A: Congratulations on your investment! It will no doubt be a fun adventure. As far as a transition period, there are a number of factors to consider — the continuation or death of the pre-existing culture in the club, the attitude of your members regarding the change and, of course, your bottom line.
Influencing the Culture
In many cases, the culture of a purchased health club needs to be revamped. Take the good parts of the existing culture and then add elements of your own to make it the perfect place for your members. You probably already have an idea of the type of culture you want to have, but I recommend first asking your existing members what they would like to see.
A focus group like this will allow you to understand the good, the bad and the ugly that they have experienced prior to your purchase of the business. You might be surprised to find that some of the things you feel are negative; your new members view as positives, and vice versa. Organize a few informal groups to help you learn what they feel has been missing in order to develop a solution.
You’ll also want to understand what your competitors are offering so that you can develop your perfect niche to offer something unique that your prospects really want. No matter which niche you go after, a high level of customer service will need to accompany your choice. With all of the fitness options people have, many times they will go with the place where they feel they belong.
Earning Loyalty from Members
This isn’t always the case, but many times when an owner sells an existing health club, toward the end he/she didn’t maintain a strong relationship with the members. This is your opportunity to shine. Though it may cost a bit to gain their loyalty, the investment will be worth it.
Send every member a letter from you. Introduce yourself, your goals for the club and anything you feel they would like to know. Spend the better part of your days shaking hands and getting to know the members. Greet every person and do your best to remember names. Host a grand re-opening party for the members and allow them to bring their friends. Go out into the community and introduce yourself to other business owners, setting the stage for future cross promotions and joint ventures. Schedule a voice broadcast recording of yourself introducing yourself and the ownership change at the club that can be sent to all members at once.
Improving Your Bottom Line
Obviously, a goal in any business is to make money. If you take care of the previous two items on this list, you will be well on your way. However, there still will be some bumps you can’t avoid. Some members will have been paying dues for some time without visiting the gym. Your ownership change announcement will remind them to cancel. I would make it an immediate policy that all cancelations have to be done in the club with you. That will give you an opportunity to get to know the member and to save the membership.
Whether you are keeping the existing staff or bringing in a new staff of your own, the key to a clean transition is to train your staff extremely well. As much as you’d like to, you can’t do everything. You’ll need help. Set the stage for success by training your staff to do everything as well as you would.
Also, when you buy a club, the numbers the previous owner shared with you and the actual numbers are never quite the same — typically skewed in favor of the previous owner. You may find some membership numbers misrepresented, some membership agreements coming close to their end date and various other surprises. It will take a few months to clean everything up, but once you do, you’ll be in a much better position.
There are many things you will need to focus on during your transition, but if you focus on these three, you’ll have set a strong foundation for the success of your new health club. -CS
Curtis Mock is the host of www.fitnessbusinesstelevision.com, the TV show for fitness entrepreneurs and is the executive director of GymSuccess.com. Curtis can be reached via e-mail at Curtis@ClubSolutionsMagazine.com.