27 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2017 issue 7

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Leisure Management - Easy Money


Easy Money

Online payment and mobile are changing the way businesses are operating, but is the fitness sector taking full advantage of the tech available? Tom Walker investigates

Tom Walker, Leisure Media
Gantner says cashless payments can boost in-club spending
activeNewham has seen casual income increase by 8 per cent since switching to cashless systems

The health and fitness sector is being shaped by developments in online, with the emergence of signup and payment collection having a transformational effect.

As well as making membership tracking and collection easier, electronic systems have given consumers more control in managing payments.

One of the pioneers of web-based systems is Harlands Group, which was among the first to offer clubs the option to take their membership management online.

According to national sales manager, Robin Karn, online solutions have been a game changer: “Online signup is now the dominant way memberships are sold, either on-site or remotely,” he says. “We process more than 1.7m transactions a month and 99 per cent of these signups are made online – a fast, simple and secure process for members – and which also removes the administration of paper contracts for the clubs.”

Joanne Barton, payment specialist at Gladstone Software, says it’s not just membership collection that has benefited from the move to online. Thanks to new tech, the administration of single payment tickets and access is now developing towards a form of customer self-service. “Online payment solutions, self serve kiosks and mobile devices are now preferred to the more traditional method of making payments at a reception point,” Barton says.

“The main benefits for the clubs are cost savings and improved customer service. For users it’s all about convenience and faster service. Self serve kiosks allow users to check in quickly, avoiding queues.”

Sean Maguire, MD at Legend Club Management Systems, agrees – and says new technologies have improved efficiency. “Enabling merchant services online has moved the sign-up process from a purely face-to-face encounter toward a virtual experience,” Maguire says.

“This has allowed operators to adapt how and when they sell to potential customers, increasing sales hours and reducing the number of staff involved. The surge in take-up of smartphones and tablets has also shifted the sales process to prospects on the move, taking full advantage of the trend toward deal-driven impulse purchasing.

Maguire adds that for the consumer, the introduction of online payments means more transparency. “For the prospective member, the availability of online sign-up has forced operators to publish prices and offers providing them with unparalleled insight and choice,” he says.

According to Matt Clements, IT development manager at direct specialist DFC, some operators have come up with their own bespoke systems. “We’re seeing more operators launching apps,” he says.

“Many of our clients have chosen to embed our My Payments online portal into their own app to further reduce friction in the customer journey. This has taken strain off busy facilities that don’t have the time or knowledge to discuss queries, and created an easily accessible platform for them to track payments.”

A majority of membership payments are done online and the next step, which some have already taken, is to move all other purchases, including in-club ones, online – in the form of cashless payments.
Access technology using electronic chips is available and can be harnessed to act as a means of payment – with all in-club services and offers booked onto the chip.

In a connected club, members can check in, pay for their food and access the showers. Information terminals can be installed, where members can see in real-time which services have been used, and get a detailed cost overview. Payment is made onto the chip in advance, or when leaving the club.

According to Mario Morger, UK business development manager for Austrian payment specialist Gantner, cashless payments are the future – they can reduce staff costs, increase turnover, enhance safety and enable an easier assessment of revenues.

“Going cashless offers many benefits, such as increased revenue resulting from ease of spending, transparency on transactions and a reduction in theft,” Morger says.

He adds that automated cashless systems can also reduce staff costs and shorten queues, as well as allowing better marketing through accurate customer profiling.

“Allowing your regular club members to be cashless within your facility can boost spend for your ancillary services – such as food and beverage, vending machines and retail,” he says.

“In-club spending has been seen to increase by as much as 40 per cent when a cashless system is introduced, because spending becomes easier and more spontaneous.

How well has the sector adopted this new tech?
“If you compare the UK’s leisure industry with other countries’, we’re right up there and use technology well,” says Harlands’ Karm. “But when compared with other industries, we’re lagging behind.

“The low-cost sector is making the best use of it, as they have automated systems. That isn’t always the case with public sector operators.”

When asked to rate how well the UK’s fitness sector is keeping on top of its payment systems, he pulls no punches. “I’d probably give it 4 out of 10,” he says.

