The 2012 Best of the Best Health Club Program Winners

Whether unveiling a new program or rejuvenating a successful model, this year’s winners of Club Industry’s Best of the Best competition reached far beyond innovation or revenue. The following six facilities are at the top of the class not just for developing the following programs but for serving the participants involved, whether or not they were members of their facility.

Thank you to this year’s Best of the Best judges: Karen Woodard-Chavez, president, Premium Performance Training; Paula Neubert, general manager, Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club; Debbie Lee, director of marketing, Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers; Eddie Tock, owner, Eddie Tock Consulting; Thomas Kulp, director, Solution Consultants; Laurie Cingle, owner, Laurie Cingle Consulting and Coaching; Ann Gilbert, director of fitness, Shapes Total Fitness for Women; Christine Thalwitz, communications and research director, ACAC Fitness and Wellness; Maria Yannuzzi, regional programs manager, Merritt Athletic Clubs; and Casey Conrad, owner, Communication Consultants.


LifeStart Wellness Network, Chicago

The basic belief that an individual’s lifestyle determines a pattern of good health prompted the LifeStart Wellness Network, Chicago, to develop the MyPath program. This new member integration program educates new members about their lifestyle and current health status and encourages members to take control of their lives so they can start on a path to healthier living. To assist members in making this change, the MyPath program is mandatory for every new member.

The program involves a four-step process: a questionnaire, a consultation with a coach, activity and re-evaluation—all of which are intended to show members where they are, where they have been and guide them through options on where they can go while LifeStart’s life coaches help provide ongoing guidance and support to help participants stay on track.

That route is determined by each individual’s starting point, current health status and long-term goals. The online Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant questionnaire helps identif y their starting point by capturing individual genetic, diet, lifestyle and stress-related inclinations and identifying health risks. The risks are ranked in order so that the area most at risk can be targeted first. A life coach then reviews their health history, current exercise and nutrition habits, lifestyle and goals. The coach performs a full-body biomechanical screening to determine any problem areas.

“We thought we could change the perspective of MyPath to something that was not judgmental but was looking at an individual and identifying where they were at, rather than ranking them,” says Mike Flanagan, LifeStart Wellness Network president. “By identifying where they are at right now and not judging how they got there…we could create a program that was based on their specific needs physically, mentally and emotionally as well.”

MyPath Program Generates Revenue

After the assessment and the consultation, the member is presented with a customized map and pathway to good health and well-being with realistic and comprehensive goals. By integrating exercise, nutrition, functional movement, relaxation and education with one-on-one guidance, each member is provided with step-by-step instructions on how to move through the program. To evaluate the tangible results of behavior modification, each member’s progress is tracked. Every 12 to 16 weeks, members are encouraged to complete a re-evaluation, in which physical changes can be documented and program adjustments and progressions can be administered.

The primary goal of the program is increased revenue and decreased attrition. After a member completes the MyPath program, they become a “salesperson” for the wellness center because they share their experience with others.

Even though the MyPath program is free, it does generate revenue because it entices some people to join the club. A secondary goal of the program is to increase ancillary revenue from personal training, massage and program fees. Measuring one 90-day period of the program, LifeStart generated $23,220 in annual dues revenue and $11,520 in increased personal training revenue. LifeStart’s management budgeted $9,600 for marketing materials and $25,000 in education for the life coaches. The program had a 100 percent return on investment. Flanagan expects growth of $46,000 in personal training revenue and an increase of close to $2,000 per month in new member revenue.


LifeStart Wellness Network, Chicago

LifeStart Wellness Network, Chicago, designed its PT-55 program, which stands for physical training in 55 minutes, to engage the inactive population by addressing the many excuses that deter individuals from beginning an exercise program and joining a fitness center. LifeStart’s corporate clients’ employees pay $79 to participate in the eight-week program, which can be completed in just 55 minutes per week. The goal of the program is to engage nonmembers, especially beginning exercisers, by providing a short, motivating and effective full-body workout that will fit into their busy schedules at a manageable price.

“There are a lot of people who are too intimidated to join a fitness center and sign up for a monthly membership,” says Mike Flanagan, LifeStart Wellness Network president. “People who would never join a fitness center are doing the eight-week program to get a taste of it, and then they realize they are learning, being more aware and seeing results, and at the end, we are converting a pretty large percentage to memberships.”

