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Questions To Ask Before Offering New Services at Fitness Centers

Hopping on the "new trend" bandwagon can be a bumpy ride if you don't ask the right questions first.

I sometimes find myself depressed when my monthly trade magazines arrive. I may be the humble owner of an independent fitness center, but by now it seems I should have an in-house spa, a children's program, a dedicated Pilates studio, lots of new exertainment products, an older adult program, a beverage bar and a sports conditioning program. I'm sure there are others I'm missing.

To our industry's credit, we are finding ever-more interesting and revenue-generating services to offer members. This is vital because monthly dues revenue just doesn't cut it anymore. The real profit rests with the incremental revenue that can be earned over and above your members' monthly dues.

The challenge with these new services is that they all take time, money and space. Will you need to hire more staff? Can you afford new equipment? Do you need to expand your space?

To be sure, there are a hundred questions to ask before embarking on any new initiative, and some of them are not so obvious. As a facility owner who has had his share of successes and failures, consider the following questions before trying anything new.

Is my business operating as well as it should be?

If your business is not currently doing well, why in the world would you take on something new? I'm not talking about facility owners who are responding to or anticipating changes in the marketplace, and preparing appropriately. I'm talking about the owner whose fitness center isn't firing on all cylinders in the first place, but who is still thinking of taking on a new program for kids or older adults, or who is hot to build a beverage bar.

I've been to far too many fitness centers that have "management by checklist." Birthday parties? Check! Group Pilates? Check! Café? Check! They add these services as they go, never realizing that they never took care of the basics of running the business they already had. The un-surprising result is that the new programs operate as poorly as the rest of the business.

What is the cost of doing nothing?

This is something we grapple with at my facility every day. What do we need to offer now? What trends are coming? How long can we wait? How long shouldwe wait? The beauty of doing nothing is that you save yourself all that time, money and space that I mentioned earlier. But, at some point, you might have to take your shot.

What's the downside of success?

You wanted something new, and now you've got it! But, at what price? Your children's program could be a big hit, but there are adults who might not appreciate the kids being around. Your new exertainment pieces might be installed at the expense of some members' favorite, older machines. Your older adult program might be a huge draw, but your facility might not be adequately equipped to handle this new population. Your personal training program might be making headway, but it could need many more dollars and hours of investment to get where you want it go.

There is a downside to every new program. You hope the upside will far outweigh the downside, but you need to have your eyes open.

What don't you know?

If you knew what you didn't know, then you'd be all set. But that's impossible, isn't it? Run away from anyone who tells you that something is "easy." How much have you ever done in your business that is easy? Ask every question that occurs to you, and don't accept answers you can't reconcile with your experience or common sense.

I think we should all try something new on a regular basis. If you are not moving forward, then you really are moving backward. But first, make sure your current operation is working smoothly and effectively, and be sure you can take on a new service or program. Choose your next moves carefully, and be honest with yourself about both the upsides and downsides of whatever program you choose.

In future columns, I will discuss specific examples of programs I've tried, the good, the bad and the ugly. And the questions I wished I had asked.

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