'People buy people', so they say. Here's how to make sure yours are ready for success.
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Worth over £4.4 billion, the Fitness Industry is one of the most UK’s most significant and increasingly competitive sectors. Between them, 6,435 fitness facilities service the needs of over 9 million members – market penetration is at all-time high. In such a highly competitive market, points of difference dictate who sinks or swims.
Leisure providers are, of course, not alone in this situation. In any competitive marketplace the need to differentiate is paramount. But how exactly?
Value has to be the priority
In many cases price is the immediate default. The cost of goods and services is of course important. But cost is not the same as value, and by making a knee-jerk decision to drive prices down business owners often run the risk of failing to offer real value. Value that, in my opinion, springs directly from a businesses’ greatest asset. It’s staff.
It may be a cliché but the old adage that ‘people buy people’ holds true. Let’s face it, most gyms and fitness centres have more in common than we like to admit when it comes to equipment, classes and facilities. On paper there is likely to be little difference – certainly not one that has the outright power to sway the average customer – from one operator to another.
Again, this is not a predicament unique to leisure providers. Wherever you find a crowded market, you will find organizations very closely aligned in terms of their apparent outward offering.
Tap into your talent
Which is why I firmly believe that how you do things is what makes the difference. For the industry I work in, that means the atmosphere, the environment, the support, the enthusiasm and the welcome. You can’t physically build or buy these elements, but you can create them by tapping into your talent.
Help your staff to be the best they can be, and they will do the same for your customers. They will create your USP. With those foundations in place, anything becomes possible.
I’m not naïve – you have to stay realistic and competitive. But if you push costs lower and lower without offering value, whatever business you are in you will watch that revolving door keep on spinning. Every new customer that comes through matched by one waving goodbye.
Figures follow focus
With that in mind, my best bit of advice is not to get too hung up on the bottom line. Focus on people and the ‘here and now’, and you’ll find the figures follow.
That has been my experience at Life Leisure. Over the past 5 years, around 40% of total income has come from increasing membership and casual visitor numbers to our gyms. We’ve grown our turnover from £8 million to £11.6 million in the same period – despite a significant drop in authority grants and funding.
You don’t get that kind of growth without brilliant staff. I firmly believe that people come into work to do a good job – my job is to help them do that.
We take care to place young talent in influential positions. Empowering them to be part of the business and live its values. At Life Leisure, we’ve also scrapped job descriptions and traditional evaluations to focus on a preferred behaviour model that encourages staff to be their personal best.
Staff are recognized and rewarded for embodying what we’ve termed our WATCH principles (Winner, Authenticity, Together, Caring and Happy). Through this behaviour programme any staff member at any level can become a company champion – referred to as Sentinels – and be part of steering groups on business development areas. The scheme is also the foundation for annual employee awards.
Importantly, the managers don’t choose our Sentinels – they are nominated by their peers and members of the public, who notice and appreciate when an individual is going above and beyond to help them get healthier.
Motivated teams make anything possible
Our employees really like it. The company’s growth would not have been possible without happy, motivated staff who are always giving that extra per cent. Investing in them has been the best business decision of my career. Our local community like it too. We recently won an ‘employer of the year’ award for the approach, not as a leisure provider, but as a business demonstrating best practice.
This approach also means we’ve developed one of the best staff retention rates out there, with a 500-strong team. This is hugely important from a business perspective. As well as keeping recruitment costs low it builds and develops in-house knowledge and experience – the value I mentioned earlier that our customers recognise and appreciate.
This principle is wholly scalable. But you need to know who you are and what you stand for. In other words, how you want your customers to feel. Taking the time to understand that, and putting in the effort to share your vision with staff will do more for your business than any other single factor. People buy people, so make your people the best.