I have worked in clients’ homes, small gyms, national chain gyms, and a large single unit health club. Each type of gym has its own operational quirks, the focus of the business has been the same. Now working at a fitness center in a country club, there are major differences to all the experiences I’ve had since entering the fitness industry.
A country club markets itself as an exclusive community for the affluent and wealthy. They require memberships like a gym or health club, they also do not want the large volume of members like a gym or health club. Fitness is an add-on at a country club and not the primary focus of revenue and operations. The fitness center is often viewed as a cost center that if it breaks even, that’s acceptable as if turning a profit. These viewpoints are foreign to me coming into a country club from the fitness industry.
The best way to describe many fitness centers at country clubs is to say they are a nice hotel gym. Go to your Hilton or Marriott resort, and you have seen a country club fitness center. It is adequate for a workout or two during a week’s stay, nothing more. Maybe a personal trainer works part time with a few clients who are past their fitness prime. The equipment looks relatively new, it is likely 15-20 years old and sparsely used. This scenario is what I became part of at Beau Chene CC after leaving Franco’s Athletic Club.
Golf is the ace, king, and queen at a country club; tennis is the jack, and any type of fitness center is the ten in a royal flush. Getting used to this pecking order has taken time. The operational systems are not fitness friendly, and are focused on food and beverage, golf, and somewhat on tennis. Expanding the personal trainer staff is not what these systems have in mind.
There is a large opportunity for country clubs to invest in fitness centers to gain members that have no interest in golf, but an interest in the country club lifestyle. A country club will never and does not want to compete directly with big box gyms and health clubs, it can compete with local health clubs for families that desire a more exclusive experience for comparable dollars. In a residential neighborhood where homeowners can opt out of joining the country club, an updated and larger sized fitness center can attract these residents to stay in the gates.
Group fitness classes are always a big draw for health clubs, they can also be at country clubs. Group classes are catered towards women with a few exceptions, one being spin bike classes. Beau Chene CC is investing in spin bikes to enhance the membership experience and be more attractive to families looking for a more upscale club. No other country clubs in our region offer spin classes.
Nothing completes an exclusive experience like an experienced personal training staff. Yes, there was a time when I had no experience and got it at a big box gym. Those places are perfect for new trainers to figure out if they want to do the job, and what types of clients they work best with. At a country club, having staff that know how to build relationships with affluent members is crucial for success. Personal training can be significant additional revenue, and training breeds training. When members see other members similar to them using a trainer, they want to keep up with the Joneses, especially in an exclusive environment that can create more exclusivity!
The challenge country clubs face is in marketing fitness services to the public. It is taboo for country clubs to advertise because of the fear they aren’t being exclusive and attracting the affluent. Some country clubs have a policy that new members must be sponsored by existing members to join. I think this is a regional decision based on demographic and socioeconomic factors. In an area with mostly middle to upper middle-class families, targeted messaging can be highly effective to attract the desired demographic. Creating or expanding a fitness center requires an investment in time and capital, why not get a big ROI?
There is no one-size-fits-all fitness center template. With study of the local socioeconomic and business landscape, a fitness center can be a profit center with proper management. I am excited about the future at Beau Chene CC and how we can be an example for other country clubs across the country to follow.