It has been my experience over the past 30 years that, in general, the Fitness Industry is always willing to take a prospective member’s money yet they don’t seem to give much regard to delivering tangible benefits from either their products or services. This lack of concern for customer service and client results reflects negatively on the Fitness Industry. Having spent the last 20 years in Medical Fitness, which stresses tangible results as well as superior customer service, it makes me question how the general health and fitness companies stay in business.
When I was Executive Director of University Hospitals of Cleveland’s 121 Fitness Center, my goal was to create an atmosphere that oozed quality customer service at a very reasonable cost. For 15 years we led the NE Ohio area as well as the Midwest in quality fitness programing. We have awards to prove that we had the best equipment, programing options, instruction, facility maintenance and cleanliness. As a result our financial success put us in the top 96% of all health and fitness centers in the US for over a decade.
Why is it that only Medical based health and fitness centers seem to have any pride or sense of obligation to provide high quality products and services to their customers (members)? Why is it the health and fitness industry is alright with billing customer’s credit cards monthly and hope that they never come in and use the facility?
My personal feeling is that the Fitness Industry in general has been able to get anyway with this “let the buyer beware” business model-attitude for so long that it has become ingrained in their collective thinking. “Why spend the money on quality programing and service when they will just quit anyway”...Conversely, the Medical Fitness community has proven that if you offer a quality product at a reasonable price they will not only come, but will stay...During my tenure at 121 Fitness I was always looking out on the horizon for new programs and equipment that enabled legitimate improvement to physical fitness. That said, we avoided fads and gimmicks. We were the first fitness club in the Cleveland area to offer Group Cycling (Spinning) to our members and ‘at no additional charge’. The program was a hit from day one and 20 years later it is still the most successful group cycling program in NE Ohio.
In addition, we were the only fitness center in the greater Cleveland area to employ a full-time equipment maintenance technician. Other club owners would always ask me in amazement “isn’t that expensive?” I would always answer, “Expensive? How much is it costing you in member fallout because 20% of your equipment is constantly down and takes weeks or months to repair.” Rarely if ever did you see an ‘out of order’ sign at 121. Our average downtime for repair was measured in Hours not Days or Weeks. This commitment to excellence extended to building maintenance as well as housekeeping where we employed two full-time cleaning crews during business hours and an after hours janitor to ‘sanitize’ the wet areas 7 days per week. We were well known as the cleanest, best maintained facility in the Industry. And won many awards for our efforts.
While most facilities put all their efforts into recruiting ‘new’ members I put mine into ‘retaining’ my existing members and used a ‘member referral’ program to replace my attrition. Happy well serviced members are your best sales force and I was happy to say I had 5,000 motivated sales people selling my facility...As the late Steven Jobs put it so beautifully .... “I put all of my waking efforts into providing my customers the absolute best products and customer service that was humanly possible. As a result, I never once worried about the bottom line or stock price. It all just fell right into place”...Now, if the fitness industry just followed that one mantra, it would be a whole different industry than it is today...
To learn more about this topic, please consider attending the Webinar “Positioning Medical Fitness in the Current Health Club Environment” hosted by Cary Wing on February 29th. Details can be found here.
Harry Safford is a 30 year veteran of the Health & Fitness Industry with the last 20 years spent in medical fitness. He is currently the Executive Director of Business Development at Exerbotics where he is still deeply committed to offering the absolute best solutions and service.