“10 Reasons Your Gym Business Has Become Stagnant” By Jim Thomas, Fitness Management & Consulting

Jim ThomasWe work at both ends of the fitness industry—with gym owners who are just starting out and want to shorten the learning curve and those who have been in business and are in need of a turnaround (and everything in between).

There are many reasons why some gyms grow and others become stagnant. Of course, there are factors like market size, competition and consumer demand. But there are also other factors that have to do with operations, leadership, accountability and systems.

Based on what we’re seeing across the country, here are 10 reasons why gym owners and their business become stagnant.

1. Success apathy. Just because you have had success in the past, it doesn’t guarantee success in the future. Simple complacency … we take our eye off the ball. An independent gym is usually a reflection of the club owner’s needs, desires and personality.

2. The right staff. You cannot build a successful gym without the right people in place. This requires both the proper hiring and training process and the willingness to make the changes that become necessary as the business grows. This is easier said than done for many gym owners. It takes dedication to the process.

3. The lack of standards, systems and controls. It’s not enough to have high standards in your gym without implementing the control systems that assure those standards are met. Without the controls, you will have good intentions accompanied by bad results.

4. The member attitude. This is not the members’ attitude but the gym’s attitude toward its members. There is nothing more destructive than gym staff that dismisses difficult members as “nutty” and concludes there is no way to make them happy. The problem is that most nutty members have not-so-nutty friends, and word of mouth travels fast these days.

5. Technology. New technologies can do many great things but can also be overwhelming and time-consuming for gym owners. Acquiring the financial, technical and staff resources necessary to solve a technology problem can be very difficult for a small gym, but there’s not much choice. The marketplace does not stand still.

6. Marketing. This includes everything from branding to advertising to market analysis. How your gym executes may be the major driver of its success, but how your gym is perceived also is crucial. The other reality is that small gyms can have a difficult time finding resources to help them with this critical part of their business. That means that the success or failure of a small gym’s marketing frequently comes down to the abilities of the club owner. Few people are good at everything.

7. Stale fitness services. Whether you are talking about fitness products or members, the market is always changing, and your products and services have to change with it. If you are fortunate, the changes are slow and subtle. Sometimes, they are dramatic.

8. Lack of investment. Whether it is for more new gym equipment and accessories, new technology, a bigger facility or more employees, growing gyms require more cash than non-growing gyms. Getting this cash may require borrowing money, finding more investors or using up whatever cash is on hand. It is ongoing. Some gym owners tire of the demands and decide to slow down the investments—and that slows down the growth of the gym.

9. Stubbornness. It is stubbornness that helped the gym owner get the club off the ground, get through the learning curve, survive the recession and cope with every problem along the way. At some point, though, focused adherence to what you know can limit a gym’s ability to adapt to change and get to that next level. Policies and strategies that might have worked when you had 10 employees can hold you back when you have 30. A common example is when you start to hire higher-priced managers who have different expectations than a $10-an-hour employee.

10. Leadership. This includes vision, courage, fortitude, attitude and gym culture—all of which should create an inspired staff. And of course, there’s the often-used word that is many times called the secret to it all: passion. Here is the real secret: Passion is critical, but it can’t make up for deficiencies in the other categories. I have seen many owners struggle in the gym business who had plenty of passion. It will not be enough.

Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops across the country on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products. Visit his website at www.fmconsulting.net

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“Leadership” by Sara Kooperman, CEO, SCW Fitness

sarah kooperman

Leadership by Sara Kooperman

Over and over again, I have witnessed my staff self-appointing a leader when performing tasks which may be simple or complex.  A leader seems to rise out of all situations.  Even when stuffing envelopes, coordinating schedules, laying down steps for a workout, inventorying clothes … just about any task big or small requires a leader.

Leadership is not a right, leadership is an honor.  Leadership is earned. It is earned in the kindness of a small gesture, it is earned in the succumbing to the interests of another, it is earned in the strength of boldly addressing adversity and it can even be earned in the showing of weakness.

