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Gyms filled with new members resolving to get fit

Thursday, January 3, 2013
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Amanda Schermerhorn, a senior at SUNY Plattsburg, on Christmas break, works on a 6:20 running pace at the Downtown Schenectady  YMCA on Thursday morning.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Amanda Schermerhorn, a senior at SUNY Plattsburg, on Christmas break, works on a 6:20 running pace at the Downtown Schenectady YMCA on Thursday morning.

— January is to Dave Leon what December is to retailers nationwide. He advertises promotions, ramps up the number of employees assigned to each shift, makes sure his equipment is up to snuff and monitors parking carefully.

It’s the month of the “Resolutioners.”

Sometimes they stay for six weeks. Sometimes for two months. One thing is for sure, though: Health clubs will always have an influx of new members to ring in the New Year.

“We had one of the best New Year’s we’ve ever had,” said Leon, owner of 10 Planet Fitness clubs across the Capital Region.

The national fitness chain ran a year-end promotion offering a 12-month membership for $99 that ended Tuesday. On the last day of the discount, 1,500 new members signed up at local clubs — double what Leon witnessed at his clubs last New Year’s.

“We’ve done as well as 75 new members per day per club in years past, but never this good,” he said. “I can’t attribute it to a lot, other than I think we’re just so cheap still compared to the average fitness center and probably the fact that our brand recognition is stronger than ever.”

A regular Planet Fitness membership is $10 a month, a low enough rate that already keeps many members from ditching their memberships after their resolution motivation wears off.

Attendance increases for many gyms between new member check-ins and old members getting back on the wagon. A local Planet Fitness that usually sees 700 visits on a regular day will see up to 2,000 visits this time of year, said Leon.

But while some regulars bemoan the arrival of the Resolutioners — for taking up prime parking spaces, lockers and favorite ellipticals, stationary bikes and treadmills — Planet Fitness welcomes them with open arms. The chain pours millions of dollars into ad campaigns that mock gym buffs and appeal to the gym-wary among us.

“My clientele are the newbies,” said Leon. “They don’t like the guy that works out probably five days a week and an hour and a half a day looking at them weird like they’re not even welcome.”

Even at Best Fitness, a “results-based” fitness club that tends to attract fitness fanatics, there’s enough room for the Resolutioners.

“January is our busiest month,” said Brian Meyers, operations manager at Best Fitness in Schenectady. “But the great thing with our location is we don’t get those complaints at all because we have so much space and so much equipment.”

Meyers said the staff works hard to keep retention rates high after the January bump. New members and attendance do tend to wane after the first month or two of the year, but visitors are encouraged to take a fitness orientation and join an online nutrition program that catches those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

At Best Fitness in Albany, new membership ranges from 100 to 200 in a normal month and reaches a peak of 600 in January.

“We make sure our staff is really well-trained and able to multitask,” said Karli Taylor, vice president of personal training. “We make more trainers available and add new classes.”

The Capital District YMCA waives its $100 initiation fee in the last couple of weeks of December and first two weeks of January, in anticipation of double-digit new membership growth at its 10 branches.

Staff have found that connecting new members with the stalwart gym-goers sometimes helps the Resolutioners stick around.

“We always say at the Y, ‘We help you keep your resolution, not just make it,’ ” said Capital District YMCA spokeswoman Erin Breslin. “We’re about more than just the excitement at the beginning of the year. We’re with you as a partner for the long haul.”

 
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