Married With Children

Turning one membership into a family affair

Many working people with families sign up for single memberships at health clubs. They go to the gym at lunch so they don't take time away from their families. But what if these people could bring their families to your club? Chances are they would turn their single memberships into family memberships.

If you have family programming, but your members don't know it, you could be missing out on a big market. Here's how you can make families feel welcome at your club and grow your business.

  • Find out up front. During your sales process, you should find out if the prospect has a family. Whenever anyone enters your facility, she should fill out a short questionnaire so you have her name, address and phone number. The questionnaire should ask, "Do you have a family?" If she does, then you should inform her that a family membership is the best deal for her money, notes Danny Tanner, vice president of facilities and marketing at Spare Time Inc. in Sacramento, Calif.

  • Show them around. Bob Shoulders, owner of Fayetteville Athletic Club in Fayetteville, Ark., creates programming so that when prospective members visit his facility, they see all the club has to offer. This means that prospects can watch all of the programs available to families, which makes them want to bring in their spouses and/or children.

    "We don't do the hard sell," emphasizes Shoulders. "We give them a tour and ask them if they'd like to join based on what they see."

  • Give parents what they want. For children under 5, most parents want a place where their kids can have fun and be safe. For the older children (5 and up), parents like organized activities that are safe and fun. They don't want them sitting around watching television.

    Parents also prefer one-stop shopping. They like a place where they can come and work out, and their children can get some fun time too.

  • Give kids what they want. Appeasing parents is important, but health clubs must also please the kids. That's why Spare Time makes sure to cater to the youngsters.

    "We provide children with somewhere they can be a kid and do what they want to do…not what their parents want them to do," notes Tanner. "Our philosophy is we want kids growing up at our club."

    Spare Time has a computer room with educational software; library books; a movie theater area; a game area with pool tables, ping pong and air hockey; a crafts area; a PlayStation area; playgrounds (physical fitness is key); and much more.

    When you provide what the kids want, they will beg their parents to take them to your club. Not a bad retention tool!

  • Offer special services. Fayetteville Athletic Club offers kids' camps where parents can drop their children off for the day. During the camps, the children participate in everything from crafts to swimming.

    Fayetteville also offers a special kids' night two Fridays a month. Parents drop their children off at 6 p.m. and pick them up at 10 p.m. “We organize activities and food, and parents like it because they get a quiet evening alone,” notes Shoulders.

    Finally, to help teens stay fit, Fayetteville provides a junior certification program for kids ages 13 to 16. This program teaches teenagers how to use the cardio and strength equipment. Once they complete the certification, the teens are allowed to use the equipment.

  • Get the word out. If you don't promote your club as a family facility, people won't bring their children. You have to educate your members about the different family programming that you offer.

    Both Tanner and Shoulders promote their kids' programming through their club newsletters, bulletin boards and Web sites.

    While newsletters and bulletin boards will inform current members about children's programming, your Web site provides a great vehicle for reaching the nonmembers who wish to share physical fitness with their children. Today, almost everyone has access to the Internet either at home or on the job. By promoting family programming on your Web site, you can spread the word fast and inexpensively. And you can update the information on a daily basis.

  • Make families welcome. If parents feel that families are unwanted or that their children may disturb other members they will be uncomfortable bringing their kids into the club.

  • When Shoulders bought Fayetteville Athletic Club, the facility wasn't inviting to parents and their kids. To make the club family-friendly, Shoulders allowed more flexibility regarding the areas where children can play. For example, if a racquetball court isn't being used, children can play there, supervised.

    Fayetteville also has two pools: one for adult lap swimming and a segmented-depth pool for families. In addition, the locker rooms feature family areas.

    "We also do a kids' triathlon in the fall where they swim laps, ride bikes and run on a path,” adds Shoulders. “All of this creates an environment and culture that lets people know that we are a family club."

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