I have not ever fully examined what makes one person a leader and one person a follower.  When I was young, leadership had always meant power.  Maybe this is my upbringing.  “Do what I say.” “Listen to me.” “When I say jump, ask how high.”  Yet, as I grew up and started SCW Fitness Education, my definition of leadership slowly evolved.

I remember another important story in my growth as a business person.  This is about my now twenty-four year old when he was only seven.  I took Sam (the oldest son of my four boys) with me to one of the MANIA conventions, Florida MANIA.  He never really understood what I did.  He had never come to a convention before.  We walked into registration where hundreds of people stood in line.  He saw me greet the registration staff, and smile and chat with the attendees. He was awestruck.

I’ll never forget how he looked up at me and said “Wow, mom.  All these people work for you.”  And I looked down at him, smiled and without missing a beat, I said, “No, Sammy. I work for all these people.”  That is leadership.  Leadership is not power; leadership is responsibility.

Now this may sound like the poor imitation of a line from a Spiderman movie, but it clearly defines for me the complex concept of leadership.

To me leadership is speaking 70 different languages and only then being able to communicate with each and every staff member.  Leadership is listening to complaints and criticisms without prejudice, and taking those criticisms like a man (I don’t want to be sexist, I just am turning a phrase.)  Leadership is always seeing two sides of a coin, tossing it and making tough choices. Leadership is balance during the most unstable of times.

Being able to:

Criticize with kindness

Correct with discretion

Admit mistakes

Forgive yourself

Retain your focus

Change midstream

Set direction

Readjust priorities

Leadership is setting your own goals, in your own style.

I think what all this boils down to is leadership is taking control.  This means taking chances, and taking chances most definitely means making mistakes. Leadership is the person who takes the risk to be wrong. Whether it is setting the steps up incorrectly, hitting “reply all” to an email that never should have been sent, teaching your first really horrible pilates class, or firing the best employee that you ever had.  Leadership is taking a chance and risking mistakes.

For women this is sometimes a harder task.  Women tend to be “pleasers” caring more for the feelings and thoughts of others than for themselves, wanting to make everyone get along, wanting everything to be smooth and comfortable.  Men tend to have the ability to drive their desires into action.  Take control and tell others what to do.  Women ask.  Men tell.  Yet, both men and women are leaders, and we can learn from each other.

Once In a meeting with a prominent male fitness industry leader, I was complaining about a situation in my office.  The man I was speaking with told me to simply, “take control” and do what had to be done.  I stated that I had to “ask my staff what needed to be done.” “Why” he inquired.  I stated, “Because if I listen to my staff, I get 150% out of them, otherwise I’m stuck with 80-90%.” He smiled in response.

Now there was no great wisdom in my statement, and no great change of management style to be learned.  It was just simple.  Different approaches work for different people.  I am sure that he gets 150% from his staff.  Yet, I could learn from his style, and he could learn from mine.

The binding factor in our relationship was the willingness to take a risk.  We both took risks, day in and day out.  We made decisions over and over and over again, starting projects, ending projects, and running projects.

If you want to be a leader, take risks.  If you want to be a better leader, don’t demand respect, instead earn it.  Ask advice, ask more advice, and then reconfirm advice, then without hesitation take a risk, because the responsibility is worth the rewards.


SCW Fitness Education: We’re a Family.

SCW is an internationally recognized education body that provides hands-on certifications and continuing education courses and conventions to fitness professionals in multiple disciplines nationwide. For the past 28 years, since 1987, Personal Trainers, Group Exercise Instructors, Small Group Training Leaders, Aquatic Exercise Professionals, Cycling Teachers, Mind-Body Experts, Sport Specific Training Educators and many more get certified through SCW. This outstanding Family of Leaders also supports Managers, Directors and Owners of clubs and facilities nationwide with our business and management tracks. As the largest Conference Leader and Continuing Education Provider in the world, MANIA® offers eight Professional Training Conventions in Philadelphia, California, Florida, Atlanta, Dallas, DC, Midwest (Chicago), and Boston serving over 10,000 health and wellness professionals and reaching over 90,000 virtually.

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“What is “Sexual Harassment”?”

