Monday, 22 December 2008

How to survive the crunch – focus less on sales

I was pleased to see the article on the credit crunch in December’s Health Club Management magazine, but disappointed to read so much about sales and so little about retention. I think it is a dull reflection of the industry that so many operators are focusing on new sales offers during the financial crisis.

While new joining offers will encourage more people into the gym and move towards Fred Turok’s vision of 1 million more people exercising, I think these credit crunch deals are really trying to win over members from other clubs, and the more this happens, the more the industry will suffer.
When times are tight, it’s much easier (and cost effective) to cut back on gym membership than utility bills, so we must demonstrate value for money and really good service.

The only chain in the December article mentioning a strategy for existing members or soon to be ex-members is énergie. Hooray for them for thinking about existing members during the crunch.

Focus on your existing customers becomes as important as new sales in times like these (if not more so). Your clients should always be your best sales channel, and you should do everything you can to retain them. All staff must be involved in your retention policy, empowered to make decisions, and measured on results. This could easily lead to better job satisfaction or even better pay for fitness instructors, another big concern of mine.

2009 is going to be an evolutionary year in the fitness industry. Many of us will be watching the development of the budget club closely, and I think that membership trends could look very different. I look forward to the HCM retention features in April and July 09, and I believe that the successful clubs in 2009 will be those who channel as much into retention as they do into sales.

Letter to Health Club Management magazine 22/12/2008

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Cold Winter Runnings

Boy, was it cold out there today! Max motivation needed, more than ever, I thought before I set off…

So first I mapped out a new route on googlemaps; a change is as good as a rest. No double loop around Highgate Woods today, but a new run along the disused railway track and up to Ali Pali park for some wonderful views of London. The distance looked like just over 5k, so next I needed a 30 minute playlist.

Here’s a very easy, and really motivating playlist for 30 mins. Muse – Black Holes & Revelations, but take out tracks 5, 6, 8 and 10. You’ll be left with an incredibly uplifting, shouty soundtrack which will keep you going uphill as long as you need, particularly at the end with Knights of Cydonia. Come on!

Howies NBL base layer on to keep me warm, chin up, and off I went. Felt great all the way round, grinning at passers by, particularly other runners, and soon had the sleeves rolled up. Started to struggle on the way back up towards Muswell Hill, but Bellamy’s guitar kept me going.

The combination of a new route and a 30 min playlist was a really good one… Best speed since August, and a new route to share next time I’m out with friends. Time for a hot bath now.

Friday, 28 November 2008

State of the Industry – Instructors

Many people in the fitness industry recognise that one of the major issues is the low remuneration and recognition of instructors. Yet only a few seem to be doing anything about it.

Sure, instructors need more money, but in a vocational profession, they also need more fulfilment, and to make a difference. And if they can prove that they are making a difference in people’s fitness and in their club’s member retention, more recognition and money will come along.

An Instructor’s Epiphany – Rob’s story
At the start of this year I resolved to take control of my own future and to really try to help more members at our club to be more active, more often.

After muddling through a couple of spreadsheets, I built a list of 100 members who I knew well, and noted their last visit date. I wanted to try to make sure 80% of them had always visited the club in the last three weeks. I would see how the numbers looked every 2 weeks, and get in touch with the people who were in my danger list. Every time I exceeded the 80%, I’d add a few more names to my spreadsheet, a mix of new joiners and other members that I knew. Before long I was keeping an eye on over 200 members.

The gym manager (who has worked here the longest) wasn’t too bothered about the numbers or the fact that I was making a real difference to members returning to the club. Being a naturally outgoing person, I find it easy to connect with the members; after all, they pay my (meagre) salary. If you always say “Hi” when you see people in the club, it’s easy to call them or e-mail when they’re not coming and ask what they’re doing, or when they’re coming next.

A couple of the other instructors saw what I was doing, and started copying me, which was great, because their members noticed and liked it too. And while my direct boss still wasn’t interested, the operations manager found out what I was doing, and now I’m being promoted to gym manager, and my old boss is looking for a new job.

Our club is more successful, members are fitter and more motivated, I have more responsibility, and I’m earning more. Which is nice all round, I think!

It may be that some instructors need a little coaching to get this model to work, and some gym managers will no doubt need a little help looking through the data, but these are relatively small hurdles in the grand scheme of things.

