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Monkey around

<i><b>Clubs are monkeying around in their kids' clubs and finding that enrichment classes can really pay off.</b></i>

Transforming your kids' club or day care area into a full-fledged profit center with enrichment programming, space for birthday parties and one-on-one personal training isn't just monkey business — it's good business.

Take for example membership numbers at Kidville, NY. Since Andy Stenzler opened the high-end, educational-and-play facility for children ages 5 and younger and their parents, memberships have increased 30 percent year over year.

Both Kidville, NY locations are in Manhattan, NY, and feature an indoor play area, outdoor playground, birthday party room, a camp program and classes in art, music, gym and cooking. Although it's not your traditional fitness center, the facility does offer sports classes and gymnastics.

The market for children's enrichment programs is enormous, Stenzler says.

“Parents want to expose their kids to arts, education and movement classes, and it's great from a socialization standpoint where the kids and families can be around others,” he says.

Traditional health clubs are paying attention to the trend, too. Between 1987-2005, clubs experienced a 268 percent membership increase when it came to kids. In fact, one-third of International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) clubs have some kind of children's programming in place, and children are the second fastest growing demographic of health club members.

“The number supports the trend,” says Rosemary Lavery, spokesperson for IHRSA. “Parents are bringing their children to gyms geared towards family programming.”

Monkey See, Monkey Do

While many facilities are offering fitness to their members' youngsters, other facilities are broadening their scope to bring in nonmembers.

Forum Athletic Club in Atlanta is one such club. Owner Dan Owens has invested in a number of amenities for his younger members and his pocketbook. In his experience, children 6-7 years old are content in hourly, fee-based day care or “babysitting,” but once they reach age 8, they get a bit antsy.

“It's good to have a structured room for older and younger kids to do something progressive in their fitness instead of reading or coloring,” he says.

Children at Forum Athletic Club have a number of activities from which to choose including Junior Jazzercise, ballet and a 1,200-square-foot Fast Twitch Room, which has space for classes that use hydraulic equipment, free weights and other functional/sports training equipment for adolescents. The hour-long Fast Twitch classes often involve groups of four to 28 children. Members and nonmembers are welcome, and often a local youth sports team signs up for a series of sessions. Depending on the package, Owens charges $10-$15 per session. On average, the room pulls in about $4,000 a month.

“Basically, the Fast Twitch Room is a business inside of the club,” he says. “We've had the room since 1999, and although the equipment took a while to pay off, we've had a return on our investment.”

To keep the 5- to 13-year-olds engaged, Owens brought in outside help. She' Fischbach, a former physical therapist and owner of her own personal training studio, moved her children's fitness center, Youth B Fit, into Forum Athletic Club about a year ago. The 3,000-square-foot gym-inside-a-gym houses a variety of programs, including classes and one-on-one sessions.

For the younger children, she leads a game-based class. After learning that children are less focused on “getting a good workout” than adults are, Fischbach created a number of dynamic games that are fun and hold the children's attention. A typical class includes a warm-up game, circuit game, a yoga-based cool down and then a nutrition talk.

Many of Fischbach's games are based on board games the children already know such as the aptly titled, Funopoly. Pint-sized class participants roll a dice, and each spot on the board lists a different exercise that the child performs 15 times. If someone lands on the free parking spot, the lucky player can do any exercise in the gym that he or she wants.

“They are still exercising every second of it,” she says. “The way a kid's body works and plays is through interval training. This is just like that. I get them to a really high level, and then let them crash a little bit.”

Fischbach charges a monthly membership, apart from Forum Athletic Club's dues, for her classes. A one-time/class-a-week pass is $55 a month, and an unlimited pass is $75 a month. She also leads reformer-based fitness classes that cost $150 for 10 sessions or $250 for 20 sessions, and private 30-minute sessions that are $350 for a pack of 10 sessions.

Birthday parties are another source of revenue for Fischbach.

“Someone asked me if I could do one, and it's really taken off,” she says about the birthday parties. “It's becoming really popular, especially in the summer.”

For the parties, she runs children through an hour-long, game-based workout and then leads a craft activity — making a jump rope. After the party, kiddies are sent home with a CD of audio exercise (created by Fischbach), their self-made jump ropes and a smile. She charges $250 for up to 20 children; each additional child is $20.

Fischbach worked out a deal with Forum Athletic Club so that both parties are guaranteed a profit. Instead of paying rent, she gives the club 30 percent of her proceeds. So far, Fischbach and the club have done zero traditional marketing.

“This is a big market, and marketing is key,” she says. “I'm in a very fit area, and I'm lucky that word-of-mouth works.”

Another upside, besides profits, is that Fischbach's busiest times are usually a club's quietest months. For example, May through November have been Fischbach's best months with last summer being particularly busy.

“Even if you brought it in [to your facility] on a smaller scale and had staff who could work with kids, you could still supplement your business on your off months and downscale during your other [more busy] months,” she says.

Child's Play

Some fitness facilities are even finding success in targeting only children. The Kids Health Club in Homewood, IL, offers both fitness programming and nutrition classes for children 6 years old to 16 years old. A coach supervises members during their workout for safety and to ensure proper body mechanics. Members have a choice of a month-to-month membership, a one-year membership or, the most popular option, a six-month membership. Members also have access to interactive video games. For a higher fee (monthly memberships are $55 plus a $100 service fee), nonmembers can come into the facility and participate in the club's programming, which includes circuit strength training and aerobic exercises. Nutrition classes are free to members and open to nonmembers for a fee.

Since Vernard Alsberry and his wife J. Diane Adams-Alsberry opened the facility a little more than a year ago, they've found that while there is competition in the general youth fitness market, there's still room to grow.

“The bulk of the industry is focused on the very young,” he says. “But centers that focus on the needs of the adolescent are just beginning to grow, and the competition is less at this time.”

Owens at Forum Athletic Club has found that tapping the youth market has given him access to a completely different market. Although it hasn't directly brought in new memberships, it has given the club more brand awareness.

“People knew where the club was and what it looked like outside, but we may have changed people's perceptions because they've actually walked through the door,” he says. “That may lead to more business later on.”

Alsberry advises fitness professionals who are interested in working with children — with either fitness or other enrichment programming — to find which age group they enjoy working with most and develop a program that addresses the fitness and health needs of that group.

Once they know what group they want to target, fitness professionals should educate themselves about how to work at the child's level as safely as possible. Children are not mini-adults, Fischbach says.

It's important to realize that your customers aren't just the children, either.

“Programs have to be liked by kids and parents equally — both are customers,” Stenzler says.

And, lastly, make it fun. Don't be afraid to get creative or monkey around when it comes to children's programming.

To read a complete listing of children's exercise equipment manufacturers, please visit Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro's online Buyers' Guide at

By the Numbers

Membership Numbers of Children Under 18

1987: 1.3 million

2000: 3.2 million

2002: 3.9 million

2003: 4.5 million

2004: 4.6 million

2005: 5.1 million

Children's Fee-Based Programming Ideas

  • Birthday parties
  • Gymnastics classes
  • Cheerleading programs
  • Sports-specific training classes, sessions or camps
  • Crafts/art
  • Personal training
  • Parent and child programming
  • Cooking classes
  • Music lessons
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