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Changing the Culture in Your Club
Originally Posted 02/25/10

Here are two things you can start thinking about now to change the culture in your club from that of failure to one of success for every member. As noted in the last blog, change is coming and you will either be part of it or the very power of the change itself will bury you and your business where you stand. Some of this is part of an article that will appear in the next issue of the Club Insider, published by Norm and Justin Cates. Look for the article soon and be sure and subscribe to Normís mag.

During the next six months become a training club: No matter how big you are, and that goes for the 100,000 square foot giants who have always relied on their physical plants as their main retention tool (How would you like to put $25 million into a club and find out that the 3000 square foot guy down the street has a higher retention rate than you do because he gets results for his members and you donít?) you have to put all your efforts into becoming a training-centric business. We simply donít touch enough people and our current training model has failed in most commercial facilities. The training guy down the street is right. He tells his clients what to do, tells them what to eat, and tells them what supplements to take. He then takes them through an amazing workout based on upright functional training and changes their life.

The fitness business should be a business of trust. We take money in exchange for the clientís belief, and trust, and that he thinks we can help him change his life through our leadership and guidance. The reality in most mainstream clubs, unless this person can ante up the necessary money to declare himself elite, and therefore, buy leadership through personal training, is that the member is left to seek fitness on his own through magazines or help from other lost members. He signed up to get in shape but to us he is nothing more than a replaceable score on that dayís sales sheet.

Breakdown a typical commercial center and you can easily see that we fail over three quarters of the people who trusted us to help them. Assuming the club has group exercise, you would find that about 3-6 percent of the members are in one-on-one training and about 20 percent take part in the clubís group programs. Rounding off, only about 25 percent of the clubís membership has any type of ongoing relationship with the business, such as the instructor/client in the group setting, or is getting any type of help and guidance through the trainer/client arrangement.

Put another way, 75 percent of the members in this club donít receive any help or have any relationship other than that warm and fuzzy feeling they might get from their favorite treadmill. This is, by the way, the first owner who will complain loudly that the low price guy is killing him or that the non-profit is taking all his business. What he doesnít realize is that he has no relationship with his members and they will quickly leave him for the cheapest club in the neighborhood since fitness to him is all about the treadmill and he will go to whomever can rent it at the lowest price.

The members enter the business believing we will help them, but we set them up with antiquated circuit training, including the giant workout card, that fails the client after a few weeks, and then ignore them until we need them again at the end of their membership. If a member wants to get in shape in these clubs, he has to damn well work hard on his own because the club simply wonít, or canít, provide the leadership and help he needs to be successful over time.

If you have relationships with your members, they will stay longer and pay longer. Without this relationship, you are nothing more than another club that rents equipment by the month, and the lowest priced competitor in the market will own that niche.

Leadership sells and people who get results will never leave your business, but most mainstream fitness businesses arenít designed to achieve that level of penetration or success.

Even how we layout and design clubs will change in the coming years. Cardio will get even more important, functional equipment, such as Human Sport by Star Trac or Free Motion will rise to another level and you will drain the Perform Better warehouse filling your club with kettles, ropes, medicine balls and other tools that professional sports people have been embracing for years. As a side note, when was the last time you watched a professional athlete go around a circuit as his strength component.

You will still always have a core line of single joint stuff, but your functional cable equipment and workout tools will take a higher volume position and you will also reintroduce lifting platforms and other tools that challenge and delight the members. Free weight areas will no longer be designed for bodybuilders but for functional people and the tools we select will change dramatically.

This type of training has to be infused throughout your business, not just set aside in one room. Your culture has to change from that of failure to one of success for the most members you can touch. Training is what we do in this business and we have to return to our roots because people who get results are the ones that never leave, which is what retention is all about.

The second thing you can do is to begin to teach the fundamentals of fitness during your trial periods or during the first 30 days a person is a member. Somewhere in the past, we made a decision that all new members will be set up on a circuit, given a stupid card that we keep in a huge box on the edge of the floor and then we leave them to their own devices. We donít teach them how to workout, we teach them a simplistic workout that everyone knows will fail the client in about six weeks.

Couple fundamental classes with your trial memberships and teach people how to workout. Put about 6-8 fundamental classes on your schedule and teach the basics of getting a good workout. For example, a fundamentals class might be based upon the basics of a dynamic warm up, strength moves, such as a kettle bell swing, a lunge, a body weight squat, some type of pressing movement, a row and a dead lift movement, all considered the essentials of any fitness routine. Without these movements, the person is doomed to machines and the circuit will fail them. If you are more progressive and have functional movement equipment, then teach that as well.

Also teach the person cardio. We all know that those members walking endlessly on a tread reading or watching Oprah are failing and we should know that they all will leave us because they are not getting results. Teach effective cardio and teach it early. If members get results, they will stay longer and pay longer.

The guests in the trial might be there all month, which is fine, or if they master the basics, they should be sent to other group experiences, which allow you to service the most guest and members at the lowest cost. Do everything in groups if you can and stop isolating the members. Most of us have grown up doing everything in group settings. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports teams, band, church groups or anything else you might belong to are all examples of group dynamics, but when you come to the clubs we do everything we can to isolate the person.

For example, look at the trend in cardio. When we added the televisions, we essentially locked the person out of the group dynamics in the club. The members donít talk to each other, donít look around and donít get involved. You would be better to not buy the televisions and just to order more cardio in your club.
Everything we do in the real world is about social groups, but everything we do in the club world is about isolating the member from all the others. Again, if my only relationship in the club is with a small television and treadmill, why would I not simply go to the lowest bidder in the market?

Your club has to become nothing more than a large training facility. We forget that people come to us to change their lives, but because our businesses were designed for nothing but the acquisition of new members, we fail over 75 percent of our members. Get results from the most people possible and you will have the highest retention rate you have ever achieved.

What I am reading this week: Stop Acting Rich, by Stanley. This is a great read for anyone trying to build wealth in his or her life. It is a little redundant if you have read the Millionaire Mind, but it is still a decent read.

Tip of the week: Seek advanced education for your team. Your sales people should all be ACE certified trainers, your lead trainers should have at least one kettle bell certification or advanced education experience, you should master suspension training, which appears to be the big thing now, and if you live in a golf community, you should seek out advanced education from the Titleist Golf Institute (mytpi.com).

New Book Alert: My new book, Where Did that Member Go? Rediscovering the Lost Art of Customer Service, will be released at IHRSA by Healthy Learning in early March.The NFBA is currently pre-selling this book on their website: www.jointhenfba.com. This is number six and the last in the club series.

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