Looking at Your Club Business Through Fresh Eyes

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Welcome to the new year! The days are shorter, New Year's resolutions are inducing guilt, much of the country is in the depths of winter, and there's nothing for a lot of folks to do but go off and join a gym. Everyone knows they have to get in shape. Now's the time.

So, let's consider the experience of some unsuspecting would-be gym members. They have visited websites of local facilities, "liked" Facebook pages and read online reviews. They have narrowed down their search to four facilities within a short drive time of their homes.

What they all want to know at first is, of course, "What's your price?"

Gym Wannabe 1 calls Club A. (Fancy names, huh?) When he gets Club A on the phone, he receives the simplest possible answer to that initial question. It's an enrollment fee and a monthly charge. The conversation lasts about 30 seconds. Question asked. Question answered. Click.

Gym Wannabe 2 calls Club B. She gets passed to a salesperson. The salesperson is very nice and extremely eager to get GW2 to visit the facility. But, sorry, he's not permitted to quote prices over the phone. This annoys GW2, but because this is a large, well-appointed club, she makes an appointment to come in for a tour and to get those secret prices.

Gym Wannabe 3 calls Club C. At first, GW3 is annoyed, too. The person answering the phone says, "I'll be happy to give you our pricing, but to make sure I give you the right price, may I ask you some questions first?" GW3 thinks, "fine," and sort of sighs into the phone. The staff person introduces herself and asks the caller's name, and proceeds to ask several pertinent questions. What prompted this call today? What sorts of activities does GW3 enjoy? Does he live nearby? Five or 10 minutes into the conversation, GW3 has forgotten about the price question because the conversation has become much more useful. Then, GW3 hears the price that applies to him, and provides a name, phone number and email address. GW3 also agrees to schedule an appointment for a tour.

Gym Wannabe 4 checks out Club D, but doesn't even need to call. Everyone knows Club D's price because they see it everywhere. Club D charges $10 per month, and there's not even an enrollment fee.

Then our intrepid consumers visit all four clubs.

GW1 can see that Club A is obviously locally owned and operated, which he appreciates. But there are several staff people around the desk, and they are more interested in their personal conversations and their smartphones than in his arrival. They sort of point at each other, wondering, "Who's going to get stuck with this tour?" When one of them does step forward, there's no introduction, and GW1 isn't asked for any information. The tour consists of walking around the club, with the staff person talking about all of the club's "stuff." GW1 doesn't understand a lot of it, but gets the gist. Treadmills. Bikes. Weights. Machines. Classes. At the end of the tour, GW1 is given a price sheet and sent on his way.

At Club B, which is part of a chain of well-known large clubs, GW2 waits in the lobby for the salesperson. She's greeted with a smile and whisked off to a cubicle. She fills in a lengthy form about herself and then the tour begins. The facility is impressive, to be sure, and the salesperson talks a lot about just how impressive it is while showing GW2 everything. The salesperson seems to know exactly what it will take for GW2 to reach her goals when she becomes a member of Club B, and there seems to be no doubt that she will join. At the end of the tour, she goes back to the cubicle. The more GW2 makes it clear that she doesn't plan on joining today, the more the incentives keep getting better. When she finally is able to leave, and before she reaches her car, a text message arrives, thanking her for her visit to Club B. She wonders, "How'd they do that?"

At Club C, GW3 is greeted at the front desk by someone who seems genuinely happy to see him. They were expecting him, and a reference is made to the phone conversation he had with that other staff person. GW3 fills out a brief form with some questions about himself and begins the tour. The staff person listens more than she talks, asking helpful questions and focusing the tour on things that are interesting to GW3. GW3 even feels comfortable enough to ask about some things that seem a little embarrassing. "Will I feel comfortable in classes?" "Can I get help on the workout floor if I don't know what to do?" "Do I need to buy anything special to wear so that I fit in?" When the tour is over, GW3 has an opportunity to discuss options and understand the details of the membership. He is politely invited to join, but the staff person understands that he might not be able to join on the spot. He's asked if Club C may have permission to follow up in a few days. The next day, there's an email waiting for him, thanking him for his visit and inviting him in for a free appointment with a trainer and to take a class that he expressed interest in.

At $10-per-month Club D, GW4 finds that they couldn't be nicer when she walks in the door, and it's an easy tour. They have lots and lots of stuff as far as the eye can see. They charge just $10 per month, and everyone is welcome. They ask why would she pay more for the same stuff that every other gym has? GW4 thinks they must be right because it's jam-packed with people. She leaves with that price ringing in her head.

If you say that you don't see your club and your competitors, or aspects of them, somewhere in here, we don't believe you.

We spend the majority of our time focusing on having our clubs be Club C, but in a heartbeat we can be perceived as Club A. But if you run a Club A and that's working for you, we think that's great, just like we know there are a lot of Club B's that are going to make a lot more money than we will this year using tried-and-true health club selling tactics. We also know that the Club Ds in our industry are going to continue to attract lots of new members.

We want to encourage you to take a few moments here in January and look at your business with fresh eyes. Are you ready for these calls and walk-ins? Does your staff differentiate your facility from your competition, especially when that competition has all of the same "stuff" that you have? Imagine phone calls and tours through the eyes and ears of a first-time gym-goer. Would you want to join your gym?

Happy new year!

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Athletic Business under the headline, "Would You Join Your Gym?"

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