In a post-pandemic world, health clubs need to adapt to retain members and attract new customers
With Covid-19 in the rearview mirror, the health club industry is once again on the upswing with expectations of generating $32 billion this year in the United States. While 22% of gyms permanently closed due to the pandemic, there are still over 41,000 facilities. Each is working harder than ever to compete for members.
"Most high-traffic gyms and fitness clubs lose about 50% of new members within their first six months, so retaining existing members and attracting new members is critical to maintaining revenues," said Sam Cicero, President of Cicero Construction Group in Plainfield, Illinois. "One great way to entice new clientele and retain current gym members is remodeling, which prevents an atmosphere from growing stagnant."
Cicero Construction Group has renovated several health club renovations in the Chicago area, including recent build-outs for HotWorx fitness studios, which provides members with virtually instructed, infrared sauna workouts.
"Health club remodeling can be a facelift, meaning just changing murals, colors, and graphics, or adding new flooring," explained Cicero. "Or it can be a complete overhaul that involves moving walls and repurposing space as well as providing all new finishes, materials, mechanicals, and fitness equipment."
Given that larger fitness centers can range between 40,000 to 60,000 square feet, even a minor facelift can be a major project requiring careful planning and an experienced renovation contractor. The right contractor will help you find the perfect balance between keeping the club open, minimizing inconvenience for members, and controlling costs.
KNOW YOUR MARKET
If your club is ready to remodel, the first step is to consider the lifestyle and demographics of potential customers. Auditing the local market will help you guide remodeling choices. If the area has a high proportion of families with young children, then carving out dedicated space for childcare or a managed play area will appeal to busy parents struggling to find time in their day. A high count of millennials suggests a different approach. Millennials favor fitness classes over workouts for their social stimulation, making group sessions a focal point for gyms that want to attract them. An older population may face barriers to exercising such as concerns about injuries, feeling intimidated by younger, fitter people at the gym, lack of transportation, or financial challenges due to a fixed income. To help older members and prospective members overcome these challenges, clubs can focus on promoting a welcoming, supportive environment featuring low-impact activities and preventive care.
ANNOUNCE YOUR RENOVATION
Now that you've decided on a renovation, it is time to announce it to members. They will need to understand — and get excited about — what is being done, why it is being done, and how it will benefit them. Let them know by e-mail, social media posts, text alerts, website updates, and on-hold phone messages. Once the architectural plans are finalized, you can display 3D drawings of the renovated layout in your lobby.
Not every health club can afford to shut down its operations while a facility renovation or expansion project is completed. If you do stay open, an efficient phased construction project plan will minimize disruption during the different phases of construction. If you are planning on staying open, the key question becomes whether to schedule construction during the day or at night?
Scheduling renovation work at night means contractors don't have to maneuver around members, resulting in faster, safer construction. However, nighttime work is generally more expensive. Daytime work is less costly but opens up a Pandora's box of problems if the contractor is not qualified. For example, construction site safety becomes especially important to prevent injuries to members and employees. Also parts of the gym will be forced to be sealed off for longer periods because the work progresses slower. Interruptions can lead to member dissatisfaction.
Cicero advises: "During the bidding process, request a price that involves nighttime work for some or all of the remodeling. Nighttime labor is more costly, but in many cases, it is worth it since it cuts costs elsewhere. Also, consider the design-build method of construction that typically completes an average of 33% faster than traditional methods to get your health club back to full capacity in no time flat."
Supply chain constraints and rising costs have made sourcing materials and sticking to budgets more difficult. Lead-time planning — which involves ordering all items necessary for the renovation early in the process — will avert delays in the renovation process. It can also prevent having to choose substitutes, which can end up being less effective and costing more. An experienced contractor will have long-term relationships with suppliers to ensure timely delivery of materials.
Cicero Construction Group has renovated several health clubs, and has gleaned knowledge only experience can teach. Some of the recent trends in health clubs its team has seen include:
The move to open fitness floors, and adding turf and opening play areas for functional training. Many clubs have areas usable only for specific exercises, and these spaces sit dormant when their respective activities become less popular. Consider changing those over to open, more flexible spaces.
Green engineering can mean real savings from well-designed systems. Installing energy-efficient mechanical, electrical, LED lighting, and low-flow plumbing systems can deliver thousands of dollars per year in savings.
Sound-proofing areas such as free weights or activity rooms where loud music is played will help prevent annoying other members. Take care of the proper level of sound-proofing, especially if the fitness studio is located in a multi-purpose building with other tenants above and below the club.
Upgrading ventilation and air conditioning systems will make it more comfortable for members to work out. While exercising, the human body consumes by far more oxygen, therefore the gym should provide effective air interchange.
Small boutique studios are becoming increasingly popular by offering direct personal attention and a specialized path to fitness such as functional training, cycle-only, martial arts, or yoga-only.
Technology is now as much a part of the member experience as treadmills. For example, some health clubs are installing recovery areas with 3D imaging machines, locker rooms complete with infrared saunas, and selfie-friendly cryotherapy chambers. Even old-fashioned step climbers are being fitted with O2 vaporizers and immersive video.
In a post-pandemic world where "health is the new wealth," people are recognizing the importance of being fit and active. The world is changing fast and if health clubs want to stay relevant, they must adapt and improve.