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Health Club Management

Health Club Management


SOFTWARE: Do you know what your members do once they're in your gym?

Access control systems have long provided operators with attendance data – but the latest products can tell you what customers do once they’re in the building. Rhianon Howells reports

By Rhianon Howells | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 2
Access all areas / PHOTOS: Shutterstock
Access all areas/ PHOTOS: Shutterstock

Until recently, the ability to capture reliable data on exactly what customers do once they go through the reception turnstiles has been limited – especially for operators that mainly offer all-inclusive memberships. But now a number of suppliers have developed multi-sector solutions that control access and collect customer data, not just at reception but at entrances throughout the facility, from the gym and studio to the pool.

There are clear operational benefits to this kind of solution, from preventing fraudulent use of facilities or services that are not within a customer’s entitlement, to limiting access to set times for specific groups or clubs.

Just as crucially, being able to collect data on specific facility usage within a club or centre has huge advantages for both marketing and development decisions, as well as being popular with local authorities and private investors who want to know what kind of bang they’re getting for their buck.

We speak to three suppliers to understand what the latest product innovations mean for operators.

CASE STUDY 1: Going swimmingly

Supplier: Gladstone

Tom Withers, Gladstone
Tom Withers, Gladstone

Late last year, Oldham Council – based in north-west England – opened two new leisure centres in Oldham and neighbouring Royton, with the dual aim of providing superior leisure facilities to the local community and ensuring that the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics lives on in the region.

At £23m, this was no small investment, so the council was understandably keen to know how the centres would be received – and not just in terms of overall attendance.

“Being able to show how the centres were being used was a major condition of our new operating contract with the council,” says Peter Howson, head of customer relations at Oldham Community Leisure (OCL), the trust that manages the borough’s 11 leisure facilities on behalf of Oldham Council. “They don’t just want to know the number of people coming through the door, but exactly what they’re doing and how often.”

OCL turned to Gladstone Health and Leisure to deliver a system that would enable it to capture this additional data. While the operator was in favour of installing turnstiles activated by RFID cards or bands at reception and the gym, it did not want turnstiles at the pool, as it felt the wet environment would inevitably cause problems with the electronic equipment.

However, with the pools constituting a significant part of the investment, gathering data on their usage was vital. Howson explains: “We knew data relating to class and activity bookings would be automatically captured when members scanned in at the reception turnstiles, while additional turnstiles at the gym would track gym usage. Swimming was the missing piece of the jigsaw.”

To overcome this, Gladstone developed a system that allows data on swimming pool usage to be collected via a mounted touchscreen located at the main reception turnstiles. Before being granted access, customers must simply answer yes or no to the on-screen question: “Are you going to swim today?”

According to Howson, the system is already paying dividends. “Until the introduction of the turnstiles, we couldn’t track what our members were doing once they got past reception. Now we can identify our popular products.”

As well as assisting with programming decisions – for example, holding classes on the gym floor when there are too many people using the equipment, or rescheduling pool-based classes for times when the pool is less busy – the data also provides a much clearer picture of where further investment is needed, says Howson.

The system is also allowing OCL to introduce new products without additional staffing costs, such as an early-morning members-only swim session. Pay-as-you-go customers will also be able to purchase RFID bands to access sessions paid for online without having to queue.

Gladstone – which developed the software and consulted with access experts ASP on the hardware design – is now looking to roll out the solution to other operators. “Providing enhanced data on how a member uses a club or centre would normally involve unprecedented investment in access control hardware covering the whole facility,” says Gladstone MD Tom Withers. “Our new access solution provides an answer where installing physical access control in all areas is either not practical or not affordable.”

A new feature of the product is the System Monitoring Tool. This solves the problem of data being lost as a result of staff manually releasing the turnstiles to allow customers through when the system denies them access. Instead, staff can click a button on a web portal to override the access denial and prevent the data being lost.

The solution also supports multi-ID options for individuals – allowing one member to check in via RFID band, card or mobile, for example – as well as a biometric option.

"Our new solution provides an answer where installing physical access control in all areas is either not practical or not affordable "- Tom Withers, Gladstone

CASE STUDY 2: Data completeness
Supplier: Legend

Supplier: Legend

Sean Maguire, Legend
Sean Maguire, Legend

Another software company using access control for enhanced data collection is Legend, which has installed multi-sector solutions for a number of clients.

