The term wellness is being tossed around the fitness industry with increasing vigor as reports show that the majority of Americans are far more interested in feeling good than just getting a buff body in time for beach season. According to dictionary.com, wellness is defined as “the condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise and habits.” Haven't fitness facilities been doing this since the very beginning? Sure. So, why then is there an increasing influence on wellness in today's fitness vocabulary? Perhaps it's more that the term itself is taking on a new meaning causing clubs to play catch-up with the masses.

“One of the problems with the term wellness is that the market is confused. We need to define wellness for each facility and then have to educate the marketplace as to what it means under your particular umbrella,” said Ed Williams, CEO of the Wellbridge Co. We are trying to put a definition on it that will allow us to promote wellness to our members through a fitness component.”

That fitness component at Wellbridge features spa services, class concepts such as yoga and Pilates and other modalities and education that allow members to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

“We are just looking to provide the pieces for our members who are looking to get a certain quality of life,” said Williams. “Whether they achieve that from mind/body, step classes or a massage are individual choices. We just want to be the place they turn to for their overall wellness and fitness needs.”

This potpourri of wellness terms that run the gamut from yoga to facials to nutrition and acupuncture may add to the confusion among facilities and their members, but it may also enhance the ability for clubs to position themselves as a wellness spot for members and non-members.

“Certainly, wellness has been talked about for a long time. As a result it has grown to include everything that can help the total well-being of a person,” said Doug Ribley, director of wellness and administrative services at Akron, OH-based Akron General Health & Wellness Center, which is a healthcare-affiliated operation.

“This well-being includes the physical and mental status of a person so it has been difficult to embrace so it can include everything from physical therapy to spa services to complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) such as chiropractic, which can open a lot of avenues a club can explore to bring wellness to the masses.”

And, according to IHRSA statistics, clubs are increasingly looking to wellness/rehab offerings to help keep the bottom line healthy.

A survey of 1,208 IHRSA member clubs showed that a great many of them were offering a variety of traditional and non-traditional wellness modalities and classes. Among the findings, 67 percent of those surveyed offered nutritional counseling while 23 percent offered massage and 11 percent offered chiropractic services at their facilities.

And IHRSA says that these numbers will only grow as time goes by. In fact, 10 percent of clubs surveyed in its “Industry Data Survey, Profiles of Success,” planned to expand its offerings of physical therapy/rehab/chiropractic services this year.

Why the growth of these services? It's easy; the public is demanding it.

“There is validation for offering these services,” said Ribley whose center added spa services to its menu to reach those looking for improved overall wellness. “In any given population you'll find people who get it and people who don't. But a look at it and you see it is consumer driven and a valid choice for clubs and consumers.”

Findings from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) show that the growth in acceptance of wellness and CAM may even be outpacing the number of clubs turning to this profit center.

In a story looking at the growth of CAM acceptance in the United States (JAMA. 1998; 280:1569-15) it was shown that use of at least one of 16 alternative therapies during 1997 increased from 33.8 percent in 1990 to 42.1 percent in 1997. The therapies increasing the most included herbal medicine, massage, megavitamins, self-help groups, folk remedies, energy healing and homeopathy. The probability of users visiting an alternative medicine practitioner increased from 36.3 percent to 46.3 percent. The article further pointed out that extrapolations to the U.S. population suggested an overall 47.3 percent increase in total visits to alternative medicine practitioners, from 427 million in 1990 to 629 million in 1997, thereby exceeding total visits to all U.S. primary care physicians.

It is no wonder some clubs are taking the lead on bringing advanced wellness modalities to its members.

One company, The Longfellow Clubs of Natick and Wayland, MA not only bring rehab and massage to its site, but offer chiropractic and acupuncture through relationships with two separate organizations that provide these services.

“A lot of the success we have seen through offering the services of both Integrative Therapeutics in our Natick club and The Longfellow Health Center at our Wayland club is mostly anecdotal, but all tremendously positive,” said Myke Farricker, a partner in the Longfellow Clubs and its general manager. “It helps us come as close as possible to being a full, complete health, wellness and fitness center for our community.”

Deciding to have wellness offerings at a club may be a smart decision, but smart operators will work hard to find the best arrangement possible for maximizing revenues, while reducing headaches at the same time.

For the Longfellow Clubs this smart business was to work with outside partners that lease space from the clubs and control the operations of the wellness centers.

“For us it seemed silly to hire a staff to handle these facilities internally,” Farricker said. “We decided to leave management of these facilities to experts.”

That is the same attitude Dan Horan of the Hatfield Athletic Club of Hatfield, PA took when instituting and extensive wellness component to its operations, although the services there are more of a mix-and-match style.