New system tackles missed payments
Rejected direct debit payments are a headache for operators and one of the biggest causes of lapsed memberships. To help clubs eradicate the issue and encourage members to get back on track, payment solutions provider DFC has come up with a service called My Payments.

The online portal makes it easier for customers to pay defaulted fees through a variety of platforms. Accessible 24/7, the system gives club members payment flexibility outside working hours and saves operators the task of manually chasing payments.

“Customers tend to bury their heads and ignore the problem – either because they’re too busy or embarrassed by the situation,” says DFC’s IT development manager Matt Clements. “My Payments takes care of all these issues, meaning members can get back into the gym and operators can free up time for attracting new joiners.”

SUPPLIER: Gladstone
CLIENT: activeNewham


Joanne Barton
Joanne Barton Gladstone Software

Leisure trust activeNewham has seen casual income increase by 8 per cent since switching to Gladstone’s cashless, self-service payments system.

The trust, which operates four leisure centres and a fitness centre on behalf of Newham Council, took the bold step of replacing reception desks and receptionists at all of its sites with Gladstone’s self-service kiosks, and also stopped taking cash payments.

Now, all customers are required not only to pay with debit or credit cards but also to ‘self-serve’ their way into activeNewham’s centres – although a member of staff, a ‘concierge’, is on duty at all times.

Keiron Butcher, commercial director for activeNewham, says: “Customers can now use their membership card to top up their cashless account at the kiosk, as well as online or via our call centre. They can also use their membership card to pay for activities or services at the kiosk, instead of a credit or debit card; it’s similar to Transport for London’s Oyster Card system.

“Since introducing the kiosks, we’ve eliminated all queuing in our facilities and seen a nine per cent increase in usage, which leads us to believe we’re now counting the number of people using our sites more accurately.”

“Self serve kiosks and mobile devices are now preferred to the more traditional method of making payments at a reception point”

SUPPLIER: Harlands
OPERATOR: Marriott


Robin Karn
Robin Karn Harlands Group

Marriott operates 39 premium health clubs in the UK and recently went live with a Harlands system that provides online signup, full management of membership payments, full credit control and a link with the front of house system in the clubs.

By linking in with Marriott’s leisure management software, the system has enabled the operator to consolidate its processes and retain control of its memberships. James Wild, director of golf and leisure operations, says: “The Harland’s partnership supports our efforts to reduce direct debit rejections and first payment bounce backs, positively impacting our business performance and bottom line.

“Due to the reduction in administrative duties, our leisure teams can now focus 100 per cent on creating new opportunities for customers, generating additional prospects and providing an enhanced service to those in the club already. We’re also in the process of deploying the Harland’s Sales Generator prospecting system, in order to convert more leads into memberships and slicken up our processes.”

“We process more than 1.7m transactions a month in the health and fitness sector and 99 per cent of these signups are made online”

OPINION: Payment security


Sean Maguire
Sean Maguire Managing director Legend Club Management Systems

While awareness may spike following headline grabbing cyber attacks, ignorance of security obligations when it comes to tech continues to place the industry at risk.

Given the volume and extent of personal information we routinely collect, our industry is a target.

With no industry regulation and few guidelines, the implications of the next breach could extend beyond regulatory fines and brand damage, permanently undermining trust and causing business failure.

With the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set to up the stakes, it’s time to take data, its use and protection, far more seriously. The world has changed and managing this risk is now a top priority requiring constant ongoing attention.

According to the UK government’s Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017, just under half (46 per cent) of all UK businesses have had at least one cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months.

Furthermore, businesses that hold electronic personal data are targeted more (51 per cent versus 46 per cent), and that places operators firmly in the cross hairs.

In the absence of any other solution, the onus is on individual operators and industry suppliers to step up and proactively secure customer data. GDPR is a big change but we shouldn’t be scared of it. Instead we must warmly embrace it and use it as the catalyst to obtain ‘excellent’ grades when it comes to our data management.

“It’s time to take data, its use and protection, far more seriously. The world has changed and managing this risk is a top priority requiring constant attention” - Sean Maguire, Legend Club, Management Systems

Originally published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 7

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