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Losing Weight is Not the Only Reason to Join a Club

Here's a quick question: What percentage of people who join a health club actually lose the weight they want to lose and then keep it off? Five percent? Maybe 10 percent? Many would agree that 10 percent is an optimistic number.

This creates a dilemma for clubs that are constantly trying to attract customers. Should the clubs' carrot still be weight loss, even if the vast majority of customers do not lose weight? Surely if a magic program existed that could dramatically increase the number of members that lose weight, it would have been invented by now.

Weight-loss failure affects demand for a product or service. The prescription weight-loss drug Xenical by Roche Pharmaceuticals never caught on because people expected dramatic results without exercising and found it did not deliver. Learning from this failure, the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight-loss pill, Alli by GlaxoSmithKline, was released with educational promotions pushing exercise as a key component in the drug's success.

Quite possibly, many people don't even consider joining a club because they think they are not going to achieve their weight-loss goals. Sure, intimidation, poor location and facilities, and an unfriendly staff all play roles in preventing people from joining. However, thinking they will not lose weight probably keeps most people from ever entering a club.

Take the state of Maine, for example. The politicians there are trying to pass a law to tax health club memberships (as some other states do). They are classifying heath clubs under entertainment. Yes, entertainment. Ask how the average person who is out of shape feels after a workout. Do they feel entertained?

Yet there is a strong message here. Clubs are not looked at as places that achieve valuable health benefits. Have those voting on the taxing of clubs joined a club and received the results they were looking for? If that were the case, would such a vote pass? Therefore, clubs are faced with a dilemma — and an opportunity.

More clubs are starting to increase their emphasis on more realistic benefits of exercise. These benefits are quicker and more likely to be achieved, and some benefits are immediate (even after the first workout, if done properly).

Feel better now. Feel better about yourself. Get rid of stress now. Become the best you can be. Increase your confidence. Improve your health. Increase your energy. Become happier.

Who wouldn't want to accomplish just one or two of the above benefits? Yet so many people are dismayed by their lack of success with weight loss.

The message is clear. The public wants to lose weight, but they feel they will not achieve that goal and, therefore, they do not have confidence in clubs. A U.S. Department of Health study showed that the prevailing attitude of people regarding exercise is, “What's the use?” Therefore, clubs should dramatically enforce the message that joining a club means so much more than weight loss. Other results, such as stress reduction and improved self-esteem, are much quicker and easier to realize than losing weight.

A club needs to better control and mold those first few hours someone new spends at the club. An investment in staffing to help these individuals is a wise marketing expense. If they are handled properly and not allowed to overdo it, these newcomers can have a redirected focus on how a club can deliver life-changing benefits in a surprisingly short period of time.

Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.

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