*More People, More Active, More Often – the FIA mantra

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Cool Autumn Runnings

OK, up and running again… not been for a few weeks, as I’ve been away, and the last run was a bit of a beasting over the cliffs of Hastings.

Today was my first proper autumn run. Splashing through puddles and mud in the woods, half of the autumn leaves on the ground and half still on the trees. Cold, wet, and not very motivated when I set-off. This is the time that you sometimes need a little extra to keep you going. If you can keep going through the autumn, the winter seems easier somehow.

Feeling absolutely knackered, knees and achilles hurting after a couple of ks, and then just as I came up to the halfway “bottle” point (where the 2nd loop starts), my iPod on random plays Bloc Party’s “I Still Remember”. Nice. No question about giving up halfway, off I went for another loop, and the full 5k.

We all know that music boosts exercise capacity but this really confirmed that I need to sort out my autumn running playlist and powersongs to keep me going through the difficult season.

No personal best today, but back in the groove, and looking forward to the next autumn run through the puddles, leaves, wind and rain. Bring it on!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Software Implementation – A how to guide…

Many software implementers have got it wrong.

Here’s a typical scenario:
Training follows installation, and for a number of days, the members of staff are expected to take in all the aspects of the new system. Management might attend the first hour or two (if they’re interested), but then go off to do more important ‘management’ things. The trainer leaves, and the staff continue to use the parts of the system that they like, or that they remember from the information overload.

This seems to be the same whether the system is being installed at a bank or a gym – an information assault on the staff followed by underuse of the system, and then management wonder why the system does not deliver as promised.

New scenario:
Consultant sits down with management and gives high level (1 hour max) overview of all the possibilities of the system. A coffee break follows, and then management spend another 30 mins with consultant deciding on key functionalities to deliver first, and timescales.

Staff are then trained in these key functions, and left for one week or so to learn how to use them, and get to ask more [intelligent] questions, before the next training session on the next part of the system.

Probably more time consuming, and expensive, but when you’ve spent all that money on buying that smart new system, why not spend a little more time learning how to get the most out of it?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Abdominal Credit Crunches

Gyms and health-clubs have hard times ahead. The credit crunch is going to impact on membership figures as people start to cut-back on non-essentials; anything with a monthly direct debit will suffer, starting with the £50+ per month gym fee, then down through the satellite TV subscription to the charity donations.

On top of this, new budget offerings from clubs like MiFit and FitSpace costing from £9.95 per month are going to look more and more attractive to the average person who wants to work out once or twice a week, and doesn’t want the frills. This will hit local authority and public clubs first, as there is less to differentiate them, and they often run short term contracts, or none at all.

So how do gyms survive in this brave new world? Some clubs plan to try to increase sales, which is the wrong answer. Increased sales means more focus on new joiners, and unless you are taking on more staff, this means less focus on the existing members, which will increase drop-out. Retention is going to become so very important over the next 6 -12 months; clubs without a retention policy are likely to be in big trouble. Some suggest that 50% of the club’s marketing budget should be spent on member retention, which is a good start!

Measuring monthly attrition (drop-out) rates and then setting a target to improve (or at the worst, maintain) that attrition rate should be a priority. All staff in the club should somehow be accountable for part of the picture, and everyone should pull in the same direction to ensure members are motivated and returning to the club on a regular basis.

The health club industry is facing some major changes. The combination of the credit crunch and budget gyms means many clubs will have to evolve to stay alive. Differentiation will be the key, and clubs must demonstrate value for money to their existing members whether it be a fluffy towel and sauna, or simply tracking improvement in the member’s fitness levels.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

What did you expect?

When was the last time someone said “what did you expect” to you? Probably when something had gone wrong, or you had failed to achieve what you wanted. A negative, in other words.
When something positive happens, you are much more likely to be told (or to think) that you worked hard for it, or that it was down to good luck, rather than “what did you expect”.
Here’s the theory – expect more often. Not just more (although that’s good too), but more-often. Everyone has expectations, but they are often subconscious. Set-out, think through or even write down what you expect before you start, and it is more likely to happen. Whether it is a business meeting, a run/gym session, or a golf shot, tell yourself what you expect before you begin.

