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New Year, New Gym Membership

New Year, New Gym Membership

Does the fitness business encourage or endure the January hordes?

The gym parking lot is full, nutrition brands are hawking goods inside and there’s a line for every elliptical and weight machine. What day is it? The first workday after the New Year’s holiday. Gyms are—temporarily—packed as people work to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions.

But while January is certainly important to the fitness industry, it isn’t the make-or-break month that December is to many retailers. January is indeed the busiest for gym membership sign-ups in the United States, according to Mark Daly, national media director at Woodbury-based Anytime Fitness LLC. He says the company, with more than 3,000 locations worldwide, adds about 7 percent to 8 percent of total annual memberships in an average month. In January, that doubles to 13 percent.

Indeed, he says membership spikes three times during the year: January is the highest, followed by April (as people prepare for swimsuit season) and September, which Daly attributes to parents having more free time once kids go back to school. Chanhassen-based Life Time Fitness Inc. sees closer to a 50 percent January

bump over a typical month, according to CEO Bahram Akradi. He believes the crowding doesn’t affect operations. Akradi calls Life Time’s model—a full-service, higher-priced fitness and lifestyle center—a “use model,” where the majority of members are regularly visiting throughout the year.

“The influx of incremental membership sold in one month isn’t going to change the daily traffic in the club that would dramatically affect one’s experience,” Akradi says. “It’s really a non-event to our business model.”

He contrasts that with lower-priced gyms that rely on a “non-use model,” where the bulk of members pay dues without going—except in January, when they flock there for two to four weeks, overwhelming the facility services, before dropping out again.

While Daly and Akradi each downplay January’s overall impact, both companies market specifically to the holidays, and anyone who works out at one of their facilities can attest to the January crowding. Anytime’s December and January marketing focuses on its 30-day “Get Started” plan. In 2013 Life Time created “Commitment Day,” now a weeklong endeavor where it hosts classes and events to encourage people to commit to healthier habits.

“I’d love to see more people achieve health and well-being,” says Akradi, “even if they go to a competitor of ours.” —Andre Eggert