There was a time when face-to-face networking was really the only way to do it. Trade shows, conferences and local organizations provided valuable information and a chance to learn what other club owners were doing to improve their business.
But in the internet age ripe with blogs, webinars, and even virtual trade shows, many club owners have chosen to forgo the costs and time needed to get together with their peers and learn how to do business better. But, is that really the best way for an independent club operator to really stay on top of the trends?
“With all the free information available on the internet, many club owners just don't see the time and expense of attending shows and meetings as a value proposition, says Michael Scott Scudder, Founder and CEO of Fitness Business Council. "While there is great benefit from well-run and credible online sources, it just may not be enough. With nine percent of clubs controlling 40 percent of the memberships — and research shows this trend will grow as we see continued consolidation — independent club owners need to expand beyond the web as the only way to stay ahead of the game.”
That said, many organizations are still providing viable ways for club owners to not only meet and exchange ideas, but also get real life critiques on how they run their business and can do a better job down the road.
“Meeting three times a year with non-competitive clubs in a 100-percent straightforward and honest way that will share ideas and hold you accountable can really help a club owner improve operations,” says, Will Phillips, Founder and President of REX, a company that specializes in forming and facilitating executive roundtables for the fitness industry. “Often, be it online or in educational or networking situations, people will share 95 percent of their story. It is that extra 5 percent that comes out in the right environment that makes the difference.”
Even local association groups such as MACMA are reinvigorating their face-to-face networking opportunities even as they offer more online methods of education.
“While we provide webinars and online resources There is such value for our members in face-to-face meetings where they can really hammer through details and learn from experts and each others” says Kerry Campbell MACMA's executive director. “Club owners are looking for help with sales, marketing, competition and more. It helps having a local, regional group they can go to and learn from each others' experiences.”
But, face-to-face meetings, especially ones that are open and honest, the ones that will be most effective, take a special kind of mentality from independent club owners and managers.
“When you get ideas from your peers, and then they follow-up in three months to see if you've adapted and improved your business, there is a level of accountability; there is also a level of support,” adds Phillips. “There are about 10 percent of club owners that would not want to be in that position; another 30 percent that feel that way, but probably can do it and benefit. About 40 t0 50 percent say 'bring it on'.”
Matt Harrington, president of Boston-based Gymit and a member of one of the groups through Rex Roundtables, agrees.
“The ability to talk openly and honestly about your business with another fitness professional is a benefit that can not be measured," says Harrington.
"It is very rewarding to know that others are having the same troubles that you are having, and even more rewarding to know that you can help the other members succeed by sharing your own successes. [But] the club owner needs to be comfortable being be fully transparent in all parts of their business and life. They also need to be certain that the can make the time commitment to the group, outside of the meetings you need to be available to the other members of your group via email and phone.”
While online learning and education is cost-effective and worthwhile if absorbed and put to good use, the need for face-to-face networking and education may bring a bigger ROI for independent club owners.
Editor's Note: The iClubs Conference is designed specifically for independent club owners to learn, network, and improve their clubs. Join us in San Diego November 20-22.
About the author: John Agoglia has spent nearly two decades either working in health clubs or writing about them. He currently writes for several digital and print publications and provides marketing strategy and content services to companies in and out of the fitness industry.