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Inspecting for Safety and Retention

A regular, thorough inspection of your fitness center will improve safety, usability and member retention.

Your members regularly inspect your facility, and notice when things are wrong, whether it is a treadmill with a sticky belt, shower heads that are leaking, broken light bulbs, cool saunas or trash on the outside of your building. With a thorough inspection system, you can ensure that you catch and rectify problems early -- hopefully before members even notice.

There are no universal rules on how to conduct an inspection -- fitness centers formulate their own preferred formula. Following are two examples from New York Health & Racquet Club and WOW! Work Out World.

New York Health & Racquet Club inspections

New York Health & Racquet Club's (NYHRC), New York, N.Y., inspection system starts with a walk-through sheet that is completed by the manager on duty (MOD) at the beginningof each shift. On that sheet, which details each area of the facility, the MOD documents what needs attention in each area, and then signs off on it. For instance, additional vacuuming, cleaning of vents, clogged shower drains or a machine in disrepair. The maintenance people are then given additional duty task sheets that they initial once these tasks are completed. These sheets are kept for one month.

NYHRC uses a 10-point checklist that covers all areas of the facility, from the exterior to the locker rooms, pool, equipment, cleanliness, and appearance and attitude of the staff. Jeff Bodnar, director of operations, says he also inspects for operational issues such as daily payroll completion, proper promotional signage hung, etc. Health department regulations are also tracked on a checklist (a list that highlights the major components of the Health Department's inspection to ensure safe operation of the establishment).

Additionally, NYHRC has a maintenance log that is filled out for the club mechanic. Anything that requires repair goes into this log, which mechanics refer to when they begin work. They address the situation, and then report on the status of the repair while initialing that specific note in the log.

Finally, the general manager inspects the facility again using the same walk-through checklist. The fitness center is also "walked" each hour by one of the MODs to ensure that everything is in order. If an incident/accident is reported, the checklists from these days are attached to the incident report.

WOW! inspections

Stephen S. Roma, chief operating officer, WOW! Work Out World!, Brick, N.J.,says the chain has a set of inspections for every system in the facility.WOW! inspections focus on the following key aspects: cleanliness, maintenance, sales tours, member and prospect greetings, group fitness classes, fitness assessments and personal training appointments. Some inspections are carried out hourly, some daily, some weekly and some monthly.

Some inspections are performed by frontline employees on the quality of their own work, others are performed by department managers and directors at the corporate level and some are performed by secret shoppers. All inspections are the foundation of feedback, which is given to the appropriate responsible party. Roma says, more often than not, when there is a problem, it is not due to the system in place, but to lack of detailed adherence to the system. "Inspections and feedback are really the only way to help employees grow and to increase adherence to our systems," he explains.

Objectives of inspections

Carrying out inspections helps to meet many objectives that are necessary for a high-performance fitness facility. "The objectives of the inspections are to ensure that the club is immaculate, all equipment is in good working order, staff [members are] doing their jobs and there are no safety hazards anywhere in the club," says Bodnar. "It's also a great way to meet members [who] you don't already know," he says.

Roma adds that inspections are performed in an effort to compare against benchmarks and to give feedback to the appropriate staff person.

Keeping a facility clean and safe also helps to reduce the risk of litigation. However, it is essential that there is good record keeping. Bodnar says such inspection records are handy for legal defense. "For instance, if a member claims the club is at fault and liable because we neglected to fix something, our own records of proper maintenance will help defend our position," he explains.

A further benefit of a sound inspection system is that it can prolong the life of equipment. Any problems or maintenance needs can be spotted and dealt with early on before they have a chance to worsen. Early identification of a leak in a room, for instance, could save thousands of dollars worth of repairs, and forego extended downtime.

Inspections also send an important message to members and visitors. Inspection is a backup to ensure that there is never any litter, that scratched paintwork is quickly repaired and guest supplies are replenished. A facility that is respected by its staff will garner respect from users.

Inspection tips

Following are some tips for conducting inspections in your fitness center.

The inspectors. Inspections can be conducted by personnel from different levels of the organization. A supervisor may carry out a facility-wide inspection, as can the general manager. Different people are likely to identify different issues, so your chances of catching all problems will increase with each different inspector.

Inspection should not be the exclusive duty of supervisors or management. Inspection -- or at least alert observation -- should be ingrained into the duties of every employee. Staff members who are in the equipment area, group exercise room or aquatics area are the people who know that area best; if they are encouraged and trained to be observant, they will spot problems. All staff members should strive to spot problems before their supervisor or manager, and before a member. Some fitness centers have staff carry a small notepad with them so they can record any issues they see needing attention. In a busy operation, it is easy to forget a few details.

There are other important sources of information to ensure a facility is well-inspected. Fitness centers should always have an open line of communication between the members, staff and management. This occurs through casual conversations and management being present and available. Some form of suggestion box can also be effective for members who are reluctant to approach a manager with their concerns.

