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No Place to Hide

Successful small clubs are able to survive, and thrive, in the face of ever-increasing competition when they reflect the vision and ideals of their owners.

Earlier this year, I needed to close my small fitness facility on a Saturday for an electrical system conversion. When I posted signs throughout the fitness center that informed members of this unexpected event, I ended it by writing, "Sorry for the inconvenience, Rob." This message was not delivered by "The Management." It was from me, Rob. And, if anybody had anything to say about it, they knew exactly where to find me, because it's my club! That, in a nutshell, is what makes small fitness facilities different from their larger counterparts - there's no place to hide. It's the beauty, and the curse, of the small club owner. The beauty of owning a small fitness center is that it can - indeed, it must - reflect the personality and core beliefs of its owner. Successful small clubs are able to survive, and thrive, in the face of ever-increasing competition when they reflect the vision and ideals of their owners. For example, bodybuilders often own muscle gyms, married couples with kids often own family-friendly fitness centers and yoga practitioners typically own yoga studios. However, the challenge for most small club owners is that they must translate their vision into every aspect of their operation, every day.

Making the right choices

When members are unhappy about something, even something small, they come looking for me. "Mary" was upset last month because there weren't enough step classes on the group fitness schedule, and she wanted to speak with me about it. So, I took a deep breath, smiled and listened to what Mary had to say. Only then did I explain how we were changing the group fitness program. Step classes are difficult for new members. There are a lot of other classes that give our regular members a great workout but, at the same time, are easier for beginners to jump right in. Mary told me she didn't really care about these new people. She has been a member for many years and she - and her friends - all want more step or they will quit the facility to join a competitor's. I told Mary that I was sorry to hear that. Step would continue to be a part of our group fitness schedule, but it would no longer dominate the schedule as it had in years past. The new classes we offer had become much more popular than step (as evidenced by higher attendance numbers) and I hoped she would stay and give these new classes a chance.

The buck stops here

I once had a member who was disgruntled about my facility's cancellation policy. He was aggressive, inappropriate and unwilling to accept any suggestions I offered that might resolve the conflict. I calmly explained that, when it comes to billing, I treat everyone the same: fairly, according to the terms of the membership agreement. His comment was, "But you're the owner! You could make an exception." I thought for a moment and said, "You're right, I could. But I won't." What a great moment! He was right; I could have done anything I wanted. I could have yielded to his complaint, or I could have raised my voice and gotten back in his face like he was getting in mine. But I didn't. I stayed true to the kind of business my business partner and I have always tried to run - friendly and fair. What makes moments like this so important to club owners is that they are not just normal customer service interactions or opportunities to turn a "negative" customer service moment into a "positive," they are the moments of truth that define and re-define a small club: its atmosphere, its culture, its ethics. At moments like this, there is no accounting department or obscure policy to blame. It's personal; I'm the owner.
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