By: Karen Perlmutter, Executive VP of Smart Fitness

Let’s face it, when you mix bodies sweating alongside one another, wearing (at times) revealing clothing, and add in surges of hormones flowing from physical activity, you’ve got a recipe for wandering minds (and sometimes hands), and often locker room behavior that enters the gym floor.

I’m sure you’ve seen inappropriate behavior in health clubs. You’ve seen trainers giving each other back rubs, or staff flirting “harmlessly” with members or other staff members. But you think that’s not harassment. And besides, sexual harassment would never happen in your club.

Think again.

Let me ask you this, what can be construed as sexual harassment? Quiz yourself and let’s see if you can spot what constitutes sexual harassment:

Is winking at a coworker sexual harassment?

Is commenting on a coworker’s sex appeal on social media outside of work considered harassment?

Staring at a coworker. Is that considered sexual harassment?

The answer to all of the questions above is, yes. And it’s costly. In fact, statistics from 2012 show that 1 in 3 lawsuits filed concerned employment claims and the average cost of defending those claims, without going to trial, was $150,000.

Yikes! Guess what? If you are the club owner and operator, i.e. the employer, you hold strict liability for those claims. In other words, owners have absolute responsibility for any damages arising out of the harassment claim. But it’s not just about money. It’s also about your reputation in the community, your values and your brand.

Sexual harassment suits arising out of unwanted or unwelcome sexual advancements, whether verbal, physical or nonverbal, can be avoided and should be. But you have to know the law and most importantly, your employees need to know the law as well. Sexual harassment is a difficult topic and it’s not black and white. So the more you and your staff understand what can be construed as sexual harassment, the better, because a wink may not just be a wink. It could be considered an unwelcome advance.

smart fitness logo

A knowledgeable, qualified staff equals a successful business. Smart Fitness provides all the education you’ll need, from how to prevent sexual harassment and safety training, to personal training, Group X, CPR training more!

Smart Fitness provides an interactive website with all the education a health club staff would need to become trained in their perspective roles within the health club. The platform can also assist in advancing the careers of the health club staff by offering an education continuum that allows individuals to grow into other departments within the club.

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“Beneath the Surface”

By:  Stefanie Fee, Social Media Specialist with ECORE and member of the USA Field hockey Team

The foundation of every mission statement in gyms across America is a commitment to empowering all members to be the best version of themselves while providing quality gym experiences that keep them coming back for more. What is it that allows some gyms to successfully meet these declarations, and others to fail? Customer satisfaction does not only rely heavily on the visible features gyms provide, such as innovative machines, appealing aesthetics, cleanliness, and great customer service. In fact, most membership fulfillment comes from the behind the scenes extra mile that gyms take to support their customers. Customers often overlook such features, even though the impact is remarkably influential on their satisfaction.

Nothing says, ‘We support you, from the soles of your feet to the top of your head,’ more than quality gym surfacing. It’s pretty easy to make a gym floor look attractive, but it’s what lies beneath the surface that truly matters. When a member is interested in signing up for your gym, they aren’t going to ask questions like, “Can you please share the slip resistant properties of your flooring?” “What is the thickness and critical fall height rating?” “Can you tell me if I’ll be able to clearly hear the fitness instructor and if my knees and back will be sore after I workout?” But, n reality, these details help to form the foundation your mission statement stands on, and should be addressed for your members. Can a floor do more? Yes.

Investing in quality surfaces that provide safety, good acoustics, and ergonomics is critical. Some sports and fitness flooring manufacturers use state-of-the-art technology that features recycled rubber to achieve this. The result: members can reach their optimal performance, while benefiting from energy return and force reduction characteristics that safely minimize body-to-ground impact, and make the floor more noticeably comfortable underfoot. This high performance surfacing also provides sound and shock absorption, which means that athletes dropping heavy weights in one room will not disrupt the yoga class next door. Safety is another key aspect that is crucial but often overlooked. Fitness floors that feature rubber are slip resistant and provide much more cushion than other surfaces, like wood. When you pair these three things – safety, good acoustics, and ergonomics – along with the given attributes that floors featuring rubber provide – durability, sustainability, ease of installation, ease of maintenance, and slip resistance– it’s really no contest. Sports and fitness floors that feature rubber offer superior performance; and, if installed, your customers will be inspired from the ground up. The best way to support your members begins beneath the surface!


