Do You Need a Redesign?

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On a recent trip to an out-of-state conference, I was lucky to have friends in the area who offered me a couple of free guest passes to their gym. I gratefully accepted the passes and had several terrific workouts at that facility — but I wished I could have blindfolded myself while there. Although the staff were friendly, the instructors top-notch, and the machines and equipment state-of-the-art, the facility itself was so visually and aesthetically displeasing that it felt oppressive to be in there. I couldn’t wait to get back to my own beautiful, thoughtfully designed gym.

Soon after that experience, I found an Athletic Business article by Rob Bishop and Barry Klein about classic health club design blunders. Bishop and Klein, contributors to the magazine and owners of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, Pennsylvania, offer advice based on their own past mistakes and successes and their observations of clubs they’ve visited. “When it comes to great architecture and design at fitness facilities,” they say, “we defer to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s standard for obscenity — we know it when we see it.” “Obscenity” may be too strong a word to describe the mistakes some facilities make, but the points Bishop and Klein pick up on are spot-on.

1) First, they say, you have to allow for more space. This was a big issue at my friends’ gym: It felt so cluttered with machines, kettlebells, medicine balls, mats, and equipment that working out there made me feel claustrophobic. I compared it with my gym back home, which has a huge room lit up by skylights that, aside from supplies and equipment neatly lining one wall, is practically empty. This is the room where functional training takes place, and where large gatherings or big Zumba classes sometimes happen. There’s so much that can be done with it — but you don’t even know what you can do with a room like that if it doesn’t contain any open space. Bishop and Klein recommend eliminating old equipment (especially when you bring in new stuff).

2) They also make a strong case for choosing the right carpet. Bishop and Klein learned from a mistake they made in one of their own clubs when they decided to lay down single-colour carpeting in some places. In a short period of time, the carpet acquired a worn and dirty look that seemed impossible to vacuum or shampoo away, or merely to hide. As they put it: “Have you ever noticed how industrial carpet typically has lots of patterns and colours? There’s a reason for that….” A multicoloured one might have more of a busy feel than you want, but it will appear much cleaner for much longer.

3) They make a strong case for investing in decent lockers, even if it means “investing a bit beyond your initial comfort level.” Lockers, like front desks and group fitness rooms (and unlike equipment and carpets), stay in place for a long time. Rather than install pieces reminiscent of high school gym class, put some thought into what’s aesthetically appropriate for your club. Let your members feel like grown-ups.

There are other elements to consider too: ceilings, sinks and countertops, lighting. I’d add one more: Make sure your front-desk staff greets members with a warm smile. That goes a long way toward helping to create an environment that people want to work out in — and might even make up for some physical deficiencies inside your facility. The bottom line is this: Audit your facility to determine whether it needs a facelift. Figure out what funds you can allocate to a redesign (if you don’t have much available, focus on just one element you could improve). And take the steps necessary to make changes. Your members (and their guests!) will thank you if you do.

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Brand identity

Your Mission: To Think About Mission Statements

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Recently, a post on IHRSA’s blog gave me pause. It features Fred Hoffman, owner of Fitness Resources in France, and it focuses on the relationship between personal trainers and member retention. What struck me is that Hoffman talked only a little about that relationship; what he emphasized is the importance of mission statements. As he put it, “Policies, procedures, performance standards—all should be based on [a] company’s mission statement and represent its core values.”

This got me thinking. Really, what is a mission statement? Hoffman argues that “whatever takes place in a club is a reflection of the company and its management.” In this conception, a mission statement is like a mirror you hold up to your club to make sure that it looks the way you want it to look. If you glance into the mirror and what you see doesn’t match your ideas about what you should see, then you know it’s time to make changes. If you don’t have the mission statement—don’t have the mirror—then you have nothing against which to compare your reality, nothing by which to judge how close your reality is to meeting your ideal. How then do you know what to change? How do you assess the “whatever takes place in your club” to ensure that it is a true reflection of your company and its management?

So, as Hoffman says, “If you have a mission statement, revisit it, and, if you don’t, draft and fine-tune one.” Your mission statement should do several things:

• Provide an explanation of what your club does

• Include a description of your corporate culture

• Incorporate examples to show how your corporate culture manifests itself

• Enumerate your club’s core values

• Explain how the core values are used to obtain desired results for members, staff, suppliers, and the business as a whole

Thus, it’s not enough to state your goals. As they say in the journalism business, “specific is terrific”: You need to explicitly state what you are, what you do, what activities and attitudes define you. You need to provide concrete examples, avoiding abstract language that ultimately doesn’t mean much. And you need to pull it all together to show how you accomplish everything that you want to accomplish.

How then do you use the mission statement, in practical terms? During your hiring process, share it with potential employees. Make sure that they understand it. If it doesn’t make sense to them, or if they can’t see how it forms the basis for everything the club does and every decision management makes, they might not be the right employees. If they do understand it, make sure they see how the role they would play within the club aligns with it. To use the personal-trainer-and-retention example, if one of the core values your mission statement outlines is member retention, make very clear how the responsibilities set forth in the job description relate to member retention. Show how each core value jibes with the various job responsibilities described.

Finally, make sure employees never forget the mission statement. There’s a reason why grade school children used to have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. You don’t have to make your employees recite the mission statement daily, but do post it prominently in a staff lounge. Do bring it up during staff meetings. Do discuss it with employees when you meet with them one on one. If your employees see how important the mission statement is to you, they’ll believe how important it is to them.