Take a look at your to-do or task list (if you’re one of the lucky ones who have one) at the start of the day and tell yourself (or someone else) how many of them you expect to complete today. Not how many you’d like to complete (all of them?), but how many you expect to complete. You will be more likely to succeed, and it will not because of luck, or because you worked harder. This is a very short term example. Here is a very long term example:

The father that expects his teenage daughter to be back from her night out by 10pm is more likely to be rewarded by seeing her home before curfew than the one who does not expect it. (Beware, and read this correctly, no-one is expecting their daughter to be late, one expects her to be on time, the other does not expect). This expectation would need to be built up over a lifetime of expectation and obedience; after all, if the daughter is habitually home late, expectation alone is unlikely to change the pattern.

So set your expectations, and expect more often. Feel free to just expect more too, it’s no bad thing. As Oddball (Donald Sutherland) said in Kelly’s Heroes, “Positive vibes, Man!”

Monday, 11 August 2008

Distance not Time, or the Olympic 10 second sprint

How do you set your exercise goals? It seems to me that most people will work out on certain equipment in the gym for a certain amount of time. Many instructors set member's programs with 10 minutes on this kit, 5 minutes on that, which is a strange way of working to me...

If you're watching the Olympics at the moment, are you looking forward to the 10 sec sprint, the 2 hour cycling race, or the 2 minute swimming finals? I know it sounds weird, and would be very hard in certain contests to see who got the furthest after an certain amount of time. It is also hard to remember the distance you cover in your allocated time. I bet most people know that the 100m world record is just under 10 sec (currently 9.72 by Usain Bolt of Jamaica).

My brain remembers times more easily than distances if I'm trying to improve my performance.
If you set a distance goal to run, cycle or row, and then try to beat your previous time is much more motivating than running for 10 minutes, and checking how far you've run.
Try it, and let me know...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Harbinger: Scenario #2: The Gym 2.0

An old blog by now, but a very interesting one, particularly when I was deciding what to do with life after SMA, and writing the GG Fit business plan...
This harps back to my first posting, with a scenario that is now one of my key goals.

Harbinger: Scenario #2: The Gym 2.0

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Chin Up

So I went for a run earlier today and as the sun started to beat down on me and I was going uphill for a bit, my head naturally started to droop as I tried to dig deeper into the energy reserves. As I came down the other side of the hill, my head lifted, and I had an idea (one of the reasons I run is that I often come up with ideas when I’m out).

Here it is:

Running with your head up is much better than looking at the ground.

I think it is because you get a lot more light from the sky in your vision and less dark mud/grass/road, and this is clearly a good thing. It makes you feel better, and be more creative, whether you’re running, walking or just sitting still. At least, I guess it’s linked to light – try it and let me know. Of course you need to keep an eye on where your feet are going, but your peripheral vision should be able to cope with seeing whether there’s a log or stone you need to avoid, and splashing through puddles is part of the run for me. If it’s improving your peripheral vision for free, then that’s a great side effect; goodness knows how much premiership football teams spend on peripheral vision exercises.

The “Chin-Up” expression is normally only used when people are down in the dumps, in fact the only time I remember being told to keep my chin up was when I had been dumped. But my extensive research (!) shows that you should be keeping your chin up all the time, and you will be even more positive, motivated and creative.

I made a conscious effort to keep my head up for the rest of my run (just over 5k around Highgate Woods), and came up with several other ideas, more than usual in fact, so I had to write them down as soon as I got back, before guzzling down my normal pint of water. I also recorded my best time for several weeks, which was nice too!

So if you want to be more creative or more motivated, keep your chin up, and whether someone’s just been dumped or not, if they’re shoe-gazing, tell them to do the same.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Why are gyms still in the stone age?

Why do most gyms and health clubs still use the paper and pencil method of recording workouts?
In this modern technological age, it amazes me that a workout program is designed by the instructor on a piece of paper, and the user is expected to tick the exercises done during a visit, or record times or distances run. Most gym managers to whom I have spoken believe that this offers a "more personal approach", and that systems would make it more impersonal and alienate members. Instructors are concerned that the systems will replace them, when they really should be embracing them.

Polar heart rate monitors are fantastic little gizmos that you wear around your chest on a strap, and they transmit your hear rate to the treadmill, bike, or a Polar watch. They have done this for years, before bluetooth or wifi, but still we struggle to get the data from the equipment. Any cardio machine will ask your age, weight, how far/long you want to run/bike/etc for, and then tell you how many calories you burnt, along with other stats as you get off. Systems exist to record this data, but they are not used in most gyms, so if you want to record your time/kcal/etc, you need to write it on your program card... coh!

Exercise management systems are a no brainer for improving fitness, motivation, competition between members, retention, and the member experience. So why are they so underused???