In 1991, when fitness centers were scarce in Johnson County, the new Greenwood Community Center was a unique and popular destination. Its fitness and recreation programs continually attracted new members with no need for marketing or advertising.

After 24 years, however, many new fitness centers have sprung up in the surrounding area, and competition has become a reality. Attracting and retaining members is now a bigger challenge, said Rob Taggart, Greenwood parks and recreation director.

“Now we’ve got L.A. Fitness, Planet Fitness and other big fitness centers all around us,” Taggart said. “We’ve got churches that have replicated our fitness center model. There is a lot more competition out there today.”

At its peak in 2006, Greenwood Community Center had about 1,600 members; now it has closer to 1,400.

Story continues below gallery

About 30 health clubs are open in Johnson County and the southside, and that’s not including gymnasiums and exercise rooms operated by local churches. With this kind of competition, city-owned fitness centers now have to evaluate the hours they are open and add popular, new equipment and classes to keep people coming through the doors.

Franklin Cultural Arts & Recreation Center opened in 1999. Like the Greenwood facility, it offers sports, recreation and space for creative arts classes, but its most popular feature is the fitness center. Since opening, the fitness center has been renovated twice, regularly adds new equipment, has expanded hours and has added popular exercise programs. The Franklin Parks and Recreation Department also heavily promotes the facility and its programs.

The facility has seen steady growth in both membership and revenue over the past three years. Memberships have gone from 2,526 to 2,743 over the past three years, a nearly 9 percent increase. Annual revenue from membership and program fees has gone from $99,601 to $124,619, a 25 percent increase.

“We really don’t notice the competition,” said Chip Orner, director of Franklin parks and recreation. “I’m sure it’s there, but I just don’t think it affects us too much. One of the reasons is that our prices are so low in comparison to the commercial fitness centers.”

Lower membership fees

To be fair, the Cultural Arts & Recreation Center competes with considerably fewer local fitness centers than the Greenwood Community Center. But both have an edge on the competition through their significantly lower membership fees.

Franklin residents can purchase an individual membership at the Franklin center for $95 per year. At the Greenwood Community Center, adult residents can purchase a membership for $125 per year, with discounted rates for seniors. Memberships at popular fitness chains like L.A. Fitness, Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness, with each having locations in the area, can cost from $150 to more than $350 a year.

Membership at the Greenwood center has declined in recent years, as has annual revenue. Last year, the community center brought in $175,000 and had operational costs of $108,000 — not including staff salaries and benefits. The community center is supported through the parks department’s $1.7 million annual budget, but the city would like to make the facility more self-sustaining, Taggart said.

Now, the city is planning a substantial overhaul of the center to catch up with local competition, boost membership and better meet the needs of members. Greenwood has not made any major structural or interior updates to the facility in 24 years. The city has hired Indianapolis architectural firm Arc Design to collect input from members, explore new designs and devise a master plan for progressive future updates.

At a recent public meeting to gather ideas, community center members suggested adding an indoor pool, walking track, a sauna, a coffee shop or juice bar, and remodeled restrooms.

The center is long overdue for an update and needs to become more in tune with the needs of today’s Greenwood residents, Taggart said.

“We’ve got to change the way we think, and we need to become more relevant to the community,” he said.

The city also has no official marketing plan in place for promotion of its center. In the early days of Greenwood and Franklin’s community centers, simple word-of-mouth advertising was often enough to keep new members coming in. Today, implementing a formal marketing and advertising strategy, with particular emphasis on social media, is crucial, Orner said.

Franklin added a full-time marketing employee in 2012 to promote parks department activities, leading to more revenue and membership growth over the past three years, Orner said.

Greenwood is working to develop a marketing and advertising strategy for the community center, with the potential of adding an employee.

“We would greatly benefit from creating a new marketing position,” Taggart said. “It’s definitely a need, and we are working toward it.”

In Hamilton County, the Carmel-Clay Parks & Recreation Department has used creative thinking and foresight in the operation of its award-winning Monon Community Center. The center currently has 12,500 members, and adult memberships are $38 per month, which comes up to $456 a year. The parks department also has an annual budget of nearly $5.2 million, which includes the Monon center and the city’s aquatic park, with last year’s revenue being around $5 million. The community center consistently strives for and achieves being self-sufficient, said Mark Westermeier, director of Carmel-Clay Parks & Recreation.

The city puts a high emphasis on the facility’s maintenance and ensuring that everything is kept up-to-date, Westermeier said.

“To keep people coming in, you have to maintain the quality of your facility and programs, stay current with fitness and design trends and keep your equipment up to date,” Westermeier said. “You need to be constantly replacing and refreshing.”

At the 7-year-old Monon Community Center, equipment is kept close to original condition for as long as possible. And when it comes time to replace it, members are given the opportunity to test out new equipment before final decisions are made.

Interior improvements, such as floor resurfacing, are done every year, and the facility’s pod-style construction easily allows remodels, as needed, Westermier said.

“We’re always trying to not only keep up with the maintenance of the facility but also replace things before the members say they’re starting to look bad,” he said.

The city also keeps an eye on what the competition is doing, watching the programs of fitness center chains, the YMCA and community centers. One of the most important strategies for standing out among the competition is to not only follow current fitness and design trends, but to also look at the trends ahead. Westermeier and his staff visit several university fitness centers around the Midwest to get an idea what students will be expecting after they graduate college and start careers.

“You need to stay relevant and always be changing, not only following the trends you see today, but also the trends you foresee tomorrow,” Westermeier said.