NEW YORK — January is for fitness centers what December is for retailers: a bad month makes for a bad year.
And with people spending less and less likely to overindulge this year, some in the fitness business are working harder to make sure they don’t find themselves on the ropes.
"We’re all kind of holding our breath,” said Ben Quist, co-owner of Form & Fitness in Grafton, Wis. He said while his club hasn’t seen a decline in memberships, he is a little nervous. One-third of the club’s annual revenue comes from new memberships in January, he said.
"These next three months, I need to take in a handsome chunk of our revenue,” Quist said.
Historically, January is the biggest month for new membership enrollment at health clubs, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Many fitness centers introduce some of their best deals, hoping to entice new members and lock them into a yearlong (or longer) contract.
The number of gym memberships dropped 3 percent to 41.5 million during 2007, according to the association. At the same time, the number of fitness centers is increasing.
There were 29,636 commercial fitness centers in 2007, up from 29,357 in 2006, according to the association. And in most big metropolitan markets, every commercial fitness facility has 10 to 25 competitive fitness operations within its prime target area, the association reports.
Health club memberships tend to skew towards those earning $50,000 or more, who are not the hardest hit by the economy, said David Lockwood, research director at Mintel, a market research company.
But almost all consumers are cutting spending across the board. And for people with lower incomes, a gym is a likely first cut, he said.
"We have to assume that the ‘New Year’s resolve people’ who join clubs en masse in January and others who do so for winter months will be fewer in number this year because of the economy,” Lockwood said in an e-mail.