Niche marketing key for Reno-area fitness centers |

Niche marketing key for Reno-area fitness centers

John Seelmeyer

Savvy operators of fitness centers know that location is one of the biggest factors in their success is the highly competitive northern Nevada market.

The trading area for most of them is an area no more than a 10- to 12-minute drive from the club, says the Boston-based International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

But wooing potential club members outside of that primary area — a big job as clubs gear up for their annual January crush — requires careful positioning into a niche of the fitness market.

Saint Mary’s Fitness Center, for instance, capitalizes on its location on the campus of the downtown hospital to emphasize its ability to provide medical fitness and advice from medically trained professionals.

“Equipment is equipment, but knowledge is knowledge,” says Miles Mettler, its doctorate-toting administrator.

A couple of miles away on Rock Boulevard, American Iron Gym markets itself as an original gym — the sort of place that develops power lifters and youth athletes.

“We’ve always been true to our brand,” says Tamara Lopes, who co-owns the longtime gym with her husband, Bob.

And yet another approach is taken by South Reno Athletic Club, the sprawling 92,000-square-foot facility alongside Interstate 580 in South Meadows.

At least twice the size of most of its fitness center competors, South Reno Athletic Club’s offerings range from indoor basketball, an indoor driving range and three weightrooms to racquetball facilities.

“Our niche is that we offer everything,” says Karl Toth, its director of marketing. “When people walk in, there’s a shock factor.”

The importance of finding a niche in the market has grown, Lopes says, as Reno-Sparks in the last decade has become home to as many fitness centers per capita as any place in the country.

And the battle for fitness customers has grown all the more fierce with the growth of boutique studios — low-overhead operations that provide specialized services such as yoga, CrossFit or sport-specific training.

Nationally, those boutiques have captured 21 percent of the fitness market, says the industry association.

Even more competition to traditional fitness centers in northern Nevada has come from 24-hour key clubs such as Anytime Fitness, which has about a dozen franchised locations in the Reno-Tahoe region.

While boutique studios in retail strip centers and other locations present competition to traditional gyms and fitness centers, Lopes note that they also serve as a gateway for folks who later decide to sign up at a full-service facility.

Larger and mid-sized gyms often respond by carving out space for the latest hot concept from the boutiques, Toth says. South Reno Athletic Club, for instance, devotes a good chunk of its space these days to “functional training,” the sort of workouts popularized by CrossFit.

And Mettler notes that many clients of boutique centers simultaneously have memberships in larger facilities. At least 65 percent of studio members nationally also have membership at another club, says the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

The jostling for position in the marketplace is particularly important, to the surprise of no one, during the season of New Year’s resolutions.

Fitness clubs see an average of 12.1 percent membership growth during January, the industry association says, compared with growth rates that run about 8 percent through the summer and autumn months. (Spring, with its promise of swimsuit weather to come, also is a big time for membership sales.)

The conversation with potential clients almost always starts with the price of membership, but club owners steer the conversation elsewhere pretty quickly.

“Price is the only thing that people know to ask,” says Mettler. “It’s a natural thing. But we really don’t compete on price.”

Instead, fitness-center sales staffs typically focus on equipment and services such as child-care, the personal trainers who typically are used by about 12 percent of healthclub members or the classes that typically draw about 43 percent of club members.

And beyond the facilities and the service, the atmosphere of a fitness center provides a key selling point.

“Our members support each other. There’s no judgment,” says Lopes. “Good people bring other good people.”

And once those memberships are sold, the big job facing fitness operators during the next 12 months will be retention.

An analysis of the fitness business by the Center for Economic Vitality at Western Washington University estimates that a 25,000-square-foot gym with a typical membership of 3,000 members can expect to lose 35 to 40 percent of its members to non-renewal each year.

That means that a fitness business needs to replace 1,000 to 1,200 members a year just to stay even with the previous year’s numbers.