Using a Consultant for Your Onsite Facility

If your facility needs a competitive edge, a consultant may be the answer. But before hiring any consultant, perform your own internal assessment to be sure one is needed, and then be sure to understand what the consultant should provide in return.

The competitiveness of the health and fitness industry has greatly increased over the past 20 years. Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all approach to operating a wellness or fitness program. The first law of business is just like the first law of life: Adapt or die. In this increasingly competitive marketplace, some onsite fitness centers at corporations, hotels/resorts, country clubs, universities, hospitals and others have turned to knowledgeable and experienced consultants for help. The scope could be as narrow as providing infrastructure to a specialized program, to as broad as managing a complete fitness center. There are also several shades of gray in between, depending on your specific needs. Before hiring a consultant, you need to perform an internal needs assessment. You should also understand the core competencies with which a management consulting company (MCC) should have proven experience. Finally, there are the top 10 things to consider when hiring an MCC.

Internal needs assessment

Gerald W. Faust, Ph.D., president of the Faust Management Corp. and chairman of the Club Performance Network, says, "The greatest assets that a club has are: 1) its people, 2) its positioning and 3) its product. … Those are the three factors that operators should focus on, and any failure to do so can make [your] business vulnerable. You can compete successfully and win the game only if you have a good team and a distinct identity, and offer great value to members." If any one of the three assets is not in line, it might be time to hire a consultant. The three assets can be applied in multiple settings. For example, say that "Company C" has an existing wellness center on its corporate campus, but it is removed from the main work spaces, and not located between the work spaces and the parking lot. Company C has stated that its wellness center is a priority, but its location is inconvenient. This would be a basic example of bad positioning. Company C may decide to hire a consultant to determine viable solutions. Another important area that needs to be in line is what is called "executive buy-in." For example, if the department in charge of the wellness center at Company C wants to hire a consultant to assess how to improve the facility and programs, it will only have a lasting effect at the company if top management buys into the improvements. If top management does not fully support the improvements or the fitness center itself, there will be problems down the road with financing, marketing and more. It can be the consultant's job to educate the top management to render support. An internal needs assessment will help fitness center managers decide if a consultant is needed, and then help them create support from other departments or company heads to hire one.

Possible core competencies

An MCC should have a specific level of knowledge, skills and abilities, and possess the majority of the following items within the scope of their business. This can ensure that they have the resources and ability to help you on several fronts. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it hits some of the major competencies. Business plan development. Creating a business plan is specifically targeted to organizations or individual investors who want to enter the fitness market, but are not quite sure how to do it. Some of the components an MCC should be able to provide are a market analysis, competitive analysis, feasibility study, membership and pricing, program recommendations, operating proforma, industry trend analysis and risk analysis. Design and development services. This area is integrated with the business plan development competency, but is distinct in its own right. Within this competency, the MCC should be able to interface with architects, interior designers and project managers in the early phases of development. Other components of these services also include the ability to identify mechanical, electrical and plumbing requirements, as well as detail fitness product needs and equipment layout. Management services. MCCs should be able to provide, if needed, onsite staffing, management, wellness programs/services and event coordination. Employee training services. Some MCCs may provide professional development workshops for your employees in several areas, such as membership sales, membership retention, conducting effective evaluations and more. Equipment procurement and preventive maintenance services. An MCC should be able to assist in the entire fitness equipment selection and purchasing process, ensuring maximum compatibility between the equipment, its users and the project budget. The MCC's buying power should enable their partners to purchase equipment from all major manufacturers at competitive market rates, while benefiting from their ordering and installation management expertise.

Top 10 things to consider

The following list offers considerations and questions to ask when you are evaluating a potential MCC.
  1. Return on investment. Return on investment is the monetary benefit derived from having spent money on developing or revising a system. Does the MCC have a proven track record of being able to execute their promised results? "Execution is the ability to mesh strategy with reality, align people with goals and achieve the promised results," says Larry Bossidy, former CEO of Honeywell and co-author of Execution.
  2. Innovation and adaptability. MCCs should be innovators who listen and constantly seek new solutions to improve the effectiveness of their results. Are they "future focused"? They should know their customer and be able to adapt their core values and goals to the values and goals of their client. This will help in providing a joint vision for the program in which both parties are mutually invested. If this is not possible, the relationship might be a mismatch, and it would not be beneficial for either party to enter into an agreement.
  3. Years in business with long-term partners and clients. Years in business alone is normally not an acceptable indicator of a successful MCC. Years in business, coupled with their long-term partners, will help in evaluating an MCC appropriately. If you are considering an MCC, request a reference list. If the MCC has been successful in providing services to clients over the years, they should be more than happy to provide you with one.
  4. Battle-tested leadership and management. A consulting company with a senior management team that has individuals who have been in their employ for five, 10, 15 years says a lot about a company and how it treats its employees. It also implies that the company is "battle-tested" and resilient when it comes to annual market swings and trends.
  5. Creating a pipeline of talent. "How can you build a pipeline of talent - the only thing that's going to help you over time?" asks Rusty Rueff, executive vice president for human resources, Electronic Arts. Has the MCC been successful at working with talented people? Being able to identify talent in their own company and providing avenues to use that talent is a good sign.
  6. Price and size. Cost and company size are not necessarily the best ways to evaluate an MCC, but they can be useful research tools. The least expensive MCC may, in retrospect, turn out to be so inept as to be more costly in the end. On the other hand, the most expensive is not necessarily the best, either. Size is also not a good determinant of quality. There are advantages and disadvantages to both large and small MCCs. The personal attention and commitment frequently offered by a small MCC is harder to find in a larger organization. On the other hand, some one-person companies lack the technical depth needed for large, complex tasks. Bigger MCCs have large teams that usually represent a broad spectrum of technical understanding and experience. Partly because of their size, they tend to operate in a more highly structured and formal manner than smaller MCCs, and tend to be relatively expensive. Many of the small MCCs are more specialized. Their approach can be more easily tailored to the needs of an individual institution. These MCCs are frequently less expensive. Evaluate your needs to see what would be the best fit, as well as the most cost-effective.
  7. Employee turnover rate. Employee turnover is an inevitable part of any business, but it's worth finding out if the company you are researching has done a better job at retaining employees than its peers.
  8. Industry recognition and social responsibility. Has this MCC been recognized by the industry as a leader in particular areas? Have they been continuously recognized for their strengths? This would signify a dedication to continuous improvement, not just having a good year here and there. Also, are they actively engaged in the improvement of their surrounding communities?
  9. Strategy and growth. If the MCC you are considering is successful, it should have a laid-out strategy for growth. If this roadmap is not well-planned, the organization could suffer growing pains that might affect the services it offers.
  10. Best in class. The MCC being considered by your fitness center should be the best in the class of services it offers. If it is just "good," there is always another company that can do a better job.

Adapt or die

Fitness centers of all types and sizes are seeking ways to improve retention rates, profit, staff performance and more. If your fitness center is struggling in any way, or maybe just needs an overall boost, it might be time to consider working with a consultant to improve your effectiveness. Remember: Adapt or die.
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