Making Your Facility Intimidation-Free

Making Your Facility Intimidation-Free

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Have you ever felt close to convincing an on-the-fence prospective member to join your facility, only to have them back away in the end because they’re afraid of being intimidated? In surveys, intimidation is one of the most common reasons people give for avoiding sports and fitness facilities—and we’ve all seen the Planet Fitness “No Gymtimidation” commercials. Of course, the people perceived as intimidating in your facility might have no intention of scaring others away—in fact, they’re probably among your best customers, and you don’t want to do anything to alienate them. But there might be one or two super-serious exercisers who get a kick out of flexing their muscle, literally and figuratively, and scaring others off what they think of as their turf. What can you do to help limit intimidation in your facility?
To begin with, foster a sense of community. If your place feels like a cooperative, supportive, noncompetitive, accepting one, you’re less likely to find yourself trying to manage bullies, or even just dealing with members who perceive others as intimidating. This, in fact, is what the Planet Fitness ads are all about: They’re a way of saying, “Everyone here is in this together; everyone is welcome.” To create an environment with a similar message, try posting signs that convey your facility’s inclusiveness. Come up with your own “No Gymtimidation” slogan and plaster it around. Make sure your staff, including front desk folks, sales people, trainers, and locker room attendants, infuse the place with friendliness and respect. Tolerate expressions of judgment from no one.
Also, if you’ve got a core group of intimidators (intentional or not), try to harness their excellence for the benefit of your facility. Maybe organize a “Masters Circle,” or something similar. Personally ask your most intense, serious, and possibly bullying members to join. Give the group workouts appropriate to their level—and give them a talk, asking them to be aware of members whose skill might not match theirs. Explain how new members, whether novices or experts, are crucial to the long-term health of your facility, and ask them to be a force for good within the facility, maybe offering to help less experienced members or generally just to project friendliness. In effect, you want them to be ambassadors to your sports or fitness center.
Another approach: Rely on your trainers and instructors to keep things fair. When a class is packed and there’s an aggressive push to get to the front row, a mindful instructor can choose to spend at least part of the class at the back of the room, turning the back row into the front. That way, everyone feels like they get fair exposure to the lessons being taught. Trainers can keep a watchful eye on exercise equipment and cardio room usage, making sure no one’s hogging a particular machine or staking out personal territory. Instructors and trainers often have direct access to clients and members in a way that other staff members do not — they see them regularly and often build up a rapport with them. They can use their familiarity and rapport to make sure everyone gets a fair shot, and intimidation is not a factor.
The bottom line is that your facility should feel like a fun, relaxing place for each person who uses it. If that’s the case, then everyone wins (including you). It’s worth spending time thinking about how to create the kind of environment that welcomes everyone, and how to make it clear to prospective members that “everyone” includes them.

Brand Identity

Brand Identity

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We all know how confusing a mixed message can be. Somebody tells you one thing and then does another, and you’re left wondering what exactly happened. Did you misunderstand something? Have you misinterpreted? Most of all, can you still trust the person in question?
While it can be bewildering when it happens between individuals, it can be downright damaging when it happens between an individual and a business, especially when the business thrives on retaining members. So, it might be time to review the messages you’re sending your clientele and make sure you’re not putting conflicting signals out there. To that end, a few pieces of advice:
1) Consider your free offers carefully. Some gyms have been known to offer pizza days, bagel days, even doughnut or candy days. While such food giveaways might make members happy, they can undermine your primary messaging. You want your members to believe that you care about their health — sure, a slice of pizza or a bagel once a month never hurt anyone, but let the strip mall down the street supply those. If you do it, how believable are you going to sound when you tell your members they need to exercise and eat properly to lose weight? And if you don’t sound believable and they don’t lose the weight, are they going to renew their membership when the time comes?
Of course, you could give away candy or bagels—even bagels slathered in cream cheese or butter—if you hand out with them, say, a chart that shows how many push-ups a person would need to do to burn off those calories, or how many miles they’d need to run on the treadmill. Again, it’s about consistent messaging.
2) Check how inclusive you’re being. Unless your facility is an elite training center or something similar, chances are you don’t want to turn away any potential clients. Are your flyers, advertisements, social media postings, and other promotional materials inclusive, with people of all colours, genders, sizes, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds represented? Will an overweight person or a Spanish-speaker or a transgender individual feel alienated? Try to consider your messaging from as many different points of view as possible, asking yourself whether you might be unintentionally shutting anyone out.
3) Pay attention to your grammar. I know this one makes me sound like your ninth-grade English teacher, but it’s important. In this day and age, when so much of a company’s identity depends on the words it strings together on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in emails, and on websites, proper grammar—along with careful spelling and punctuation—is crucial. This is especially the case if your messaging is about achieving excellence, pushing yourself, going over and above, and the like. If you want to keep your credibility, you have to show your own willingness to achieve excellence, to push yourself. Even if your clientele cares more about a good workout than a well-crafted sentence, on some level evidence of carelessness will have an effect.
In the end, it’s about having a solid brand identity and continually working to strengthen that identity. Tweaking small details and taking the time to reflect on the messages you’re conveying can make a big difference.