Deciphering the Dot.Coms

Deciphering the Dot.Coms

Don't fear the Web. These Internet companies can assist clubs in building their business.

Had your fill of the Internet? Then you probably aren't aware of these sites, all of which are helping to build a better Web for the health and fitness industry.

As a club operator, what is your perception of the Web? Are you worried that, instead of signing in at your club, members and prospects may sign on to the Internet in search of free fitness information and training tips?

If you think that Web sites will steal your business, never fear. Yes, the Internet brings competition to our industry, but it also brings allies. The following dot.coms - all exhibitors at the upcoming Club Industry 2000 show in Chicago - are harnessing the power of the Web for the benefit of health clubs. Here is a sample of the services that the Internet brings to your business. Booth 164 Over the course of the last four years, has compiled a database of 15,000 health clubs. The purpose? The creation of a club directory that fitness consumers can search.

"In essence we're developing a worldwide yellow pages of fitness providers, organizations and connecting services and products," says Marti West, president and CEO of

At its basic, provides the address and phone number for each club in its directory. However, the company also sells subscriptions to clubs which entitles them to more information in the directory. In addition to an address and a phone number, a subscriber gets a Web page that includes photos of the club, a brief description of services, and health and fitness content created by the professionals who comprise's board of directors. If the subscriber has an existing Web site, the Web page will link to it. Finally, subscribers get a dedicated e-mail address (e.g.,

Besides the enhanced Web presence, subscribers also get preferential treatment in a search. For example, if a visitor searches for health clubs in a subscriber's ZIP code or city, the subscriber's information would appear at the top of resulting list. Subscribers also are included in a special locator that allows visitors to search by amenity (e.g., swimming pool, childcare).

Not only does do what it can to drive visitors to its subscribers, the company gives the subscribers the opportunity to make money from these visitors. The company has formed relationships with several e-commerce partners so subscribers will receive a commission for any purchase that originates at their Web page.

The cost of a subscription depends upon the subscriber. A trainer pays $9.99 per month. Clubs can expect to pay approximately $19.99 per facility, although discounts are available for multiple facilities.

In addition to the search engine, includes a section called Global Connections. currently has relationships with 20 different international organizations, according to West, and as the Global Connections section grows, the site will provide listings that will alert visitors to these associations and their upcoming events.

"For an industry to grow, we need to have better connection between country to country," West emphasizes. "It's a global world now."

And, in that world, intends to close the gap between consumers and providers, according to West. Nothing less could be expected of a site bearing the domain

"We really consider it a responsibility having a large category name," West says. "Our goal is to help grow the world of fitness, so we hope to be able to connect consumers to the appropriate trainer or fitness facility." Booth 682 If you are looking to add more functionality to your Web site, may have the service for you. In 15 minutes, the company can add features that will allow site visitors to sign up for a membership, change membership, make an appointment with a personal trainer, reserve space in a class, etc. Best of all, the visitors don't even have to know that a third party is handling the process.

"We private label our engine to our customers," says Tom Patterson,'s CEO. "They have a choice of a seamless interface if they want."

And there's more to the system than registration. Clubs typically contract with for three years. During the first year, the company collects demographic data that can be interpreted and used in subsequent years. For example, can help clubs match services to past participants who, in turn, can be targeted with e-mail marketing campaigns. Or clubs can determine which classes are winners and which ones may be slipping in popularity.

"We can help them determine if they should charge for their classes or we can recommend that they don't charge for those classes," Patterson says.

While some Web-based companies generate revenue through advertising, makes its money through transaction fees. (The company does charge more for customized service - such as programming that integrates online data with a club's in-house accounting system.) Specifically, the company gets a percentage for anything that members sign up for that has a price attached - meaning everything from personal training to monthly membership charges. Patterson describes the percentage as low, adding that the convenience is worth the cost.

"We take a big administrative burden off of the club," he says. Booth 582 combines measurement devices with Web-based data tracking for a powerful Internet tool. The devices are the BC-1 (for assessing body composition) and the CT-1 (for monitoring the number of calories burned). The devices come with proprietary hardware and software that enable the units to connect to a computer. This, in turn, allows the devices to upload the user's calorie expenditure and body composition to a personal Web page at

Password-protected, the personal page will store and track lean body mass, body-fat percentage, activity level, etc. And since this information is secure in's server, only the user dictates who can have access. "It's the pentagon of fitness assessments," jokes Petra Robinson, vice president of new business development for

While assesses body composition and tracks calories, it is not meant to substitute interaction with a personal trainer. If anything, users and personal trainers should meet regularly to download and analyze the data stored at, according to Robinson. "We need the trainers," she says. "Our products assist the trainers in the professional services they provide to clients."

Not only can enhance a trainer's assessment services, but the company can provide health clubs with a new profit center. Cur-rently, the BC-1 and CT-1 come as a combination unit that costs $330. (Access to the personal site is currently free, but, after the first year, it could cost $50 a year.) is looking at ways for health clubs to sell the BC-1 and CT-1 through pro shops - perhaps even with a club's private label on the devices. "One of our goals is to have the products at their facilities where they can resell," Robinson notes.

Even if clubs don't resell products, they can buy them as amenities for members. For example, a club could purchase the CT-1 units (a club discount is available) and loan them to members entering an aerobics class. The point is that products and services are designed to complement clubs, not replace them.

"The main thing is that we are a brick and mortar entity and a manufacturer of product that health clubs can utilize anyway," Robinson notes.

