The lifestyle center’s atmosphere can be enhanced for relatively little cost by making strategic trades with key members and local businesses.

The more children’s programs offered, the better. Indoor and outdoor child-care facilities are ideal. If the programs and facility appeals to kids, moms and dads will come more often. Lounge areas are comfortable, enclosed areas where people can relax, have a cup of coffee, read, visit, listen to music or watch a video. Menus from local restaurants are available for people who want to pick up a take-out dinner on the way home. The area also offers a computer, CD-ROM, fax/modem and printer. Massage chairs are provided. The whole idea is to create a place that members can call their own that offers other “healthy” experiences , in addition to exercise.

Lifestyle centers with meeting space benefit from the growing interest in adult continuing education programs. Facilities produce quarterly catalogues of classes and programs and distribute them throughout the community. Topics aren’t limited to health and fitness either. The key is finding interesting, knowledgeable people in the community who are motivated to share their expertise and gain exposure.

Programming. The greatest challenge for the lifestyle center is to diversify its programming beyond just cardiovascular and resistance training. Examples include swing dancing, Tai Chi, healthy cooking classes, dog obedience classes or simply taking a group of people for outdoor walks. If the facility has the space for it, a community garden is a terrific draw, particularly for older adults. Food can be grown and served as part of a cooking demonstration or potluck dinner party.

In a sense, the lifestyle center is like a private community recreation program. It continuously offers a variety of activities that members can experience both in and out of the center. All programming features a strong social component. The lifestyle concept is not only about conditioning and training — it’s about enjoying life, developing relationships and being active.

Marketing. The time has come for a new marketing message. Lifestyle centers differentiate themselves from traditional health clubs by shifting their marketing message from “the way you’ll look” to “the way you’ll feel.” No more references to couch potatoes, New Year’s resolutions, bathing suit season or state-of-the-art facilities. Instead of suggesting that there’s something wrong with people, lifestyle centers promote a more accepting, inviting message. The center has a strong spokesperson who regularly goes out into the community and promotes at corporations, community organizations, women’s groups, seniors groups, childbirth education classes, etc. Lifestyle centers focus their marketing efforts on word-of-mouth advertising, special events and local publicity campaigns, rather than print and direct-mail media. Local television advertising appears to be a promising avenue, as well.

The time is now
The aging of America. A managed care system striving to reduce health care utilization. A growing concern over quality-of-life issues. Child-care shortages. Social isolation. Never before has our society been more ready for the lifestyle center concept. The business opportunity that a lifestyle center presents is significant enough that many health clubs are already heading in this direction. Among the approaches being explored are club conversions, free-standing satellite facilities and facilities within facilities.

The time is now for the next generation of health clubs. The question is: Is the health and fitness industry ready and able to capitalize on the opportunity?

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