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What's in Your Cart?

If rust has turned your facility's weights to orange or if your cardiovascular equipment runs on Dino-power seen in Flintstones cartoons, your club may be in trouble regardless of your great customer service, quality staff or innovative classes.

Okay, the odds are that your equipment is new enough that it runs on electricity (or people power). But even so, if it is older — and looks like it — it could leave your facility and your sales staff in a hole; nothing will turn a potential member of yours into a member of your competitor's club quicker than rusted steel, squeaky steppers and ripped upholstery. This is especially true when your small facility is competing with regional and national mega-chains that turn over equipment as often as the Wall Street crowd trades in leased Audis.

According to the exclusive Fitness Business Pro Purchasing Power Survey, it seems as if single-facility operators realize that it is vital to keep up with technology, aesthetics, ergonomics — and of course, the competition.

Timing Is Everything?

Unlike the seasonality of facility memberships or home-equipment purchases, fitness facilities of all types are in a consistent buying cycle. According to the survey, single-facility operators are buying year-round at an almost 70-percent clip.

While some of that year-round buying may be in an attempt to keep on top of the latest trends, it may not always be the case.

“Generally, small club operators — allowing that they're already in operation for a few years — with generally limited budgets don't ‘plan’ equipment buying very well. So I don't think they really do have any pattern to buying,” says industry consultant Michael Scott Scudder. “Larger clubs and multi-club organizations budget and plan much more for buying and tend to do that around shows — or at least set up the deals around shows.”

But that doesn't mean that buying done throughout the year is haphazard. The trend of year-round buying can be seen in — and may be influenced by — the release of new equipment by manufacturers. While new product entries tend to be scheduled around shows, many manufacturers release commercial equipment far more frequently than they do home equipment, which tends to be timed with several key buying periods for fitness equipment.

Shopping Center

Small operators tend to buy their equipment from a number of sources, according to the survey. Slightly more than 47 percent of respondents purchase their equipment through distributors, while about 40 percent get their products directly from the manufacturers. Just about 10 percent say that they buy their products online, a trend that may be growing.

“I think there could be more of a tendency today than ever before [to purchase online],” says Scudder. “It really depends on whether the prospective buyer has seen the equipment or not.”

In fact, the need to see the equipment first has relegated the use of the Internet to more of a research tool than a purchasing tool, says Frank Bentkowski of Fitness Equipment Source, which sells several product lines in the New York region.

“I don't think facilities are shopping online for a number of reasons,” he says. “What we are seeing is that they are really doing their research online and have a good idea of what they want when I call on them.”

Shopping List

But regardless of where and when they're purchasing equipment, facilities never know what they may come back with without a shopping list.

A look at the shopping patterns — or lists — from the Fitness Business Pro Purchasing Power Survey, show that facilities are like most consumers: they are shopping for variety, but all their lists lead with the staples.

Much like milk and eggs on a grocery list, strength and cardio are by far the most sought-after products for small-facility owners. More than 55 percent of respondents say that cardiovascular equipment is on the list for this year. Another 48 percent of small- facility owners and managers say that they will be buying strength equipment — with 25 percent additionally saying that free-weight equipment will be in the cart.

Beyond the staples, though, facilities are shopping for plenty of other products this year from locker room equipment to computer software. Mirroring the steady growth of both Pilates and yoga, more than 47 percent of facilities will buy equipment for those mind/body disciplines in 2005. Meanwhile, 17 percent will be buying equipment such as microphones, steps, etc., for more traditional classes.

Perhaps also indicating a trend of continued kinder and gentler exercise — or just showing more of a commodity nature to aquatics products as the anticipated rate of purchase drops in 2006 — more than 36 percent of owners and managers say that aquatic products will be on their shopping list this year.

But traditional and non-traditional fitness equipment aren't all that facilities are purchasing this year. Twenty-five percent of facilities will purchase sport-specific products and equipment from basketball to golf. Another 22 percent will purchase spa products, perhaps showing how even the smallest of facilities are transforming into more than a traditional place to lift weights or jump on a treadmill.

Entertainment also looks to be a hot item on many facilities' wish lists, according to the survey. Just about 15 percent of those answering the survey listed entertainment products as part of their buying plans for the year.

But not all purchases are made for the use of members — although they may be just as important for gaining and retaining them in the long run. In fact, one-third of respondents (33.3 percent) say that updating computer system software in 2005 ranks high on their shopping lists.

Looking a year ahead, 2006 shows some key buying trends for single-facility operations.

Perhaps due to rapidly changing technology from programming to entertainment, cardio desires seem to hold steady between 2005 and 2006. In 2006, 57 percent of respondents to the Fitness Business Pro Purchasing Power survey say that they plan to buy cardiovascular equipment, a slight bump from the 55 percent this year. Meanwhile, strength purchases are expected to plummet by 28 percent to just less than 20 percent of small and single-location facilities in the market for strength pieces in 2006.

Scanning the shopping lists for 2006, it doesn't look as if one should expect the yoga and Pilates boom to die out anytime soon. As clubs add programming and allocate space — some adding entire mind/body studios outside of the clubs' four walls — 67 percent of owners and managers are expecting to purchase yoga and Pilates equipment, according to the survey; the 2006 buying expectations represent a 20-percent jump over 2005.

Bargain Hunting

Despite the desires of facilities to buy the newest “toy” with all the bells and whistles, the economy has dampened this and will continue to do so over the next year or so. According to the survey, 32 percent of respondents say that controlling costs is one of their biggest challenges. Thirty-eight percent of respondents say that they are trying to control expenses by buying products and equipment less frequently; another 22 percent say that when they are buying, they are buying less expensive products and services.

While not specifically saying so, a growing trend is to buy used equipment when available.

“From talking a couple of months ago with a couple of companies that sell refurbished equipment, they seem to be doing a lot of business these days,” Scudder says.

And when not buying refurbished equipment, others are opting to have their own product refurbished.

“Many facilities we work with are having us service their equipment and recondition it,” says David Akaynian, president of Precision Fitness, a fitness dealer headquartered in Natick, MA. “There was a time that they would just trade it in. Now, more are going the service route and keeping what they have.”

Regardless of what is on the shopping list or how much they can spend, it is clear that facility operators realize that to acquire and retain members one of the key steps is to have the right mix of products and equipment on the floor — and to keep it fresh.

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