Each participant starts by completing a comprehensive assessment, which measures their weight, girth, body composition, strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory fitness levels. They receive a nutrition log to track their eating habits, water consumption and sleeping habits, which are reviewed throughout the program to provide suggestions for improvement.

The 55 minutes per week are comprised of two 25-minute workouts and a five-minute weekly consultation with either the trainer or registered dietician, depending on their needs. The full-body workouts are completed in short, intense combinations supervised by a trainer with modifications for less advanced participants. Each exercise has three levels that provide beginners with moderate, heavy and intense workloads. Trainers focus on proper form and provide feedback on the appropriate level for the participants. During the program, participants are allowed unlimited access to the club before and after their training session.

Fast Results

“Too many people believe they have to spend an hour or hour-and-a-half in the gym to get results,” Flanagan says. “We are able to show them if it’s focused and individualized, [working out for] 25 minutes twice a week will show them huge results.”

At the end of the eight-week program, each participant receives a post assessment to see his or her progress. On average, participants lose 7.2 lbs, 4.8 percent body fat and 6.4 inches in circumference.

During the last consultation meeting, participants are provided with a discounted initiation fee if they join the club, and they are educated about group training programs that start as low as $50 per month for weekly training. Of the 453 people who have participated in the program this year, 51 percent were nonmembers, and 41 percent of these nonmembers joined the club after completing the program.

The program’s budget was $22,039. Costs included T-shirts, promotional flyers, employee time and space usage. The actual expenditure was $20,937. The monetary goal for one eight-week session was $38,000. The actual revenue was $36,240.


Medical University of South Carolina Wellness Center, Charleston, SC

The Medical University of South Carolina Wellness Center Healthy Charleston Challenge (HCC) is a 12-week lifestyle change program for chronic disease prevention and weight reduction in the form of a team competition. The program is designed to increase physical activity and empower participants by providing skills, professional guidance and accountability for developing healthy lifestyle habits.

Health professionals work together to educate the participants on nutrition, exercise science and the psychology of weight loss and behavior change. Participants are divided into teams of six to eight and are assigned a personal trainer and dietetic intern. They are required to attend weekly educational sessions, three team workouts per week and one program exercise session per week. For other days of the week, participants can work out with a teammate or on their own. They also must turn in food and activity logs each week and communicate daily with their trainer and teammates.

“We knew that we wanted a program that had accountability, camaraderie and really dealt with the mindset of the person,” says Janis Newton, assistant director of the Medical University of South Carolina Wellness Center. “Information and knowledge are a given, but that doesn’t always result in long-term success when it comes to weight loss and obesity. We wanted to be able to offer something different and above and beyond that would help people who have fought this problem for many years but have never been able to jump that last hurdle that gave them long-term success.”

Every week, participants are challenged with new exercise routines and new healthy behaviors that they must focus on integrating into their lives as they compete to see which team has lost the most percentage of body weight. Even though the competition is determined by percentage of body weight lost, the real focus is on finding strategies to gradually change habits and attitudes. True success is measured when the participants’ new habits and lifestyles become part of who they are, and they begin to live their lives differently and redefine their future health, Newton says.

Effective Engagement

After the 12 weeks of competition, participants can take part in the free Life After HCC program that offers a weekly weigh-in for six weeks. For a fee, participants can do an expanded version of Life After HCC that includes continued nutrition and exercise education and guidance on how to operate more independently in their workouts.

Participants who have finished these programs are invited to be mentors for new participants, which not only helps the new participants but also keeps the mentors engaged in the program in a leadership role.

With all the follow-up programs and mentoring opportunities, nonmembers could spend up to one year at the wellness center before joining. However, 85 percent of the participants do become members.

The center has held eight sessions so far, and more than 700 participants have finished the program. Weight loss has exceeded 20,000 pounds, although the post-test results show more than weight loss. It also shows percentage of body fat lost, flexibility increase, and lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“Every single time, it’s much more than, ‘I lost 40 pounds, 80 pounds, five inches in my waist or 10 inches in my hips,’” Newton says. “Those figures are a given. If you do the program, that’s going to happen. But what is heart-rending is what else happens to these people and how it affects the rest of their life and everything around them, from their family life to their enjoyment of life.”

