Most health clubs have finally realized that the largest and most important market to pursue is the aging market. Regardless of whether you call them mature adults, seniors, 50-plus or Baby Boomers, this market is here, and it will continue to grow. In the next five to 10 years, the population of those 55 years and older will increase by 74 percent while the population under 55 years old will increase by 1 percent. The good news is that we have identified this market, and it is ours to have.
Abundant research has proven that it is never too late to reap the benefits of a healthy exercise program. In fact, we know that exercise is the most important ingredient in a healthy lifestyle of the older adult. No matter how deconditioned or inexperienced a senior is when it comes to exercise, participating in a regular exercise program will not only add to his or her longevity, but, most importantly, it will also add to his or her quality of life. The bad news is that many older adults are still uneducated about fitness. They think they are unable to exercise or must limit their exercise routine if they have arthritis, diabetes or osteoporosis.
The good news is that doctors and physical therapists are suggesting that involvement in our clubs can provide a healthy way of life for older adults. Seniors will get the necessary leadership, programming and expertise while enjoying the sociability and camaraderie of a club environment — a complete mind, body and spirit experience.
The bad news is that our industry has acquired a reputation of being for the young and beautiful, and it is difficult to shake. Our clubs are not particularly inviting to older adults, especially if they have not been active in clubs before. The barriers coming into our clubs are often just too much to overcome. The music is too loud and too harsh, the equipment is too big and complicated, and the classes are too advanced and too fast.
Our leaders are often not willing to make the required changes to attract the senior market. We assume that they will fly into our clubs and acclimate themselves to us. We open our classes to them but ask them to “work at their own pace” and to not be intimidated by those around them. Many instructors are still focusing on making the fit fitter and introducing a constant repertoire of challenging moves and routines for the “front liners.” Many aren't trained to relate to the senior focus.
The 55-plus market is coming into our clubs, but many are not finding the sense of belonging and camaraderie, comfort level, sincerity, empathy or enjoyment that they perceived would be there. Too many are dropping out of our classes as quickly as they enter. Yes, there are the strong, committed souls who persevere and become true believers. They are becoming healthier and more positive in every facet of their lives just as we knew they would. We are seeing more and more of these active seniors take fitness seriously as they try recreational activities like tennis, biking and kayaking.
A good example of that is the United States Tennis Association's new program called Welcome Back To Tennis™, which is designed to attract the 50-plus market. The program is based on fun, sociability and group tennis drills that guarantee success for everyone. It begins with educating the tennis leaders on how to communicate effectively with this market and proceeds with setting up a social event that encourages everyone to make new friends as they take up tennis together — for the second time around.
Despite programs like this, too many older adults are still watching the classes through the windows and are afraid to enter. What's worse is that we are not being active or convincing enough in our marketing techniques and communication efforts. We need to create more classes that are specifically designed for the older adults who are new to our clubs. We need to invite them into a friendly introductory environment designed specifically for them and others like them. We need to take the time to educate and to deliver an experience that will make them return over and over again.
The good news is that most clubs have some classes geared to seniors. The bad news is that there are not enough of them nor are they filled to capacity. Where do we start? At the top. Hire people who are willing to be trained to promote, communicate and deliver fitness to today's older adult market. They are ready, willing and able to do something different. Are you?
Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a training and consulting firm based in Bradenton, FL. Sandy specializes in customer service, programming and retention. She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.