A popular Internet meme that made the rounds this year pretty well sums up how Americans feel after the holiday food-and-drink indulgences are over: “It’s not Christmas until you push your body to the brink of alcoholism and diabetes.” After New Years, everyone turns the calendar page and vows to get back to the gym—or join one for the first time. Naturally, gyms relish this post-New Year’s period of health-consciousness for the boost to their bottom lines.
It’s crucial for local gyms to make sure they capitalize on this time of year, as January is one of the most popular months to join a gym. “That timeframe at the beginning of the year is critical for the gym business; we are all trying to create awareness and make ourselves known,” says Todd Magazine, president of Blink Fitness, a 50-club chain which has locations in Yonkers and White Plains.
Todd Magazine, president of Blink Fitness
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Making yourself known here in Westchester means a lot of advertising. Magazine notes that Blink spends 20 to 25 percent of its advertising dollars to attract beginning-of-the-year members, and sees one-third of its overall membership growth during this time of year. At Lifetime Fitness in Harrison, the management expects to see at least a 10 percent increase in membership, according to spokesperson Natalie Bushaw. And at the Fitness Gallery, a new gym in Hastings-on-Hudson that seeks to fuse art and fitness, owner Jodi DeCrenza says her gyms have typically seen about a 35 percent increase in January.
So what do gyms do to prepare to attract—and keep—those new members?
Marketing is key, according to Magazine, who points out that “the gym business is hyper-local. Most people don’t travel far to go to a gym, particularly in a suburban market,” he says. “They usually come from within a 3-mile radius [of a gym’s location], so most of our marketing happens in that radius.” The gym uses traditional advertising including direct mail, billboards, and newspaper ads, as well as “good old fashioned street teams and passing out flyers,” Magazine notes, but also had adopted digital marketing, which he says has become “a very big source.”
Increasing staff, updating equipment, and adding additional classes are all important steps in being able to accommodate a surge of new members—and Magazine, Bushaw, and DeCrenza all state that their gyms do just that. Finding out exactly what new members want is also key, says Bushaw of Lifetime Fitness. “Connecting and engaging new members and helping them find what interests them is critical,” she explains. “We sit down with every member to understand where they are in life, what they want to accomplish—and why—and steps [they need to take] to get there.”
Figuring out what members want can also be a trial and error process, according to DeCrenza. She’s currently offering Zumba and African Dance classes, and has been surprised at their popularity. “People love those classes, particularly the African dance, and quite honestly I would have never thought to bring that in,” she says, adding that she’s also looking into adding classes in the Israeli self-defense art of Krav Maga at the suggestion of a member.
Keeping members from dropping out as the New Year’s resolution to work out starts to fade can be more of a challenge. Since gyms often have members sign yearly membership
contracts, their disappearance may not impact the bottom-line, but all the gyms owners we spoke to say retaining membership is important to them. Lifetime Fitness has launched a new program aimed at doing just that, Bushaw notes. Its “Commitment Day Package” offers new members an initial discount and a plan including personalized assessments, training sessions, custom workouts and meal plans, which Bushaw feels will help them stick to their memberships. “They will have one contact to hold them accountable and be their partner all along the way,” she adds.
At Blink Fitness, keeping members committed to their fitness goals and coming back to the gym is part of its essence, says Magazine. “What we talk about is mood above muscle. We try to elevate the member experience and focus on how exercise makes you feel more than how it makes you look,” he explains.
Most people—at any time of year—go in to a gym membership thinking about losing weight and getting back into shape, and a high percentage fall off because they don’t achieve that goal, Magazine adds. “They usually set unrealistic physical targets. We find the emotional benefits of exercise are more immediately achievable.” That focus, he adds, has helped Blink do well in retaining members. “If you promise physical benefits,” he says, “you’ll have the same turnover that every other gym has.”