Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Crunching Numbers

“As a poor economy forces people to weigh their spending carefully, SouthCoast gyms and health clubs are sweetening post-holiday deals to continue to draw new members. Last month, Bally Total Fitness shuttered its Dartmouth Mall location, two weeks after the Chicago-based chain filed for bankruptcy. Nevertheless, other local fitness clubs say their businesses are doing well and they're confident people will see health as more than an indulgence to forgo in a recession. ‘They're still coming in,’ said Jeannette Cobbs, manager of Work Out World in New Bedford. ‘It's a steady flow. It's just that they're spending less. ’The club lowered its enrollment fee ‘substantially’ a few months ago out of concern for the economic crunch, Ms. Cobbs said. She declined to disclose the enrollment charge, but said the monthly fee remains at $19.99. Work Out World is having a busy January, but not quite as busy as the same month last year, she said. In light of the recession, Curves for Women, with several SouthCoast locations, also has deepened its discounts for those with New Year's resolutions to lose weight. Last January, Curves offered 30 percent off the sign-up fee with the first 30 days free, in a deal that lasted just for that month. This year, it is offering a 50 percent discount on signing up, plus 30 days free, with the deal good until March 6, said Becky Frusher, spokeswoman for Curves International Inc. So far this January, inquiries from potential customers responding to television and online advertising are up 113 percent over the same time last year, Ms. Frusher said. Their customers tend to be 35 or older, and they are aware fitness can prevent health problems, she said. ‘These people understand — and what we're telling them, as well — is if you don't spend money now on wellness, you will spend five times more on illness,’ she said. The trend of discounts is not limited to this region. ‘With a really difficult economy, health clubs are making the effort to make membership more affordable to current members, as well new potential members,’ said Kara Thompson, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association, a trade group.” Champions Fitness in New Bedford has picked up some of Bally's former customers, and it is doing good business in spite of the economy, said Michael Tavares, who owns the club with his father. ‘We have seen more of an increase this January as opposed to previous years,’ Mr. Tavares said. Champions is offering a special low monthly fee of $9.99 to new members for the first six months, instead of last year's deal of three months, in part due to the economy, he said. He agreed with others that people will put their health first even in tough economic times.”

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