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On the Right Track

<B><I>The latest software programs help fitness facilities maintain a good track record by indentifying trends, charting demographics and inspiring targeted marketing and retention efforts. </i></b>

Imagine if hitting the gym regularly could help you win a trip to Cancun, Las Vegas, or Hawaii. Your members might visit your club more often, right?

That's what Nautilus Fitness and Racquet Club in Erie, PA, is banking on with its Dozen It Feel Great! club that rewards its members for working out 12 or more times per month. And, surprisingly, the club's concept wasn't conjured up on a cold, winter's day when Nautilus' staff was daydreaming of sipping a Mai Tai on the beach; the idea sprung from a software program.

Over the years as software companies have developed more complete and advanced programs for tracking members and taking care of day-to-day operations, health clubs have been able to garner more information about their members resulting in new programming and creative, targeted marketing.

Nautilus is one example of a club that took its software to the next level. Its software-generated member tracking reports showed that a dozen visits a month was the “key number” when it came to retaining members.

“We did reports on people who canceled and what their check-in numbers were,” says June Penniman, sales and marketing director of Nautilus. “We never had anyone cancel who worked out 12 or more times [per month].”

By partnering with a local travel agency, the club raffles off mini trips once a quarter with a seven-day trip to Las Vegas offered once a year. The lure of a retreat to sunny beaches or the glitzy Strip seems to be working. Four months into the program, Nautilus had 501 more members work out 12 or more times each month and 62 fewer cancellations than the same period last year, Penniman says.

“We're encouraging people to work out more,” she says. “We couldn't do it without the software.”

Road Less Traveled

When it comes to tracking members, software can do more than ever before. Major software companies have developed programs that can tell you the basics — who's coming in, what time of day has the most member visits, who your most active personal trainer is, the hottest selling item in your pro shop, etc. — along with more specific information such as quantifying the demographics of your 9 a.m. yoga class, tracking birthdays, comparing your memberships' age and gender from this year to last year, and much more.

However, don't be afraid to ask for more from your software company. Many are willing to help work with a club to develop highly customized reports.

Dozen It Feel Great! was one such tailored report. Previously Nautilus' software put members' use of the club into a grouped listing such as 0-3 or 4-6 visits per month. Their software company worked with them to develop reports with their key number of 12 or more.

In fact, most software companies welcome suggestions to improve their products. One company says that once a club requests a customization, they usually add it to their software's offering on a widespread basis if other clubs might benefit, too. It's not unusual for a software company to offer 50 to 75 reports.

And for most clubs, more information means running a better club — especially when it is used. For instance, most software has the ability to track why a member has come to a club. While most front desk staff won't have the time to ask each member and press the appropriate key to mark their response, some clubs have automated turnstile check-ins that require a member to choose an onscreen reason for their visit. This question takes only a second for the member to complete, yet can offer a wealth of information. Are most of your members coming in to go for a swim? Are fewer people hitting the cycling room than last year? Having hard numbers can help justify purchases (more noodles and kickboards) or heighten marketing efforts (posters announcing a new beginners' cycling class).

Tailored to Fit

Clubs also invest in these kinds of software programs to increase user-friendliness. Most programs are fairly easy to use with a little training (see Tracking Tips below) and are practically effortless versus pen-and-paper tracking, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming.

Manchester Athletic Club in Massachusetts uses its software for just that reason. The 100,000-square-foot facility clocks more than 800 adult visits and nearly 350 child visits per day. Besides its 11 tennis courts, two fitness centers, multi-sport court, day spa and physical therapy center, the facility boasts nearly 70 group exercise classes a week, a tennis academy and numerous kids' programs.

“The [software] program has allowed us to do a better job of registering our members for the myriad of programs that we offer and use this information to further market to them and also to manage payroll for the providers of those programs,” says Keith Callahan, general manager of the Manchester Athletic Club.

Target marketing is one major benefit to member tracking. Not only can club owners identify trends, but many programs also can send e-mails to specific members. Whether it's thanking a member for coming to a class, advertising a new service or contacting senior members about the benefits of exercise, software can get club owners in touch with those they want to reach.

For the Dozen It Feel Great! club, Nautilus sends e-mails to members who have seven or eight visits for the month, encouraging them to come in a few more times to hit that magic number of 12. Besides being entered to win a luxury vacation, members of the club earn a T-shirt and a card for one free shake a month for a year. And, if members visit the club 12 times in more than one month, they get more entries in the vacation raffle bettering their chances. Nautilus also e-mails newsletters and audio postcards.

“We used to mail out a lot of things, but it got so expensive,” Penniman says. “We do most of our marketing in house. We make PDFs and then e-mail all the members.”

Nautilus is so invested in its retention efforts through software that they hired an employee to be in charge of integration member retention, Penniman says.

Manchester Athletic Club is also sold on its software. When asked if it was worth having, Callahan's response was, “Absolutely. We could not run our business without this or a very similar software program.”

Tracking Tips

  • Plan for the times

    Your needs may change from year to year, so make sure a company and its programs are progressive enough to evolve as your club changes.

  • Get your entire staff up to speed

    Many clubs say it's worth it to have a software company representative do an on-site training.

  • Expect hiccups

    Install new software during the summer or your least busy time of year. It'll be a lot less hectic, and you'll be able to focus on learning the programs.

  • Speak up

    If there's a feature you wish your software had or a report you wish it could run, ask the company. They just might add it for you.

  • Use it

    Today's software can track just about anything. Don't let all that good information go to waste.

Software Companies

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