Aging of Baby Boomers Not Lost on Health Club Operators, Equipment Manufacturers

For the past decade, marketers in just about every industry have focused on Baby Boomers—and with good reason. Baby Boomers are a populous and wealthy market. However, many Boomers have reached the age of 65 now, and the rest of them are following quickly behind. That means that marketing, programming and fitness equipment that targets this market must change with them.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40.3 million people, or 13 percent of the total population in America, are 65 and older. That number is projected to grow to 88.5 million, or 20 percent of the total population, by 2050 when Baby Boomers and Generation X will make up the majority of that age group. Also by 2050, more than 600,000 Baby Boomers will be 100 years old or older, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

“Clearly, there is a lot of opportunity to market health and wellness to this group,” says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, Vancouver, British Columbia. “They are the largest, wealthiest market with 47 times more wealth than kids coming out of college.”

And this market is loyal if treated right.

“Clubs need to implement effective active aging programs and provide the outcome data and user feedback, and they will have a high revenue growth opportunity with a very high retention rate,” says Juha Vaisanen, president of HUR Health and Fitness Equipment, Northbrook, IL.

However, club operators need to be careful about how they target this group.

“It is important to remember that the Baby Boomers don’t see themselves as being older or aging at all. That is for their parents’ generation,” says Darrin Pelkey, vice president of sales and marketing for Keiser, Fresno, CA, which makes fitness equipment that targets older people. “You need to talk to them like you would any other member for the most part. But you need to make them feel comfortable in the club both socially and with the right equipment.”

Some club owners are, in fact, adding programs and services geared toward older Americans as they see an increasing number of older Americans maintain— or in some cases undertake—a more active lifestyle.

“It is important to think about who you are speaking to and targeting,” Milner says. “Who is coming into your club? Is it a fit older athlete? Maybe it is a dependent or frail individual. Whatever the market, it is important that the club has the right message, staff and equipment in place for this segment of the population.”

Although some club operators see the opportunity in this generation, others do not focus enough on them, despite many club operators also being in the Baby Boomer generation, Milner says.

“Today’s club owners for the most part have grown up in the industry and are approaching this time in life,” Milner says. “Yet they don’t see that there is an active older population along with a deconditioned older population that is there for them. They still market with images of young beach bodies and buy the costliest piece of equipment for members they already have—and always will. But they are missing a fast-growing segment of the population.”

Perhaps the perceived lack of attention from more traditional clubs has allowed niche players, such as Nifty After Fifty and Welcyon, to fill the opening.

“I don’t know if traditional clubs will ever fully target this market—and I’m not sure they should or need to,” Pelkey says. “But there are specialized clubs—in addition to senior centers, etc.—that are beginning to target this market and think about the equipment they need. And they will find success.”

Finding the right equipment that allows Baby Boomers to be active but makes allowances for health issues related to aging is a big factor in marketing to older Americans.

“Falling is the number one reason for injury and deaths for those in their 60s and older in the USA, with every third American over 65 falling every year,” Vaisanen says. “This is the fastestgrowing segment in fitness. We have designed our equipment to provide a comprehensive solution to implement active aging programs—fall prevention, continence, dementia, independence, physical therapy—and to measure the outcomes.”

Octane Fitness, Brooklyn Park, MN, is one of the mainstream manufacturers that is keeping an eye on the aging Boomer market and is looking at products and modifications with those considerations in mind, says Chris Chu, product manager at Octane Fitness.

“In many cases, the equipment for the general population is enough for many older Americans, depending on their fitness level,” he says. “Probably a bigger consideration is making seniors feel comfortable in the club environment, such as social hours and a sense of community for seniors.”

Just like with any market, the right equipment and programming helps, but a sense of belonging is what keeps them coming back.

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