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New Year's resolution boosts business

Bulloch gyms expect rush of memberships at beginning of 2007

    As many area retailers take a long awaited break from the marathon holiday shopping season, local health and fitness gyms are gearing up for their "busy season" – January through April.
    Part NewYear's resolution and part desire to look good in a bathing suit before the hot weather hits, gyms across the nation see a tremendous surge in new memberships during the first three to four months of the year.
    "It's like our Christmas season to be honest with you," said Angie Hitchens, co-owner of 180 Fitness in the College Plaza shopping center on Fair Road in Statesboro. "I would say that 50 percent of our new memberships come in the first four months of the year."
    Hitchens and her partner, Brandon Blair purchased the gym, formerly known as Gold's Gym, almost a year ago renaming it 180 Fitness. Hitchens had served as manager of Gold's Gym for several years prior to her and Blair's acquisition of it.
    "When Brandon and I moved the gym to its new location from Fair Road to College Plaza this past November, we really weren't sure what to expect as far a membership goes," Hitchens said. "We had a record month for new memberships in November which is really unusual. I hope that the normal cycle of new membership sign-ups continues and we have a big first quarter as well."
    Hitchens and other local gym owners depend on this time of year to boost their "rolls" with new members.
    Kathy Powell, owner of the local arm of Ladies Workout Express, said she structures her marketing to address the upcoming busy season.
    "From print ads to thousands of postcards, this is a time of heavy marketing for us," Powell said. "Within a day or two of New Year's, we begin to see new traffic in the gym really pick up."
    "By next week, it begins to get really busy as the number of new signees builds through February and March," she said. "It's like you start out with a bang and it gets bigger and bigger as you go. That is the time that we enroll the majority of our new members each year."
    Research published by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), a Boston, Ma., based  trade association serving the health and fitness club industry, substantiates the claims of local gym owners. The IHRSA states that the first quarter of the calendar remains the key period in the year for new member acquisition for the club industry.
    However, nationwide, the IHRSA states that the largest single month for new membership sales is in January whereas local gyms see their sales build to a crescendo in the beginning of the spring.
    "For my gym or any gym for that matter, January through April is a time of significant increase in a gym's membership rolls," said Terry McDaniel, owner of Xzorbit Fitness on Highway 80 West in Statesboro. "Some people would think that January would be our biggest month, but it really is April as summer approaches."
    "I opened my gym five years ago," he said. "Each year has tracked the same. The first four months are just huge. We enroll 75 percent of our new members during that time."
    What was considered a fad by many only a few years ago, health clubs have evolved into a $15.9 billion dollar industry in the United States alone according to the IHRSA. Industry statistics provided by the association cite the existence of over 29,000 health clubs in the U.S. with over 41 million members collectively.
    As important as new memberships are to the health and vitality of any gym, retention of its members is equally important.
    "We gear up to sign new members, but the most important part of our business is retention," Powell said. "We work really hard at trying to give them what they want, and to keep them happy."
    Hitchens and Blair agreed stating they designed their new gym location around the evolving needs of gym members.
    "When we moved, we designated a room for children's exercise classes called KIDSFIT classes," Blair said. "We also expanded the child care area and provide supervision in that area as well."
    "The bottom line is most people don't want to come to a gym, it is something that they need to do," Hitchens said. "We want to make it fun and convenient while providing many different ways to work out. There is something for everybody."

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