“Our biggest profit center is rehab along with chiropractic and now our Keystone Weight Loss is part of that,” said Horan. “We own that and split it with the doctor; it is a win-win. We also rent space to a podiatrist and will be adding a massage therapy center as well that will be a satellite location for a successful local massage therapist.”

As a long-time member of the Longfellow Club's Natick, MA location, Claire Parkhurst founder of Integrative Therapeutics, decided to work with the club to put in a center that offered different modalities and even split the build-out costs for the space she would lease.

“I saw there was a real gap for people looking to improve their overall health and were just exercising. They needed to incorporate nutrition, preventive care and rehabilitative care into their lifestyle,” Parkhurst said. “So when I saw an empty space in the club not being used I realized it would be great to bring the members a one-stop shop for their wellness by combining a fitness facility and out group.”

This combination has plenty of side benefits for clubs, members and providers.

One of the main benefits of offering these services is the ability to cross-sell consumers on club and wellness services and memberships, because bringing wellness to the masses is the goal of these types of centers but, bringing the masses to the wellness is an added benefit that makes arrangements like these successful.

“There is a big plus in encouraging the existing members to use the wellness services,” said Hatfield athletic Club's Horan. “And there is a step-down process in getting people that may come in for physical therapy or another service to join the club as members when they are done.” To help this step-down process Horan added that the club will build a separate entrance for the wellness services to help get people that would normally be a non-club user to start the process and hopefully convert to a membership.

And having health experts on staff proves to be a bonus for personal training profits as well.

“It makes the client feel really well taken care of if they can go from their physical therapist to a personal trainer that is working alongside the therapist,” said Parkhurst. “Also, the member — even if he or she isn't working with a therapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist can feel confident when a trainer can say ‘I'm not sure let me check with our….’”

But Akron General's Ribley added that the real benefit comes when the wellness paradigm is taken to the next level and a medical association is embraced.

“It is great when you offer everything from Pilates to yoga to CAM and massage for members,” he said. “But there is that sense of assurance when traditional medical personnel are alongside as well.”

And that medical-based fitness mindset has helped advance the programs at Wellbridge, which was a medically based fitness company when it was sold to Clubsport International from Monsanto in 1999.

“What we did here is meld the medical and the stuff we were doing in fitness,” said Wellbridge's Williams. “So there is still that medical orientation, but we added some pizzazz to the programming and the marketing making it appeal to those looking for more than the traditional, while reassuring those who don't.”

And if the trend in chiropractic care is any indication, it may be easier to find traditional medical facilities and practitioners to partner with wellness and CAM providers — increasing credibility and awareness.

Last year, 26 million different people sought out a chiropractor and 30 percent of all Americans have used a chiropractic treatment, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) of Arlington, VA.

“Over the last year several media outlets have referred to chiropractic as a staple, which is a change from years ago,” said Dr. Jerome F. McAndrews, D.C., national spokesperson for the ACA. “In fact, chiropractic is the fastest growing profession in the United States. And, it is fastest growing in health clubs and hospitals.”

But just having these services available for members without promoting them internally or externally diminishes the return from these potential profit centers.

“It is important to get the word out to members and non-members that the club offers these services; that is the only way to really maximize the benefits of these relationships by increasing usage by members and opening the doors to potential members,” said Horan. “It sounds basic but like anything else, if the club isn't run well it will flop.”

And at Akron General Wellness, Ribley said that the spa program is prominent in advertising.

“We include spa services, which we have through a partnership with Mario's International Spa of Aurora, OH, in every piece of marketing that goes out,” said Ribley. “There is a fairly heavy marketing budget so we can reach the community and increase awareness of all of our offerings because you never know what will get someone to walk through the doors.”

Longfellow's Farricker admits that while promoting the service internally through signage, promotions, and special events and educational seminars the club is planning to involve the services in external marketing at a greater rate.

“We have done some good work internally with both centers,” he said. “But there is room for us to do more with our direct marketing and other advertising when we increase that as well.”

Whatever wellness means in your club be it yoga, massage, physical therapy or beauty services if promoted, managed and backed correctly it can be an exciting and rewarding revenue stream for your club. And as Ribley said,” None of these services hurt the consumer and if you help make people feel better, you'll set yourself apart from the crowd.”

All's Well That Ends Well

The following represents the percentage of IHRSA member clubs in the United States and Canada that report offering a particular service or amenity. This information is based upon responses from 1,208 clubs.

  • Nutritional counseling/classes — 67%
  • Weight management — 65%
  • Health education programs — 51%
  • Massage — 50%
  • Physical therapy — 23%
  • Lower back programs — 18%
  • Stress reduction programs — 15%
  • Chiropractic services — 11%
  • Smoking cessation program — 9%

Source: IHRSA