Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Health Businesses Hope to Stay Fit

“With elements of the national economy in critical condition, the vital signs of fitness-oriented businesses -- such as gyms, martial arts and other health-related studios -- are decidedly mixed. Some Inland businesses report that customers are dropping out to cut back on family expenses, while others say they're maintaining steady clientele who want to stay in shape and fend off the rising stress in their lives. ‘I'm not saying we haven't been affected by the economy,’ said Kristy Goldstein, who has owned Sixth Street Pilates in Riverside for the past seven years. ‘But I can count on one hand the number of people who have dropped their membership lately -- I think it's three or five people.’ Her customer base has remained steady over the years, ranging between 80 and 100 students taking classes at the studio. ‘A lot of people see this as their way to stay healthy and stay balanced because of what's happening these days in their lives,’ Goldstein said. But some local martial arts studios are seeing business drop off, and a few have closed. Don Newton, owner of Tai Mantis Kung Fu in San Bernardino, said he knows of at least four martial arts businesses in the city that have closed in the last 12 months. His own customer base has dropped by more than two-thirds in the past year -- going from more than 60 regulars to about 20 -- and he said the economy is mostly to blame. Newton said his business has survived for nearly 14 years by moving beyond martial arts to offer classes in stress reduction, massage and meditation, among other areas. He's thinking of offering discounts off the studio's current $120 monthly fee in the coming weeks, to spur customers to come back after the new year as they have in the past. Gym and health club memberships have generally been in a soft decline over the past two years. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a Boston-based industry trade group, U.S. health club memberships totaled 42.7 million in 2006, but slipped to 41.5 million in 2007, a drop of less than 3 percent. Figures for 2008 are not yet available. Association spokeswoman Kara Thompson noted that while memberships dropped from 2006 to 2007, health club revenue rose 5 percent, from $17.6 billion to $18.5 billion. ‘This can be attributed to club members putting their money toward non-dues-related, in-club programs and services such as nutrition counseling, massage, acupuncture, and personal training,’ Thompson said. She said those who regularly go to health clubs do so for preventative health benefits, but the trade group does not yet know how the current economy will affect those patterns.”


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