ended up checking out both facilities for different reasons.”
Promote your new partnership. Keet used Facebook and social networking to promote the one to three classes she led each day, which helped fill each class. She brought her own microphone and sound system and stored them in a room between classes.
Since many clubs don’t have extra money to promote group exercise classes—let alone aquatic exercise classes—you will want to promote the classes by hanging flyers on the studio door and in the locker rooms.
Assume the risk. The biggest block to partnering with an outside staff is usually the hotel’s fear of liability, so it is best to be diligent about using a liability waiver. If you assume the risk and have participants sign a comprehensive waiver, the health club and hotel are usually fine with it. Use individual waivers of liability as attendees sign up for the class, but ensure that each attendee signs in. To make sure your bases are covered, put a short but comprehensive waiver of liability on the sign-in sheet itself.
Similarly, require class participants to wear gym shoes or aqua shoes. Slipping and falling outside of the pool is the number one cause of injury in aquatic exercise, so it is important that attendees wear appropriate footwear. Add the hotel or community pool onto your insurance or the health club’s insurance as an “added insured.” This can usually be done at no charge, and it guarantees that your bases are covered.
The aqua instructor does not necessarily need to have lifeguard training to teach an aqua class, but CPR training is a legal requirement. The instructor should also be certified to teach aquatic classes through a valid organization.
Even without a pool, aquatic exercise can generate waves of revenue. Reach out to your community, diversify your clientele and increase your bottom line.
Sara Kooperman is CEO of SCW Fitness Education, Les Mills Midwest and WaterinMotion (www.waterinmotion.com), a licensed aquatics program that includes downloadable launch kits to help advertise your program.