About ECORE International:

ECORE was born “green” and has been making smart choices for more than a century. What began as the Lancaster Cork Company in 1876 is now ECORE International. In addition to creating cork products, ECORE is committed to transforming reclaimed waste into unique performance surfacing.

Today ECORE offers a full line of the smartest, highest-performing and most eco-logically responsible recycled rubber products made in the United States. ECORE leads the commercial rubber flooring category and continues to blaze trails and set new standards in recycled rubber technology, responding with intelligent solutions that improve people’s lives every day. ECORE’s brands include ECORE Commercial Flooring, ECORE Athletic, Everlast Fitness Flooring with Nike Grind, PlayGuard Safety Surfacing, and QT Sound Insulation.

To learn more about ECORE International, its advanced technologies, and portfolio of products and brands, please visit www.ecoreintl.com.

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“4 Ways Technology Will Make Your Club a Winner”

greg sklootBy:  Greg Skloot, VP Growth, Netpulse

For the fitness industry, 2015 is the beginning of the mobile and digital revolution. The most successful clubs will combine excellence in customer service and member relationships with world-class technology that enables member engagement, drives revenue and enhances the club experience.

As operators, you are faced with far too many challenges a day: staff not showing up, machines breaking, searching for leads… on the surface, adding technology to the mix can seem like just another thing to worry about it. However, when harnessed the right way, technology can become the ultimate competitive advantage for a club operator. Let’s dig into how:

It all starts with smartphones. Nearly 80% of online Americans have a mobile phone that connects to the Internet. It’s pretty unbelievable, when it feels like just a few years ago, we were all on dial up! This innovation has connected millions of people to a sea of useful and entertaining apps, devices and services that were never available before.

Now, we know that the vast majority of our members are using smartphones. How can WE use that to our advantage to drive a better member experience?

1. Go digital

From training videos to virtual coaching to online advertisements, operators must engage with members where they live: online, and more frequently, on their mobile device. Members now demand to access basic club services (like a class schedule) and increasingly enhanced club services (like signing up for PT) online and from their phones.

 2.  Think about commerce

For operators, the mobile revolution can be a goldmine, because many people are using all of these smartphones to buy things. We’re talking big numbers here… 1 out of every 4 of your members have made purchases from their phones. Imagine if grabbing a protein shake or even a trial personal training session was as quick as a tap.

3.  It’s not just the phone, it’s the wearable

People spent a whopping $700M in 2014 purchasing wearable devices, and now 1 out of every 5 Americans are using wearable tech in their daily lives. These devices, like FitBit, Nike+ and Jawbone UP are giving members access to never before available data that helps them understand how they are progressing towards their fitness goals. Savvy clubs can use these devices to support their member’s fitness journeys, and provide better opportunities for engagement (like club fitness challenges).

4.  Know that Internet is everywhere

In the next 10 years, I bet even your toaster will be connected to the Internet. From doors to treadmills, more devices than ever before can be online, and as a result, allow a member to interact. From connected cardio equipment to futuristic iBeacon technology, the health club of 2015 and beyond will have more “smart equipment” that makes workout tracking and personalization easier than ever before.
This article is a preview of Bryan O’Rourke & Netpulse’s 10 Tech Trends for Clubs in 2015. Download the full, free PDF here.

Bryan O'Rourke croppedBryan O’Rourke is an accomplished CEO, strategic adviser, entrepreneur, investor and professional speaker. His expertise in technology, strategy, development, marketing, management and finance has led to a track record of results in fitness and wellness, food and beverage, international trade, technology and franchising. Learn more at http://www.bryankorourke.com.

netpulseNetpulse is the #1 provider of custom branded mobile apps for clubs. The most successful clubs use their mobile app to engage members, drive revenue and create a complete club experience. Your mobile app drives member referrals, PT sales, member participation in fitness challenges and many other powerful methods of member engagement. It’s a must-have for 2015! Learn more at http://www.netpulse.com

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“How to Close a Gym Membership Sale at Anytime, Under Any Circumstances”

Jim ThomasBy:  Jim Thomas,  President / Fitness Management & Consulting and also one of our GGFA Think Tank Panel of Experts

You just never know when things will change.  You get transferred to another club.  You have a new boss.  Your company is sold.  Even if things just seem to be going crazy in the gym you have worked at for years. Things change, but the expectation of sales production remains.