TimeTrade Booth 180 Picture this: A member calls your club hoping to book an appointment with a personal trainer. Nobody answers the phone. The member hangs up and never calls back. Your club just lost money. So did the trainer.

TimeTrade hopes to prevent that scenario from ever happening. The company provides a Web-based scheduling solution for the health and fitness industry, allowing people to register for services 24/7. "There are versions for single practitioners, such as personal trainers, through multi-thousand-member health clubs," says Scott Steinacher, director of business development.

Generally, TimeTrade will add the booking service through a club's Web site, although a site isn't necessary. The company can provide customers with a welcome screen that acts as the portal for the registration service. Say, for example, Ed Jones, personal trainer, wants to take advantage of TimeTrade, but he doesn't have a Web site. The company will give Ed his own domain name ( where his clients can book his services.

For clubs and trainers already on the Web, the appointment service will launch right from their Web sites. TimeTrade will customize the application with various colors and logos so that the service looks like it is part of the site.

Not only can visitors make appointments, the TimeTrade service enables them to look at trainer certifications, see pictures of instructors, read new course descriptions, etc. "It's a really informative application," Steinacher says.

To make appointments, members go through a simple registration process, which includes providing their e-mail addresses. The reason for this is two-fold. First off, TimeTrade will send messages to members, alerting them of their appointments. Secondly, the clubs can gather these e-mails for electronic marketing messages, opening a new line of dialogue with members.

"E-mail is a very noninvasive way to communicate with someone," Steinacher reminds.

TimeTrade charges clubs based on the number of resources scheduled through the system. A resource is anything that can be booked: an aerobics instructor, a massage therapist, a squash court. Generally, the cost is $20 per resource. On average, a club pays $200 to $300 per month, whereas an individual practitioner may only pay $20.

Before deciding if this service is worth the price, check out the system in action. You can give it a try at Booth 1347 David Michel, president and CEO of, knows that the Internet isn't your business. It's his business. And even if you don't have an e-mail address, he claims his company can show you how to develop a profitable Internet strategy.

Naturally, this strategy begins with a Web site, and will design, build, host and maintain a unique one for your club. "The look and feel of the site is customized to match the club's brand and culture," Michel says.'s work doesn't end once a club's site goes live, however. Each site gets an account manager, and content is refreshed daily, if not hourly, according to Michel. "We maintain about 98 percent of the content on our club partners' sites," he says.

In addition to fresh health and fitness content - which comes from's 90 content sources - club sites include a myriad of interactive features. For example, visitors can register for classes and even buy a membership over the Internet. Members can even track nutrition and fitness activities they perform outside of the club.

"We enable the club to travel with the member outside of the walls," Michel notes.

Since even the best site is useless unless it draws hits, also helps drive traffic. "We take the responsibility for registering the site with all the major search engines," Michel explains. "We coach our club partners on what they need to do to generate traffic for the site." Furthermore, provides a proprietary recruitment tool that captures information from visitors, allowing a club's salespeople to market to prospects.

To further help its customers, is partnering with a software company to offer back-office functions, such as accounting, that club employees can access via password at the club's Web site. Why? "You don't need a Web site," Michel answers. "You need more."

What does more cost? Well, builds the sites for free. The company gets its money by selling a number of limited banners to national advertisers, which are posted on each site. The company also charges each club customer a monthly service fee that varies depending on the number of locations. (A typical single club can expect to pay $499.)

If you think that's too high, keep in mind that clubs can generate revenue through their sites. Clubs can sell sponsorships to local businesses, and they get to keep 100 percent of the money they earn. Furthermore, sells sporting goods through the sites and splits the e-commerce transactions with customers. "As we make money, the club makes money," Michel says. "It's a shared revenue stream." Booth 382 Imagine being part of a global network of clubs with shared members and profit opportunities. That's exactly the type of network that is creating.

Here's how it works: An annual fee of $79 entitles people to use the clubs within the network. "It offers them a travel fitness pass, opening doors to affiliated health clubs around the world for one low annual fee, as well as discounts off of local memberships and fitness products," says Steve Diamond,'s vice president.

Sounds great for the pass holders, but what's in it for the clubs? First off, each club receives an exclusive territory (the area within a 15-minute drive of the facility). Clubs get a 20 percent commission for each pass they sell, and they also get a 20 percent discount for each pass sold in their territory. That means a club can make money without doing anything. For example, if someone from a club's territory purchases the pass through's Web site, the club earns the commission. And speaking of the Web site, participating clubs can access their password-protected account at to track their commissions.

To market the network, is advertising the pass through major airline publications and travel sites. The company also gives clubs all the information they need to push the pass: posters, decals, etc.

Diamond believes that clubs which aggressively market the pass can gain clout when selling a membership to their own facilities. That's because, by adding $79 to their annual membership fees, they can offer prospects and members a pass to hundreds of clubs around the country, plus some in other countries.

This perk can be attractive to frequent travelers. For that reason, the pass has been a great way for clubs to get their feet in the doors at corporations, Diamond reports. After all, some corporations reimburse employees for guest gym passes they purchase while on the road; buying the passes and distributing them to business travelers can ultimately save a company money.

The passes can save the travelers money as well. "It's the only pass that gives free access to the traveler, unlike some passes that give discounted guest pass fees," Diamond says. And clubs don't have to drop other pass programs to join the network. Furthermore, there is no contract for the clubs - they can be in the program for as long as they wish.

Naturally, would like clubs to join and stay. Thus far, they are. "It's to our advantage that we have 400 clubs," Diamond says. "We are growing 100 to 150 clubs per month."

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