Before beginning to investigate suppliers, purchasers must have a clear understanding of the fitness center’s specific needs, considering questions such as these:
• How often is the current equipment being used, and which products need to be replaced?
• What are the most popular items, and why are they popular?
• Who is using the equipment, and for what purpose?
• What do the users like and dislike, and why so they have these opinions?
Purchasers may also consider surveying the users of the equipment; users can provide terrific insights and can confirm or dispel any preconceptions. Another great place to look is in the industry trade publications, such as PUPN. Purchasers should review the ads and articles and check out the vendors’ websites. Decision-makers may also consider attending trade shows to see and test equipment and develop relationships with peers and vendors alike. All of these resources will provide a wealth of information on the newest products, technology, and trends to help make informed decisions.
After determining needs, the next step is inviting bids. For a good list of contacts, terrific places to start are the PUPN Marketplace or NIRSA Buyers’ Guide. Anyone—not just subscribers or members—may access either of these resources. Additionally, talking with peers at other institutions is highly recommended, as they can share their experiences with specific vendors, product quality, delivery, maintenance, and post-sales support. Depending on the amount of equipment and specific needs, inviting at least three to four vendors to submit a bid should be adequate. Purchasers should contact both local and national suppliers and spend some time talking and/or meeting with each. Decision-makers should ask for recommendations and consider equipment and product features that are different from the norm. Also, many suppliers will offer demo units to evaluate, especially for those considering a purchase of significant equipment quantities.
Weigh the Total Cost of Ownership
The purchase price is only part of the total cost of owning a product. Even the most durable equipment will require service and ongoing maintenance, so it’s important for purchasers to understand these expectations and costs. Although purchasing equipment with all the bells and whistles can be attractive, some users may be intimidated and need assistance with operations. Further, repairs for high-end equipment can be costly and require certified technicians to maintain. Purchasers should be sure to inquire about the ease-of-use, training requirements, ongoing software upgrades, and any additional facility needs, such as electrical, WiFi, cable, and space.
Warranty protection, maintenance, post-sales support, parts availability, and other facility requirements can vary greatly by manufacturer, significantly impacting the overall costs. Decision-makers should be sure to read and understand the product warranty completely, including the fine print. Questions to consider include these:
• Are freight costs covered for replacement parts?
• Is a lifetime warranty defined as the average life of the product, or forever?
• How responsive is the service department?
Purchasers should also call or email each vendor’s customer service department to evaluate how quickly the call or email is answered. Purchasing decision-makers should talk with other customers about their experience with both the overall product quality and vendor’s after-the-sale support. Questions to ask other customers include these:
• Did the product meet expectations?
• Did the vendor honor their commitments?
• Would the other customer purchase the same equipment and work with the vendor again? Why or why not?
All of these items should be considered part of the total costs and weighed accordingly.
Choose to Lease or Purchase
Once needs are determined and vendors have been chosen, the next step is deciding how to pay for it. Should the equipment be bought outright or leased? Leasing has become much more common and provides an opportunity to change equipment every few years. On the other hand, buying the equipment saves money by eliminating interest and providing the ability to sell or donate it at a later date. Most equipment vendors can refer customers to reputable third-party finance companies or offer in-house financing options.
Purchasing new equipment for a fitness center can be an exciting and rewarding experience. A well designed and equipped fitness center will attract more users and help market the institution to prospective students, professors, and administrators. Purchasing decision-makers should do their homework, ask a lot of questions, lean on the vendors for answers, and include numerous people in the process.