Medically Integrated Fitness Centers Offer Opportunity for Growth

If you are a mid-priced club operator, you may be struggling with a low-priced competitor to whom some of your members have quietly, or not-so-quietly, slipped away. Perhaps you are toying with the idea of lowering your dues to woo back those members. I urge you to reconsider.

I initially thought low-priced clubs might attract new members into health clubs—people for whom price was their only barrier. However, price concerns are often just an excuse, and lower dues typically only serve to pull health club members from one club to another, not bring in swarms of actual new members.

Medical fitness centers appear to be the facilities attracting those new people. More than 50 percent of medical fitness center members had never been a member of a commercial club, according to estimates. The average member of a medical fitness center trends a bit older than members at commercial clubs, and many of them begin their club membership upon referral from a physician or due to rehabilitation of an injury or treatment of a chronic condition.

These people trust their doctors. A 2010 Gallup poll showed that 70 percent of Americans have confidence in their doctor’s advice. Older Americans tend to put even more trust in their doctors, with 85 percent of Americans over 65 saying they were confident in their doctor.

So the key to reaching this group is physicians. When a trusted health care provider tells this group that part of the treatment for their chronic condition or post-rehabilitation from an injury should include exercise, you can bet the patients will ask their doctors for advice on where to go. Don’t you want to be the place the doctor recommends?

In order for you to establish relationships with medical professionals and earn their trust, you must make a larger investment in your club, your programs and your staff. You must earn the trust of these doctors by showing them that you have degreed staff who can work with the unfit population, people with chronic conditions and people in post-rehabilitation—especially since many estimates are that 50 percent of medical fitness center members are at high risk medically. You will need to show them that you have programs that address healthy eating, living with diabetes, pre- and post-natal issues, cardiac health and more. Some commercial health clubs have already had success partnering with physicians.

All of this will require more funding for increased training for staff, additional programs, a registered dietician and additional equipment. Although funding may be difficult to secure because equity is still tight, the investment could be worth it in the long run. And you can recoup some of that investment by increasing your membership fees, which range from as low as $49 per month and go as high as $100 or more at others. People who are dealing with chronic conditions are willing to pay if they know they are getting the help that they need. Best of all, attrition is typically lower at medical fitness centers.

The time is now to rethink your business model. If you truly want to do more than recycle the same people in and out of your doors, medical fitness may be in your future.

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