Four Tips to Stretch Your Budget – How to Fulfill Your Fitness Needs when Money and Time are Tight
There comes a certain time of year when Human Resources departments, apartment community managers, coaches, activities directors, wellness coordinators, recreation supervisors and even fire chiefs (among countless others) are figuring out their fitness equipment budgets for the coming year. The choices are never easy, as just like computers, cars and other complex equipment, things need to be repaired, updated or replaced on a timely basis. Here are our tips on how to plan a fitness facility on a budget.
It can be a daunting task to assess all the equipment that needs to be replaced or fixed, all the projects that need to fit into the months ahead, and where all of the dollars and time needed will come from. For some, like recreation center managers, budgeting and caring for fitness equipment is a full time focus, but for others, like the fire chief, it’s only a minor part of much broader responsibilities. For anyone who has to look after a facility that has a fitness component, it can be a struggle to evaluate what needs to be done to stay competitive and current, and then try to convince the powers that be to approve some priorities over others. Whether you have a steady allocation of resources to work with, or if you’re working with a “feast or famine” kind of budget cycle, here are four of the top ways to stretch your budget and get the most bang for every buck.
Think Beyond Cost
It’s often easy to be swayed by a low equipment cost at the outset, but don’t make the assumption that lower initial cost means lower overall cost. That’s not always, or even not often, the case.
Whether you’re looking at basic strength equipment or technologically advanced cardio equipment, it’s vital to consider the total lifespan cost of the equipment, including expected maintenance, repair costs and down-time. Budgeting for the lower-tiered equipment may end up eating more of your funds in the long term if you have to repair or replace items more often.
Purchasing higher quality or more appropriate equipment (think commercial equipment that’s ready for hundreds of hours of use by dozens of people versus home use equipment that’s built for one or two users and much less frequency/far fewer lifetime hours) can save you thousands in repair and replacement costs. Some higher end equipment manufacturers offer extended warranties that can protect your equipment like a bumper-to-bumper car warranty, for up to three years or more. However, it can be challenging to justify additional expense in the eyes of the management decision makers, the recreation facility board, or whoever controls the checkbook.
Consider this. Exercise equipment can experience unforeseen and expensive repairs. If a simple treadmill repair costs you $150, you’ve gotten off easy, as many repairs can run $700-$800 or higher. Like any high end appliance, it’s not just the repair you’re paying for, it’s the service labor which can add $75+ per hour plus travel time to the bill.
You can choose to purchase equipment that’s less complex, less technology-heavy, but if you’re in the business of keeping fitness-minded tenants happy you risk losing your audience of trendy users to better options, which may sway their satisfaction with your facility. If you’re outfitting a corporate fitness center or a municipal facility it’s not necessarily as critical to competitively stay in the lead, though as fitness options continue to advance so do the training results that fitness enthusiasts of all ages and types seek out for their own use and benefit.
If you’re a school, your fitness facility and equipment is part of your support of your students and teams. If you’re managing an apartment building, the quality of your fitness options might mean the difference between securing a lease or losing it to someone else who has better “perks.” Since fitness centers are often add-ons that don’t directly drive revenue, at least not usually, the maintenance and continual upkeep of the equipment may not initially be considered. However, for fitness facilities to continually add value to a community they need to be used and appreciated, which are hard to accomplish if equipment is not operating well or not available.
Try Working with Sponsors
For schools and certain municipal recreation programs, budgets can be expanded by working with private sponsors or even donors who want to add their brand or their name into the mix to recognize their philanthropy. High School and other athletic programs can raise much-needed funds through booster clubs or parent donations, or by partnering with local business interests who have a kinship with the students and community.
Relying on philanthropic programs to expand your budget isn’t an easy solution, and it’s not for everyone. It usually takes a great deal of leg work and a fair amount of time to pull together enough of a donation to really make a difference, but in certain circumstances it’s an accessible win-win way to expand the budget where you need to. There are numerous companies who might like their name on a plaque in the fitness center, to help decades of students (and potential employees and loyal customers) accomplish their goals.
