Create Your Very Own ‘Virtual Board of Directors’

Being a small club owner can be a lonely place when big decisions need to be made. There are a million different choices, but it is neither financially, or logistically feasible, to employ all the experts needed to run your business perfectly.

When I look back at my 23 years as a club owner, I wish I would have relied on more people and utilized all of my business contacts more effectively. Like so many business people today, I was a good “networker” and I received great information and advice over the years. Unfortunately, I limited my networking pool to my peers, other club owners and local business people. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I can see things much more clearly. I recognize that I missed a lot of opportunities to ask advice from the people who actually knew the most about their areas of expertise. I missed a great opportunity to get ideas from my vendors and use them to create my very own, “virtual board of directors.”

Vendors need to be more to you than just a warehouse or a vehicle of delivery — they need to be your partner. Their continued survival is predicated on your success. Just like in your club, it costs less to retain a client then it does to find a new one

Surround your club and yourself with vendors that want you and your business to be more than just a sale. Work with sales people and organizations who know that sharing their intelligence in their particular field of expertise is just as important to their success as it is to yours.

I know when I built my second health club that I was dealing with a whole new demographic. I was attempting to attract a different clientele than I had at my other, much smaller facility. When it came time to buy fitness equipment, I narrowed my search down to three companies that all sold and maintained quality equipment. I made my final decision based on the relationship I had with my sales person, knowing that I had a lot to learn and that my sales person probably had forgotten more than I ever knew about successfully buying fitness equipment.

Each and every decision was mine to make, but it was comforting to know that I surrounded myself with the right amount of input to make the proper final decision. Together, my staff, my sales person and I contemplated every option, played out every scenario and analyzed every possibility and when it came time to decide, I knew I had all my bases covered.

The same process happened again in 2002 when I switched my health club management software to a company that sold me on its people, as much as it did on its software. Having a good product in this industry is one thing, but backing that product with a dedicated sales consultant, who is passionate about helping you succeed, is another. I could rely on an experienced and knowledgeable person who not only took the time to show me how to operate my software, he also showed me how to maximize its efficiency and increase my club’s revenue. Once again I had a business partner and not a vacuum salesman, throwing dirt on my carpet.

Obviously, you need to trust your “Virtual Board” to be more than just sales people seeking to pad their numbers. It is no different than having to trust your employees to be more than just “Yes People” trying to further their careers. Take the time to get to know your vendors, pick their brains and make them feel part of the process. Because, in the end they are some of the best people you have.

Eric Claman owned two clubs in Torrington, Connecticut, before selling both and accepting a consulting job at Twin Oaks Software Development in 2011. He can be reached at 866.278.6750 or at, or visit

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