The revenue from HCC’s $350 application fees and program sponsorships totaled $35,700 for the two sessions. Expenditures for staff salaries and awards totaled $7,000.


Newtown Athletic Club, Newtown, PA

When the Newtown Athletic Club (the NAC) in Newtown, PA, began a $5 million, 12,000-square-foot expansion to its facility last spring, the club took on another challenge to support its growth. Rather than raising membership dues, the NAC began a drive for members that generated 1,180 memberships in eight months.

“We had about a two-year plan for completion of this big build expansion,” says Linda Mitchell, director of marketing and public relations at the NAC. “In order to make that successful, we knew we had to grow our membership base, and we had to grow it significantly.”

The crux of the promotion featured a two-year membership contract that included four months free and a oneyear contract that included one month free. However, before taking on the promotion, the NAC revamped its sales department from a part-time staff to a full-time staff, redesigned its pay structure to feature a low base salary with a tiered team goal structure and installed a full-time sales director who works on a net commission.

Designed to generate a net increase of 400 memberships, the NAC Big Build Membership Drive promoted these membership offers through direct mail, social media and in-house signage. In addition to a community outreach campaign, the staff developed a referral program in which each employee had 20 10-day guest passes to hand out each month. The guest passes were trackable so that if the guest joined, the employee received a $100 referral bonus. In addition, the employee with the most joins in a month was awarded a bonus of $300. The employee with the second-most joins received a $200 bonus, and the employee with the third-most joins received a $100 bonus. The NAC provided the same program to members and offered a $150 reward to members for every referral who joined.

Sales and Marketing Done Right

“This plan is nothing more than your basic really good sales and marketing effort done the right way with a lot of hard work and a lot of good luck,” Mitchell says. “I don’t think it’s amazingly different, but it was consistent and solid.”

At the middle and the end of each month, the club posted the referral standings and emailed the standings to employees and members to drive them to take part. Once a member joined, he or she was invited to refer new members and was entered in a contest to win prizes, including a two-year car lease on a Lexus, a week’s vacation in Cabo San Lucas and an iPad.

During the eight months of the program the NAC garnered 101 new members from employee referrals and 662 new members from member referrals. These employee and member referrals totaled 65 percent of the club’s total membership joins during the promotion.

“Our employee and member referral program was very aggressive,” Mitchell says. “It worked really well, but I don’t think it worked because we paid them. I think it worked because there was so much excitement about the growth and expansion. Our members and staff were so proud about what their club was becoming, they wanted to share it. People refer members not for what you give them but because they love your club and they love you.”

The NAC surpassed its membershipbased goal of a net increase of 400 memberships and saw an increase of 680 memberships from July 2011 to the end of February 2012. Expenses included $39,100 for marketing and $109,400 for commissions totaling $148,500. The annual generated revenue from membership referral sales was $1.145 million.


The Keller Pointe, Keller, TX

It wasn’t one program, one person or one facility that made up the best community-based program, but the combined efforts of The Keller Pointe and the communities in its county. Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine, TX, extended the Lifestyle Improvement Challenge to the cities of Tarrant County in an effort to improve the populations’ quality of life through community health initiatives. Keller Pointe decided to join the competition in collaboration with the city of Keller, TX.

“It was up to each of us in our respective cities to figure out how to do it,” says Teresa Thomason, manager of The Keller Pointe. “We thought there’s a lot of opportunity to reach out to our community and meet this challenge head on.”

From September 2011 through March 2012, the health initiatives included Rock the Park, Run Series, Wii Be Fit and a weight-loss challenge to encourage fitness, eating a wholesome and balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and participating in wellness checks to reduce risks of medical conditions.

The Keller Pointe staff reached out not only to the members of their facility but to the entire Keller community. People were invited to participate in many of the events free of charge. With all of the events combined, they had more than 17,000 participants, which is 43 percent of the community’s population.

“It was a collaborative effort from our mayor, our parks and recreation department and our facility,” Thomason says. “We came up with all of these pieces to our puzzle and outlined the program together.”

