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Positive outlook builds healthy business

THE gift of a health club membership from her father has created a successful business career for WA Business News 40 Under 40 program winner Louise Roberts.

Ms Roberts received the membership for her 17th birthday and, seven years on, is the managing director of Kicks The Fitness Club at Whitford City Shopping Centre.

She has owned the club for the past two years after saving it from financial ruin.

The club was put into administration in June 2000 and the shopping centre wanted to turn its premises into a warehouse.

At the time Ms Roberts was managing a health club in Marangaroo and decided to take the challenge of bringing Kicks back to life.

When she took control of the club its 1,800-strong membership base was already starting to leave.

“We lost a lot of members. I had about 300 paying members and honoured another 500 member-ships from the previous owners,” Ms Roberts said.

“Now we have 1,500 paying members.”

Kicks is ranked 14th in the WA Business News Book of Lists list of fitness centres ranked on membership.

Ms Roberts believes her philosophy of avoiding price discounting has helped her get the once-struggling club back on its feet.

“A lot of my competitors are starting to discount, which is a concern for the whole industry. We’re starting to head back to the Laurie Potter days,” she said.

In the late 1980s the Laurie Potter health clubs started offering free life memberships – which quickly eroded its cashflows and helped force the chain out of business.

Ms Roberts believes the entry of international chains such as Fitness First and Consolidated Fitness – which is taking over BC the Body Club – will help overcome the discounting problems facing the industry.

“Fitness First is setting its membership prices at around $60 to $70 a month, which is the higher end of the scale,” she said.

“They’ll help lift the bar for other clubs. People want two things from a gym – weight loss and toning.

“Retention rates are a problem. Often new members are given unrealistic expectations. They come in full of enthusiasm, train about five days a week and burn themselves out.

“I’ve just come back from a conference in the US where retention rates are finally starting to go up.”

However, Ms Roberts said memberships were not the main revenue driver for a health club.

“Our most expensive membership is about $12 a week, which just about covers our costs,” she said.

“The most profitable area in the health club comes from our personal training services and group fitness classes.

“We have about 70 to 90 people using our personal service training and employ four full-time trainers. Some of our members take on year-round personal training services and others take in a block.

“Personal training is where you get the fastest results. It’s more of a controlled environment.

“You know the personal trainer is going to be on the phone hassling you if you don’t turn up to the gym on time and when you’re there they are going to push you.

“They also follow up on your nutrition.

“The group fitness classes have proved particularly successful. Pump – a program marrying aerobics and free weights – is our most popular program.”

Ms Roberts said health clubs were starting to design programs and weight machines to win over the older gym users.

“We have the baby boomers market made up of people with a lot of disposable income,” she said.

“We’ve started to change consumer perceptions that gyms are not just for bodybuilders. In fact, the weights I use are not big enough for bodybuilders.

“I have a huge mothers’ market. We have a good playroom for their kids, which helps.”

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