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Serving Members with More than Fitness

Your members come to your fitness center for much more than a workout - they come to feel welcome and at home.

Many years ago, not long after opening my first fitness center, I was shopping in the supermarket. I saw one of my members, and we had a brief, pleasant chat. She then turned the corner and went into the next aisle. In that aisle, she ran into another member, which allowed me to eavesdrop on a conversation I'll always remember: "Don't you just love going to the gym?" asked one of the ladies. "They always say 'hello' to me by name, and they're always so happy to see me."

It was my first of many lessons over the years about what's most important to my members, and what makes an independent fitness facility different than national chains and big-name franchises. At an independent club, the owner gets to turn a vision into a reality. And, every so often, you are reminded of and rewarded for that vision.

Mike's story

We have a member named Mike who is a terrifically nice fellow. He's always a pleasure to see, and he always talks about his son, a high school valedictorian who was going to college in the fall. Mike's pride and joy in his only child was palpable. Tragically, Mike's son was killed this summer in a car crash. Just one week before leaving for college, he came around a turn at the wrong time and, through no fault of his own, he was gone.

My business partner and I went to the wake, and, as we drove, we talked about Mike. He'd probably want some time away from the gym. Should we freeze his membership for him? Surely he'd never remember to do so. We wondered if we'd even see him again. As a father of three, I couldn't imagine what I'd do with the rest of my life if this happened to one of my kids.

Remarkably, Mike was back at the facility a week later. He told our staff members how grateful he was to see my business partner and me at the wake. He said he had good days and bad days. Our staff members expressed their sympathies but, in general, just left him alone and let him get back into his routine. The fist time I saw him back at the fitness center, we looked at each other and sort of acknowledged what we both wanted to say ("I'm so sorry"; "Thanks for coming to the wake"), but we didn't say much. I just waved and said, "Hi Mike," and he waved back.

Why members come to the gym

Our members may not know it, but they don't really come to us to get fit and healthy - they come to us because a visit to their neighborhood gym is the best part of their day. If they want to make a lot of noise in the weight room, that's fine. If a yoga class makes them feel re-energized, that's great. Or, maybe they want to be left alone for 30 minutes to watch TV. The fact that they are on a treadmill while they watch that TV is just an added bonus. Or, maybe they want to simply be somewhere that allows them to forget their troubles, if just for a short while.

Lennox' story

On the other end of the spectrum from Mike's personal tragedy was an event from years ago, when then-heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis worked out at my fitness center. Lennox had training camp at a local resort, and came to us for his weight training. Friends would often ask me if I could ask Lennox to get tickets to his fights. "Just ask him," they'd say. But, what they didn't understand was that we never asked Lennox for anything. He was there to work out, just like everyone else, and we weren't going to ruin that for him.

A big moment in Lennox' career came in 1999, when his first fight with Evander Holyfield ended in a draw. That was despite the fact that everyone - except the judges - saw how dominant Lennox was. When he returned to our area to train for the rematch, everyone wanted to know, "What did Lennox say about the fight?" Our staff had one, and exactly one, conversation with Lennox about that first fight. As Lennox ran on a treadmill, one of our long-time trainers, Paul, went to say hello to him. Actually, he didn't say, "Hello." He said, "It was a shame." Lennox said, "Yup."

That was all we ever heard about that fight, and it makes me proud - just as I was proud to simply wave and say "Hi, Mike."

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