“The conventional idea of access control being about membership cards and front desk check-in is outdated,” says Legend MD Sean Maguire. “Today’s Access Control Management (ACM) systems allow customers to check themselves in via computer, smartphone and kiosk, and gain access via multiple media including swipe cards, proximity cards, biometrics, pin codes, tickets and vouchers.

“Increasingly, providers also need to consider multi-sector access systems that control access not only to the main facility, but also to different areas within it, to reap the full operational and data-led benefits.”

In addition to protecting income by cutting down fraudulent access, multi-sector systems offer far greater data accuracy and completeness, says Maguire – insight that can be used to feed back to councils and investors, as well as driving upsell and programming opportunities.

“Once specific usage data is properly captured, Legend’s data analytics tool can quickly steer operators to market appropriate packages to customers – based on what their behaviour already demonstrates is their interest – and allow them to swiftly adapt programmes and capacities to optimise take-up and reduce wasted effort and cost. For example, staffing levels can be increased at busy periods, while consistently quiet periods or classes can be promoted through marketing activity or offers.”

Another advantage of Legend’s solution is its capacity to silently alert front-of-house staff in real time whenever customers are denied access to any part of the facility. For example, if a new member tries to access the gym without completing their PAR-Q, this is immediately flagged on the system, enabling staff to resolve the problem discreetly while the customer is still on the premises.

The system can also combine a variety of solutions to enable operators to offer tiered services, adds Maguire. For example, non-members might be given a card – to pre-pay for sessions online, allowing them to skip on-site queues – while members might use a biometric system to gain access to exclusive changing rooms or a members-only spa.

"Once usage data is captured, operators can market packages to customers based on what their behaviour already demonstrates is their interest" - Sean Maguire, Legend

CASE STUDY 3: Fingerprinting good

Supplier: ievo

Ashley Westgate, ievo
Ashley Westgate, ievo

Among the most advanced modes of access control currently available are biometric solutions, which use biological data – typically captured via fingerprint readers – to identify customers.

Because biometric data is unique to each individual, a major benefit of such solutions is that access can only be gained by that person. This solves the problem of ‘buddy punching’, whereby members share cards, bands or pin numbers with non-members. In addition to the security and cost benefits, this ensures the data gathered is entirely reliable, says Ashley Westgate, marketing manager at ievo, which supplies biometric fingerprint readers to four national fitness operators – among them Lifestyle Fitness – in partnership with Vistec Systems.

According to Westgate, ievo’s readers can be fully integrated into a number of membership management systems. Depending on the system and set-up, if a series of readers were then installed at key access points throughout the facility – such as the gym, pool or sauna – this could allow for much deeper monitoring of specific facility usage.

“Being able to analyse data regarding usage and key trends, either for individual members or your overall membership database, is vital to providing a tailored service,” says Westgate. “The data can tell you which sessions are most popular, as well as exactly who attended at which times, without having to allow for the no-shows.”

When integrated with a membership management system, iveo’s biometric solutions can also limit not only who has access to which facilities, but at what times. “For example, the system can be configured so only children and their registered guardians have access to the pool changing rooms during children’s swim sessions, which can help with child protection issues,” says Westgate.

ievo’s Ultimate fingerprint reader is also well-suited to damp environments, he adds. “Many readers stumble when trying to read through water or sweat on a finger, because the moisture fills the gaps between the ridges that make up the fingerprint. Ours can make a positive identification even when a finger is wet.”

"The data can tell you exactly who attended at which times, without having to allow for no-shows" -
Ashley Westgate, ievo

The latest IT systems can track who’s doing which classes – not just who’s in the club / PHOTOS: Shutterstock
The latest IT systems can track who’s doing which classes – not just who’s in the club / PHOTOS: Shutterstock
Biometric systems can ensure only registered guardians can access pool changing rooms during kids’ swim sessions / PHOTOS: Shutterstock
Biometric systems can ensure only registered guardians can access pool changing rooms during kids’ swim sessions / PHOTOS: Shutterstock
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