We 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