Monday, November 24, 2008

Gyms Weather Economic Storm

“If there's an economic slowdown, it's not apparent at places like the Hockessin Athletic Club, where people continue to plunge full speed ahead on their treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes. The one spot where the slowdown may have been evident was in the orientation room, which appeared a little slower than usual. The company missed its goal for signing up new members by 50 percent in October, said co-owner Bob Carpenter. But revenue was still up from a year ago, in part because of robust activity in youth martial arts and dance classes and business at the pro shop. And new members appear to be coming in on target again this month, he said. ‘Anyone not living under a rock, they feel the stress’ of the slowdown, Carpenter said. ‘People said, 'I'm going to spend some money on myself.' It's medicine. It's good for you.’ Fitness club operators in Delaware say they're largely retaining existing customers, but new sign-ups have lagged. New and upscale clubs appear to be doing a little better. With only 15 percent of the population holding memberships to a health club, it's a lot easier to retain an existing customer than it is to get a new one, he said. Problems for the industry first appeared on the horizon last year. The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association reported that membership dropped in 2007 for the first time in more than a decade, from 42.7 million in 2006 to 41.5 million in 2007. Membership numbers were not available for Delaware, but the group said the number of Delaware health clubs has declined in the last few years. After growing from 38 clubs in 1996 to 98 in 2005, the number dropped to 88 in September 2007. Nationwide, clubs are offering deep discounts and specials to entice newly frugal customers to stay on. Rosemary Lavery, spokeswoman for the sportsclub association, said there are no indications of across-the-board membership drops, but some clubs have begun cutting back on ‘ancillary’ services, like massage and acupuncture, and limiting the amount of personal training sessions, she said. Lavery said clubs are advertising their services as a necessity, not a luxury. ‘It's a lifelong commitment, regardless of the economy,’ she said. ‘Maintaining your health is the most important thing you can do for yourself.’”

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