Citywide Results

Rock the Park kicked off the initiative by encouraging attendees to get healthy by using local opportunities, such as area parks and trails, The Keller Pointe Recreation and Aquatic Facility, fitness classes at the Keller Senior Center and more. The event featured a group Zumba class led by a Keller Pointe instructor, healthy cooking demonstrations, a Get Healthy Texas Kids Triathlon and family 5K race, and more than 50 vendors promoting a healthy and active lifestyle.

The Run Series included a 1-mile fun run, 5K, 10K and kids triathlon for its 1,377 participants. The Wii Be Fit event, which attracted 655 participants, included various activities for both youth and adults that encouraged healthier food habits, lifestyle enhancement goals, weight loss, increased physical activity and preventative care. The Wii Family Fun Night occurred every Friday night so families could participate in a variety of exercise-based games on a Nintendo Wii led by a Keller Pointe personal trainer. A nutritional seminar taught by a registered dietician focused on making healthier food choices for individuals and families.

The 12-week Weight Loss Competition attracted 107 participants. Trainers gave all participants a grocery list and tips on exercise and were available throughout the program to answer questions related to health and fitness. Forty-five participants returned for the final weigh-in for a recorded 716 pounds lost for the program. The winner lost more than 16 percent of her body weight.

Membership sales at Keller Pointe were at an all-time high during the challenge, with 1,052 members renewing and 469 new members joining, 66 more members than in previous years.

Businesses in the community embraced the challenge, Thomason says, which meant that the city and The Keller Pointe had minimal expenses because business owners wanted to contribute their time, products and services.

With the help of Keller Pointe, the City of Keller received the first place award from Baylor Regional Medical Center for its involvement in the Lifestyle Improvement Challenge. The city was awarded a $25,000 grant that it plans to use to incorporate outdoor fitness equipment in the community and keep the initiative alive.


University of Miami Herbert Wellness Center, Coral Gables, FL

The Mini Canes Recreational Sports Camp organized by the Herbert Wellness Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, strives to be more than just a sports camp. Many recreational camps for youth focus solely on physical activity, but Mini Canes addresses health and well-being for physical, intellectual, social, emotional, occupational and environmental wellness, according to Rhonda DuBord, camp director and Herbert Wellness Center associate director. By addressing these components throughout the summer, Mini Canes gives campers developmental opportunities that will help to enhance their quality of life as they get older.

“Being a rec center, our facility is not as busy in the summer, so we had a lot of time and wanted to serve as a community resource and opportunity for our staff to have a place to send their kids,” DuBord says.

The summer camp first opened in 1996 as a sports camp and developed over the years to encourage a healthy lifestyle and habits by incorporating a guide to nutritional, physical and financial wellness for kids. This year, the camp theme was called SuperLife. During the two-week sessions, campers took part in a variety of recreational and educational outdoor and indoor games and activities while learning how the components of wellness can lead them to a super life. Each week of camp featured a sport of the week in addition to theme days, special events, and educational wellness programming.

At the beginning of the summer, campers received a SuperLife booklet, which included a variety of activities on nutritional, physical and financial wellness. Camp staff and counselors incorporated various aspects of each wellness component in daily activities during camp hours, while encouraging campers to take their booklets home to work on activities with family and friends. Topics included bullying prevention, healthy eating, environmental wellness, stranger danger, stress management and more.

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness was the newest addition to the curriculum. This aspect often is an overlooked element in summer camps, but it is an important aspect of wellness that should be nurtured from an early age, DuBord says. These themes are integrated into all aspects of camp, including cooking lessons, arts and crafts, and the selection of the snacks that the campers eat throughout the summer.

The facility does not have a concrete measurement for the effect of the program, but the staff says that by introducing each camper to as many components of wellness as possible, the program has positively affected the children’s lives. In comparing this year’s health and wellness programming and its effects on the campers to last year’s programming, camp staff noted a decrease in bullying incidents and in disciplinary actions.

The eight-week summer camp runs from June through August and is open to children ages 6 to 12. Camp enrollment includes 180 to 200 campers during each two-week session for a total of 800 participants. Thirty-one percent of the parents of campers are university alumni, while 20 percent are faculty or staff. The return rate is around 85 percent of campers with approximately 30 new campers each year. The camp works with a budget of approximately $300,000 in revenue and yields between $100,000 and $150,000 profit for the Department of Wellness and Recreation.

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