Theeconomy is a mess and facility operators know what that means. Just
to keep your head above water, you must do more with less. When
coming up against financial difficulties, it’s time to get
creative with programming — really creative
Consumers are spending less, thus programs need to stand out to
capture all the revenue possible. That means finding niches within
current programming and taking some creative risks. Here are some
ideas to get you started:
1. Find gaps, then visualize successful use.
- Does the facility have gaps in its schedule when the pool
is empty or really slow? Is a section not being used? Take a
picture, stand there, and just look at the space. What could happen
there? For example, if your pool is less crowded during the
evening, you could set up a niche program for busy adults who might
have some time at night to come in. Consider a 30-minute killer
workout for water and land to challenge this group, but respect
their full schedules.
- Who do you think could come in during the gap times? For
instance, parents who drop their kids off at swim school could be a
great niche market. Instead of just having a cup of coffee, they
could bring their coffee klatsch to the water and get a workout
while their kids take lessons.
- Make a list of the people you imagine fitting into your
gaps and where they might be found, then go advertise to them. Ask
yourself, “Where do people tend to sit and wait?”
Places such as coffee shops, doctor’s or dentist’s
offices, and barbershops are some examples. Just ask if you can
place a pile of your advertising material with the magazines.
2. Market your facility in new ways.
- Go after people already at your facility. Is there a
subgroup that can be folded into complementary programs? For
example, swim team parents are very dedicated and watch the kids
practice. If you have a facility that runs other activities, get
them involved in those. Offer adult swim lessons or some other type
of exercise program. Even a book club oriented around the facility
and focused on aquatics is a great way to bring in patrons.
- Subtle hints work wonders. To fill your slow times, try
placing an ad on the treadmills at your fitness center with a quip
on the benefits of water walking at the pool. Some ideas for ads:
“How are your knees feeling? Hips hurt? Remove the
pressure!” or “Enjoy a no-impact day at the aquatics
center.” For a visual, you could have a picture of someone
wearing a waterbelt in the pool. And make sure the ad includes the
3. Convert pop culture to pool culture.
- Set up aquatic fitness boot camps. How many gutter-ups can
you do?! Appeal to people’s sense of challenge. Fitness
centers have used boot camps for years. Why can’t aquatics
- Take a page from television. NBC’s “The
Biggest Loser” is a great example. How can you fold the pool
element from that show into a community program? They already do
some swimming exercises on the show. Start a biggest loser club and
use swimming as your main exercise. Require participants to make a
commitment. Remember to include the benefits of water workouts in
marketing materials. For overweight people, water temperature of 80
to 82 degrees Fahrenheit keeps them from experiencing heat
exhaustion. Plus, it’s much easier on joints because of
buoyancy. With the right instructor, there’s less risk of
injury, and daily aches and pains will be reduced because the
individual won’t be competing against gravity.
- Look to Wii and other video games. Who would have ever
thought that the Wii would be a huge recreation hit at retirement
centers? The Wii fit, and music, rock band, sports and the like are
huge sellers, and they appeal to all ages. Is there an
application for aquatics? Not yet, but there could be.
- Tap into the “staycation” trend. Ask your
staff and patrons what they think makes vacations fun. Create a
reason for families to take a staycation at your facility. In our
city, we make the Fourth of July a free recreational swim day and
offer a concert in the park before the fireworks. When creating
staycation ideas, remember that you need to appeal to the whole
family to come to your venue
This is easier at multipurpose facilities, but just about any place
can dream up a staycation. For example, advertise your facility as
a local cruise ship; make the front-desk person a cruise director,
throw a bon voyage party and a buffet. Make people realize they
don’t need to leave their hometown to get away.
4. Reframe, reformat and revitalize.
- Bring on the Zen. Turn down the lights, mellow out the
music and have relaxation time. Why not program for stress relief?
People pay big bucks for the sounds of water as a means to relax
— and you have a pool full of it! Make it a really quiet
time, maybe the last hour of the day. You could call it the spa
hour. Consider having experts there to talk people through
relaxation exercises in the water.
- Be with people like you. Use social networking as part
of the class format. Apply the team concept to other areas. Create
reasons for people to be excited about coming to your place, and
encourage gatherings. At our facility, the water exercise group
holds a potluck once a week. Can you facilitate something similar?
You could bring in a coffee cart after programs to make them more
You can also use existing social networking sites such as
Facebook and MySpace. Set up a Facebook group for your exercise
groups. In our community, a struggling teen excursion ski program
used a Facebook page that led to filling the bus in 48 hours.
Before that, we could barely fill a van.
- Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of popular
staffers. Lifeguards often get to know regular pool patrons.
Encourage these relationships to grow and continue outside of the
facility. It will keep people coming back, and they may bring
others. For example, we have a guard who has befriended a number of
people, and they go for a moonlight swim several times a year.
Remember, people come to you by choice. Encourage your staff to be
friendly and interact. It works.
- Appeal to alternative exercisers. Some people love to go
out on weekends and do extreme sports or marathons. These people
need a gentle come-down during the week. So a perfect niche program
is to offer them that alternative.
Consider water yoga, zero-g exercises or lactic acid cleanses.
Think in more than one dimension, too. Are you using your deck for
dryland classes as well as the water? Why not have Ti Chi classes
or aerobics classes on your deck while other programs are happening
in the water?