July 21, 2008
In an Out-of-Shape Economy, Gym Memberships Decline
By Larissa Theodore, Beaver County Times, Pa.
Jul. 21--SPAS and SALONS
Audrey Guskey, professor of marketing at Duquesne University, said spas and salons are not hurting as much as fitness centers because they are more affordable, convenient and close by.
"People scrimp on certain things like vacations, but they'll splurge on a tanning center or spa treatment or getting their nails done," Guskey said. "People will be thrifty, cut coupons for food, or do buy-one-get-one, but they're not going to not get their nails done, or go tanning or get a massage."
In the past three years, John DiNardo has seen a decline in gym membership at his Hopewell Township fitness center.
While people quit coming to gyms for various reasons, DiNardo, owner of DiNardo Fitness at 2284 Brodhead Road, is sure the economy can be blamed for many of the departures.
"People are saving for other things instead of spending it on gym memberships ... I believe it's strongly the economy and job situations. There's not enough good job opportunities in the area," DiNardo said.
As economic pressures mount, people aren't giving up exercise, but they are letting go of the extra cost of gym memberships.
"With the gas prices being so high and people being really pressed for money, one of the things that may go is their fitness center memberships, especially in the summertime," said Audrey Guskey, professor of marketing at Duquesne University.
Fred Kaminski, 75, of Conway is one of them. In shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt, Kaminski walked laps at the Beaver Valley Mall on Friday morning to get in his daily workout. Kaminski used to belong to a gym in Baden, but said he gave it up because he wasn't interested in the weightlifting equipment, and paying to belong to a gym didn't add up when he can walk his neighborhood or the mall and get the same results for free.
Now Kaminski, who has had two hip replacements, walks his neighborhood almost daily and goes to the mall when it's exceptionally hot.
Rising prices on everything from food to gasoline are pushing consumers to tighten their belts rather than their abs.
The sluggish economy has caused the first nationwide decrease in gym memberships in more than a decade, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association's June report.
"While the health and fitness industry historically has been fairly recession-resilient, it is certainly not immune to economic factors that affect the global fitness market -- among these factors are the current credit crunch, increased competition and rising expenses," Katie Rollauer, the association's senior manager of research, wrote regarding the most recent findings.
The association, which represents the health industry, had projected memberships would increase by 1.5 million from 2006 to 2007, but instead the rate slumped off by about 1 million.
The median cost for monthly gym memberships is $55 for commercial health clubs, with monthly fees ranging from $30 to hundreds of dollars, according to IHRSA figures.
Mary Beth Anderson, 47, of Chippewa Township was a member of Curves, but canceled in early spring because she'd rather exercise outside.
"I couldn't see continuing to go during the summer," said Anderson as she walked at the Bradys Run walking trail in Brighton Township.
To make up for lost income, some gyms are reducing initial fees or running specials to attract would-be members.
"We run a few specials here," said DiNardo, who said first-timers are given a chance to join with no money down.
The gym also offers free tours and payment options. Members can opt to pay $58 on the month-to-month basis without a contract, or $48 a month with an annual contract.
DiNardo said memberships tend to drop more during the summer, when many can exercise outside, plan vacations or have children out of school. It's also hard to entice someone who is already biking or walking to save on gas to come to the gym and use a treadmill.
"People are prioritizing things," DiNardo said. "What's most important, spending $40 a day on gas or $40 a month on a gym membership?"
Mary Jane Tillia, an employee at Femlines Fitness for Women in Big Beaver, said membership has held fairly steady despite a nationwide decline, although the membership base isn't huge.
"I just signed up a new member on Monday, so that's a good sign," Tillia said.
Bill Parise, director of the Beaver County YMCA, said membership grew by seven members last month to 10,241.
"Our membership is really very steady," he said.
On Wednesday alone, the Rochester Township facility hit 1,800 visits.
"That's large for us in the summer," Parise said. "Part of it is, it's very hot, and our building is nice and cool. Our numbers have actually been very, very good."
The Y charges $13 for youth members and about $53 a month for a family. Still, Parise said, the Y always has cancellations, mainly because someone moves out of town. Sometimes people lose their jobs and can't afford the costs, but in those cases, scholarships to the Y are offered, Parise said.
While canceling may not add much extra to a person's budget, old-fashioned alternatives, such as parks and bike trails, are free.
"There are a lot of opportunities for Pittsburghers to run, walk, go to the park, go swimming, which may cost $5 per person, rather $100 per month for a family. There are a lot of options that people do have," said Duquesne University's Guskey.
Consumers who would rather work out in a gym can ask for a trial membership before joining. Some might find it's cheaper to pay each time they visit.
Guskey also suggested checking out local high schools, which sometimes have swimming pools at low cost, if not free, or fitness centers that are open to residents.
Larissa Theodore can be reached online at [email protected]
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