Here are some tips to help you make the membership sale no matter what the circumstances;

  1. Attitude is everything.  The key to remember here is that it’s more important how you feel about your prospect than how they feel about you. You can’t let crazy circumstances change you. The positive expectancy to win.    The will to make it happen.  No negatives, attitude is paramount.  If this is not in place, you can’t even get started.
  2. Have commitment in your posture and voice. You want to be using words like great!  Fantastic!  Terrific! Show confidence!
  3. Have enthusiasm that conveys conviction and belief. It’s been said many times that the definition of sales is a transfer of feelings or a transfer of enthusiasm. It really goes beyond just enthusiasm; it’s your passion, your belief and your conviction for what you do that means you can’t be swayed otherwise.
  4. You must be sold. You must be sold that your company is the best.  You have the best product and best service.  You’re the best person to help them get the results they want.  You’re sold on the value you bring to your customer. You are unreasonable to the point that nothing can be said that will change how you think.
  5. Always agree first with your prospect. This is senior to everything you do in the sales process. Always be agreeable. Don’t defend your position.  Certainly don’t tell your customer they’re wrong.  Be agreeable.  Mary, I understand.  Mary, I agree with you.  Even if your customer says they didn’t come to join today, you say, “Mary, I understand, most of our guests don’t come to join when they first come in.”  Then follow your sales process.
  6. Be sure you are getting daily training. Be sure you are getting daily training.  If your club is providing this great, if not, be sure to get it on your own.  Daily training will add a  sales a day to your production.

Now, go close a sale!

FMC Logo May 2012

Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops across the country on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products. Visit his Web site at: www.fmconsulting.net or www.jimthomasondemand.com.

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“Sustaining the Momentum”

Dave KenyonBy:  Dave Kenyon, Gold’s Gym Owner
Dutchess County (Hudson Valley), NY

Its funny and a little scary how quickly time goes by. We were just planning the Gold’s Gym Challenge and here we are finishing it up and getting ready for National Judging. I feel that the business has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. With social media, events and competition from other health clubs, it seems as if there is always something happening that demands our attention. So how do we keep things even and consistent throughout the year?

One way is to try and keep the momentum of the Gold’s Gym Challenge going for as long as you can. There is so much excitement with the Challenge that it’s easy to get everyone on board and be successful. So when it’s over the real challenge starts to find something to keep that spirit alive and well in your club.

Be creative and find ways to keep your members engaged with their results from the Challenge as well as providing alternative programs or options for them to continue their journey. We hold a summer shape – up program that starts at the end of the Challenge and runs up to the 4th of July. It’s a simple concept of continuing the Challenge without pictures. So we keep the age and gender categories the same and award prizes for people who change the measurements and weight the most.

Another way is to reward people for keeping their weight and measurements the same or better for a period of time after the challenge. For example let all of your Challenge participants know that they will get a prize or some sort of recognition for staying the same or improving until August 1st or whatever date you feel is appropriate. You can take this concept one step further and create a wall of fame, where you can put up members who have had success. This can be done year round and again you can be creative with this also and have a member of the month featured for their outstanding results or efforts in the club. You have also created a place for your sales people to stop and highlight some of the things that a member can achieve while working out here. An instant marketing tool that you pay nothing for. These things can help create lifelong exercisers as well as keep loyalty to your club as you are rewarding the habits and consistency that people need to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

All of these things can be run by employees other than the management team. Getting employees involved with programs like this helps to create excitement because if it’s theirs, they will talk it up and create the buzz just like they did for the Challenge. So let your staff lose and have them take some of your work and watch as they make magic happen all year round.

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