Leasing is surprisingly underutilized when it comes to fitness equipment, or at least it has been. “Many don’t see the value in keeping up with fitness equipment changes as we evolve at a similar pace to technology,” says Laura Emrich, a fitness design consultant with Advanced Exercise. “Being connected is important, and many of the fitness equipment choices available have integrated technology, especially cardio equipment, and that can change dramatically over a three year period. With a lease, clients can turn in and trade up with equipment to keep up with the technology evolution that fitness users depend on.”
A lease allows a consistent upgrade every three to four years, and it’s a reliable budget amount per year, which keeps operating costs a bit more even keel. With the cash flow outlay a bit more predictable, you can free up additional resources for planning a fitness facility on a budget.
You can also lease for as little as one or two pieces of cardio equipment if you want, instead of dozens of pieces of equipment that might not change as much. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to lease some of your strength equipment, as barbells and kettlebells haven’t changed much and they last for years. However many clients consider leasing cardio equipment for a fraction of the up front cost of purchase, knowing they want to keep pace with the evolution that is sure to come in this space.
“Even if you were to purchase equipment and trade it in when you’re ready to upgrade, you’re likely to be offered roughly the same amount if you lease it as it’s based on Fair Market Value,” continues Emrich. “And for a lower monthly outlay, it makes sense to divert that cash to other things to stay competitive, since the outcome is roughly the same.” Besides, with leasing options only lasting three to five years, you’re rarely out of warranty protection, which cuts down on costly repairs as well.
There can be some tax advantages to leasing as well, and yet less than 10 percent of clients take advantage of leasing options. It seems that many clients underestimate the importance of staying abreast of equipment evolution. For many high-end facilities where clients are apt to notice that things are dated and therefore less appealing as an amenity, meeting user expectations is vital to driving revenue and it keeps the need to upgrade equipment front and center.
“Think of the fitness tracking trends that have occurred over the last three to five years,” observed Emrich. “Biometrics has come a long way and we’ve seen the transition from dot matrix screens to TVs, now Internet integration and tablets instead of consoles. Wearables, heart rate monitors, even portable apps that interface between equipment and phone. The pace of change is incredible in how people are using equipment and tracking their performance. Consumer expectations are high in this space.”
Be Flexible with Product Choices
Beyond the financial budget that can dictate the product choice (based on the class of product that you need and can afford), the timing budget needs to be taken into consideration as well. In some municipal sectors, equipment budgets are freed up (if there are leftover funds or budget shortfalls in other areas occur before the fiscal year is up) and need to be filled quickly.
“Many times our municipal customers have year-end budget that has to be spent by the end of a calendar year. An often overlooked factor is that many times the windfall of this money comes with the caveat that equipment has to arrive in the building before the end of the calendar year,” said Bruce Schlagel, vice president of sales for Advanced Exercise. “It is critical to know the product they are looking to purchase and the lead times, to direct them to the best options. One overlooked factor is if the purchase has to go out to bid, this additional time needs to be calculated into the equation to ensure adequate time is allowed.”
Fitness facilities across the country, whether they’re in apartment complexes, office buildings, schools or other areas, are highly prized by the communities that use them. Fitness centers rank as one of the top amenities for renters, and making sure that your fitness equipment and facility are compelling and competitive destinations for your users leads to revenue (retention especially). Protecting that revenue by is vital, and that takes investment to plan a fitness facility on a budget. There are ways to make that investment stretch so that you can stay on top of the fitness trends that users are asking for, maintain the equipment you have so that users are satisfied, and keep your budgets more predictable and manageable during tight times.
About Advanced Exercise
Founded in 1986, Advanced Exercise is a leading fitness equipment and facility design resource, representing more than 30 equipment brands to bring clients the best new or used equipment solutions to maximize the use of available space and meet the needs of a diverse community of fitness amenity end users. For more information on fitness equipment and facility design services, visit www.advancedexercise.com or call 800-520-1112 to connect with one of Advanced Exercise’s experts.