If health clubs want to attract the inactive market, they need to offer more than just physical fitness. They need to create a place that enriches peoples lives on an emotional level as well. People pay to go to places that feel good to them — restaurants, movies, resorts, museums, national parks. These are examples of nice places where people get their needs met; where they can enjoy emotionally and physically satisfying experiences; where they can escape temporarily from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a health club could be such a place? If coming to a health club evoked the feeling of strolling through an art gallery; curling up in a comfortable chair; enjoying a good novel; taking a walk through the woods; enjoying a wonderful meal or getting together with an old friend. These are the things in life that make people smile; the kinds of things that leave most of us wanting more.

The next generation health club
A small, but growing number of health clubs are successfully making the shift toward attracting the inactive market. Called “lifestyle centers,” these facilities are designed, staffed and marketed with the intention of attracting people who have never been members of health clubs. The underlying objective of these facilities is to create an environment where people can enjoy themselves with or without exercise. Here’s a brief overview of the lifestyle center concept:

Personnel. The lifestyle center’s personnel is hired and trained with a primary mission — to create a sense of community within the club by building relationships with and between members. The staff’s job is not only to talk to people but to listen to them. They learn how to ask questions that encourage interaction and draw people out. Instead of members staring at television sets while they’re exercising, staff facilitate group conversations. “Who’s going to win the Academy Awards? What are your favorite video movies of all time? What vacation have you taken that you really enjoyed? Any recommendations for new restaurants?” The goal is to create a social atmosphere where there is plenty of sharing, compassion, energy, enthusiasm, empathy and laughter.

In the lifestyle center, staff meetings are held on a regular basis to discuss member relations. “I’ve got a member who is struggling with this.” Or, “this member is interested in meeting with people, and we’re having a hard time getting her connected. Any suggestions?” “Are we doing everything possible to meet the needs of our members?” The purpose of these meetings is to problem-solve, brainstorm and develop staff communication skills.

Facility. The lifestyle center concept is ideally suited for suburban areas with high concentrations of middle- to upper-income professionals with children. The facility is centrally located with at least 5,000 to 10,000 square feet devoted to an exercise area (studio, circuit and cardio areas), a children’s center, meeting space, a member lounge, reception area, offices and changing areas.

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