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A New Day Dawns

Attendees of Club Industry East will witness technologies that are changing our industry.

Not gone to a trade show recently? Perhaps you think that there's nothing new to see, so there's no point in attending. Tom Calvario, owner of the Pottstown Health Club in Pottstown, Pa., can empathize. "How many different ways can they make free weights, treadmills, exercise bikes?" he asks.

Still, Calvario is quick to add that there's more to today's trade shows than just exercise equipment. Club Industry East, coming next month to Boston, will prove this.

Calvario, who has been in this business since 1977, admits that he has never seen anything like the technologies available today. At a recent trade show, for example, he took a look at ClubCom, an entertainment option that he is now installing at his facility. ClubCom offers music videos and digital sound. The videos play on televisions installed inside the club, and, at the end of the videos, advertisements air. Club-Com sells the commercials, and the club gets a piece of the revenue.

ClubCom also is a means of retaining members who want to add some entertainment to the exercise experience. "You have to push yourself, but you have to have fun," Calvario notes.

In addition to ClubCom, the Potts-town Health Club is getting involved with Netpulse, another frequent show exhibitor with an interesting entertainment product. Installed on cardio equipment, Netpulse units allow users to watch television, listen to music and access the Internet. "A few years ago, who would have thought you could ride a bike and make plane reservations?" Calvario says. "Or check and send email? Or check the stock market?"

Not only can the Internet be used for entertainment, but also for marketing and retention. That's why at a recent trade show, the Bellingham Athletic Club (Bellingham, Wash.) took advantage of a free service from FitLinxx, which, in addition to its interactive fitness networks, is now offering free, customized Web sites to health clubs.

While checking out this service, Shauna Naf, assistant operations manager for Bellingham's downtown facility, was impressed with the fact that FitLinxx's customized Web sites allow members to keep track of their workouts while giving them realistic figures for what they have done. For example, after entering one of her own strength workouts, Naf learned that she had lifted the equivalent of 3.3 cars.

In addition to interactive features, Bellingham's customized site includes all of the features you would expect to find on a health club's site: membership information, class schedules, etc. Fit-Linxx also updates the site regularly with fresh health and fitness content. As Naf explains, fresh content is necessary to drive return traffic, yet the Bellingham staff doesn't even need to worry about writing and posting new articles. FitLinxx handles everything.

Jill Kinney, COO of San Francisco-based Club One, points out that the entertainment and promotional possibilities of Internet technologies can be tied together and brought in-house to a club. Currently, 12 of Club One's 61 locations feature E-Zone, an interactive entertainment and education system. Kinney explains that E-Zone's open architecture allows Club One to utilize the Internet to present its own customized, targeted marketing.

The E-Zone network (which will be on display at Club Industry East) can gather data on club members and launch appropriate promotions when they log into the system. Say a member gets on a piece of cardio equipment and plugs into E-Zone to use the entertainment functions; if the person had provided some background information about himself, the system could launch targeted marketing. For example, a basketball enthusiast would see promotions about basketball programs.

Besides providing direct communication to sell ancillary services, the Internet and similar technologies can be used to improve back-end functions, according to Kinney. Citing companies that provide online purchasing, booking and billing services, she notes that today's technologies can improve the industry's operating costs and make things more efficient.

Convinced now that Club Industry East will have enough new and exciting technology on display to make it worth your while to attend? Good. Just remember that if you do go to look at these technologies, you don't have to settle on what's available in the booth, according to Kinney. These products have the flexibility to meet your individual needs. "This technology can be customized indefinitely to meet the spin you want on it," she says.

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