CA doing its best in light of fitness competition

Clubs switch gears and change focus in effort to retain membership

April 07, 2006|By TYRONE RICHARDSON | TYRONE RICHARDSON,SUN REPORTER

In the months before Life Time Fitness opened for business in February, Columbia Association tallied record-breaking attendance at its sports and fitness facilities, according to a third-quarter financial report.

The association's sports and fitness division is changing its focus to keep the wheels turning, water splashing and tennis balls flying at record levels.

"We have completed our facility renovations and changed our policies and we have been successful at getting more members than ever into our clubs," said Rob Goldman, the association's vice president for sport and fitness. "Our main goal is customer service, and we will do whatever we have to do to make them so happy they will not go anywhere else."

Not going someplace else is something the association might have to prove to members like Timothy McCormack.

The 47-year-old resident of Ellicott City has been an association sports and fitness member for 11 years. Last summer, McCormack went to see the construction site of Life Time Fitness, walked to the temporary sales desk and signed up for a family membership.

"The costs was no more than what we were paying for CA, and the facility seemed superior to what they were offering at CA," McCormack said.

In October, McCormack downgraded his association family Package Plan Plus membership to an individual membership for Supreme Sports Club. McCormack said he may not renew his association membership when it expires Sept. 30.

McCormack said he initially felt a little regret for going to Life Time because he did not see his friends at Supreme Sports Club as often. He splits time between the two facilities, and is seeing more people from Columbia Association facilities using Life Time.

"Every time, I go to Life Time, I see more and more CA members that are doing what I am doing," McCormack said. "You may get a different number of memberships at CA this time next year when people's CA memberships expire."

Goldman said he is not convinced there will be a decrease in memberships. Rather, he is confident that once the "newness" fades from Life Time Fitness in Columbia's Gateway Commerce Center, association customers will decide to stay with the Columbia Association because "they will not give up the golf courses, women's gym ... tennis courts and all that CA does."

He added: "We realize that there are a lot of people out there that are waiting for their CA memberships to expire to [decide]," Goldman said. "We will work as hard as we can to give the best facilities and most importantly, the best service possible."

In 2004, the association launched an extensive marketing campaign and spent nearly $6 million upgrading its facilities after the announcement that Life Time Fitness, a nationwide mega-gym, was opening in Columbia.

The association pushed its Package Plan Plus membership program, a plan that grants members access to items such as the association's three gyms, two golf clubs and 23 outdoor pools and five indoor pools. The plus package also includes special equipment, programs and personal services at the health clubs.

The investment is paying off, Goldman said.

"Over the last year and a half, CA has really stepped up its promotional efforts to sell memberships, both within and outside Columbia and that has been successful," Goldman said.

Between November and January, the association recorded 210,000 visits at Supreme Sports Club, 140,000 visits at Columbia Gym and 110,000 visits at Athletic Club.

The increase was about 20,000 more visits for Supreme Sports Club in comparison to the same time in past years, Goldman said. He added that the attendance at the Columbia Gym and the Athletic Club increased by about 2,000 in comparison to the same time in past years.

According to the third-quarter fiscal document, the association's sports and fitness division is projected to generate $782,000 more revenue than last year primarily because of increases in memberships.

Karen Hawkins, an association spokeswoman, said the increase in attendance will continue.

Jason Thunstrom, a spokesman for Life Time Fitness, said the Columbia facility is meeting expectations.

"Every market has some form of competition and they are not bad, they are just different than ours," Thunstrom said.

He added: "Our facilities are very unique. It is our uniqueness that draws in folks that would not consider a health club before."

Thunstrom declined to give any membership totals, but he said, "Columbia is a good market for us, and the club is performing well. ... We see the business results that we expected."

Thunstrom said the Columbia location can handle 11,500 memberships and typically the club reaches maximum membership in 36 months.

Not everyone has been sold on Life Time. Debbie Feddor, 39, of Sewells Orchard, an outparcel of Columbia, recently signed a membership extension with the association.

"The membership campaign they had was very enticing," said Feddor, who grew up using Columbia Association facilities. "One reason I signed was because they gave me a significant reduction in price."

The price wasn't the only draw for Feddor. She said she has been nurtured in association faculties and likes the opportunity to visit any of the more than 20 pools in the summer.

"I like how it works with the choices of pools. Instead of going to just one facility, I have multiple choices," she said.

Feddor said she ventured recently into Life Time Fitness one late Saturday morning.

"I was only in there once, and it seemed very busy," Feddor said. "I walked into the lobby area, and it seemed very busy and it did not seem relaxing."

tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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