Mystery shopper. Third-party inspections, which could be someone from the head office, a representative from a sister facility or a mystery shopper, can provide further useful insights on facility functioning. Mystery shoppers are a good way to get fresh perspectives on your facility, equipment and service. Even the most curious and open-minded staff member will overlook problems that may be obvious to someone seeing them for the first time.

Mystery shoppers can offer fresh insights from the user's perspective. "It's always great to have an inspection occurring when no one really knows about it," says Roma from WOW!. "This particular element of being inspected and not knowing it is the real value for us. It keeps everyone moving in the right direction, even when it appears as though a superior is not watching."

Bodnar says NYHRC also values the use of mystery shoppers. "Unfortunately, no matter how well you inspect your own club, after a while, it is common to stop seeing some things," he says. "It's human nature to let some small things just become acceptable transgressions. These may be the very things that jump out to a fresh set of eyes on the shopper walking [through] and using your club."

Bodnar provides an example of how "familiarity blindness" can lead to management overlooking problems. "I had managed a mid-town club for a-year-and-a-half," he remembers. "One of the doors leading to our pool area had a 'push' sign on it. For 18 months, I had been pulling the door to open it.... I had never bothered to notice the sign that said 'push' until I received a note from my mystery shopper that the signs were reversed. I sheepishly changed the signs that day."

Sales staff. Sales personnel are also a good source of information. They walk the facility with prospective members, and know what these people are looking for. "Sales people should walk your club with pride, and not have to guide members around a certain problem area in the club,"Bodnar says. Bodnar recommends that you ask your sales people several times throughout the day to give feedback about the facility. In addition, sales people may overhear comments from the visitors they are taking through the club, and members currently using the facilities.

Use your fitness center. There is no better way to identify problems than by using the facility yourself. Work out there, and encourage your staff members to do the same before or after their shifts. "You won't be able to tell that the window sill by the leg press is dusty unless you get on the leg press machine that is blocking the path to the window," says Bodnar. "You will be amazed at what you see and experience when you are on your equipment for 10 minutes rather than just quickly walking by it."

Flag problems. When problems are identified that cannot be rectified on the spot, they should be flagged. If equipment is out of order, identify it as such, and give plenty of information. If the sauna is out of order, say it is out of order, and how long it will be before members can use it again.

Do not rely on memory. In a large fitness center on a thorough walk-through, you could easily identify 30 minor and major issues that need to be dealt with. Relying on memory, you may remember 20 to 25 of them. Those forgotten could be just the ones members stumble upon, opening the floodgates to dissatisfaction, injury and litigation.

Fixing problems

Inspection is only as useful as the action that follows. You can inspect continuously, but if no action results from your inspection, your efforts have been wasted. "I can ensure that the problems found on the checklist are dealt with in a timely fashion, because I personally walk each club, each week," says Bodnar. At NYHRC, part of each general manager's and assistant manager's compensation plan is a checklist bonus. "The managers will get a list from me of any deficiencies I find, and if these deficiencies are glaring, they will miss their checklist bonus that week," says Bodnar. "It is a very effective way to ensure that the managers have a stake in the cleanliness and smooth operation of the club on a daily basis," he says.

Roma says the problem should be logged, the log reviewed regularly and there should be follow-up. "It has a lot to do with accountability," he states. "One person needs to own the 'issue,' and take responsibility for it." WOW! logs some of its major inspections on paper and in a database, and then managers have an opportunity to earn bonuses based on the inspection scores their facility received. "The database tracking enables us to stay in touch with lots of details in a very simple way," says Roma. Other inspections are logged in employee files, then used by managers to give feedback to frontline employees.

Final tips

Even with an inspection system in place, things may slip through the cracks.

Listen to members. Often, a user will be the first person to spot or experience a problem with your facility, so make sure you talk to them. When talking with members, besides asking how their workout is going, ask if everything is working fine on the equipment or in the locker room. It can be challenging to get bonafide feedback from customers because they feel uncomfortable. WOW! uses anonymous online surveys, which Roma says are revealing: "The key question on our survey that appears to correlate most with future business with that customer is, 'Would you recommend WOW! to a friend?'"

All the senses. When inspecting a facility, get beyond just sight. Does the temperature in the locker rooms feel right? Does the floor tiling in the showers feel greasy? Is the volume of ambient music in the reception area too loud? Is there an unpleasant odor in one of the group exercise studios? Is there a peculiar taste to the water in the drinking fountains? If you only look, you will not find any of these problems.

Positives and negatives. Inspection, like all good forms of criticism, should identify both the positive and negative. Inspections can be used to identify positives -- for instance, happy members or great service from a staff member. Roma says inspections are what enable employees to grow and develop, as well as create opportunities for praise and correction. "Inspections combined with feedback are what all employees want, but would never actually admit to," he adds.

In addition, inspections should always be used to think about your facility and equipment with a fresh, open mind. Could a layout be improved? Is the lighting right? Do you have enough of the most popular pieces of equipment? Never accept the facility as it is: Through inspection, challenge everything to make it better.

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