A continuation of articles from our Fitness Founders series: Mehdi Elaichouni of Carpe Diem Jiu Jitsu Singapore shares his first-hand experience in how he has personally navigated challenges. He highlights key learnings and actionable takeaways to help new fitness businesses succeed.
How to make your gym stand out
We’ve all heard that for our business to be successful; we must differentiate from the competition. A new business owner’s biggest fear is to be “just another fitness brand”. Without differentiation, all you have left is a pricing war. Competing on price is a race to the bottom.
Knowing this sends us forging ahead to study the market. We want to see what competitors are doing to identify what we can do differently.
This can result in complicated brands that people struggle to understand or offerings so niche that nobody actually wants them.
Personally, I see merit in going against the grain of this form of differentiating my business. Instead, I like to see what I can copy from established industries. So, for example, I look at the hospitality and retail industry for customer service best practices, F&B for operations, etc.
I start with a brand name and visual identity that I’m happy with and really focus on core business functions.
Skip ahead to:
1. Optimize operations
When I was a student in the UK, I worked as a cook in Nandos, a fast-food restaurant specializing in flame-grilled peri-peri style chicken. I would cook batches upon batches of chicken one after another for eight hours a day, and somehow every chicken turned out the same. It’s not magic; it’s a process. During my time at Nandos, I became fascinated with how the F&B industry creates processes to standardize and streamline their operations. Here are some tips.
Document every process you have in the gym. Make sure it’s kept updated and accompany each step with photos if needed, like how Nandos has photos of how each sandwich is assembled at the station. Starting the manual will be tedious, but it will come in very handy as your business and headcount grow.
The fear of micromanaging often deters us from giving prescriptive instructions, but that’s not going to work if you want to optimize your gym operations. Instead, I like to start with specific instructions, then let the person on the ground adjust and optimize as they go about daily tasks.
Invest in efficiency
Invest in reasonably priced products and tools that will make completing tasks more efficient. Get a cordless vacuum instead of a heavy corded machine, use a wash-off foam instead of manually scrubbing off soap scum, use a gym management software to manage leads, and automate membership payments instead of sending manual reminders, and so on. Saving time on manual work like this means you can focus on more important tasks.
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Slowing Your Fitness
Have a buddy system
Assign a buddy to new employees. This helps new employees learn their tasks and responsibilities faster and with more confidence.
Be observant and gather feedback from staff and customers. You can have formal feedback channels and informal catch-ups. This helps you to know what’s working and what isn’t, allowing you to make decisions to quickly rectify hiccups before they become a problem.
2. Invest in customer service
You may be reluctant to invest in customer service as a new fitness business, choosing instead to focus on acquiring new members. However, while new customer acquisition is important, you can’t neglect customer service. It is the direct connection you have with your customers, and I firmly believe that you need to instill an excellent customer service DNA into all teams and functions of the business.
Provide consistently positive experience at all touchpoints
You and your team may know what your brand stands for, but your customers may not. The best way for them to experience your brand is when every staff interaction they have is consistent and customer-focused. Customer-focused service doesn’t mean you cannot say no. It means when you have to say no, you also provide a solution that helps alleviate your customer’s concern.
A recent positive experience I had was in Gym Club Phuket. The fitness facility was well equipped and well maintained. The staff were nice while maintaining a casual but high level of professionalism. The receptionists knew available membership types and provided helpful information at the right time. When put together, all the elements provided for a really nice experience at the gym.
Increase retention, reduce churn
Having good customer service in place can drive new member acquisition and create loyalty, which helps generate positive word of mouth. It’s a known fact that it costs more to acquire new customers than to retain those you already have, so why not invest a little in customer retention?
3. Standardize your product offering
Thanks to product standardization, a burger at Mcdonald’s will probably look and taste the same regardless of the country you have it in. When it comes to fitness businesses, you need to have some form of product standardization so that all customers will receive the same service and have the same great experience.
For example, you can standardize your welcome scripts so anyone with reception duty for the day knows what to do. Have a series for first-timers to the gym, where you include a gym tour with designated stops. Then have another series to welcome regular members, and include options for conversation starters.
A roster of coaches conducts Carpe Diem classes, but there is a standard structure and theme that all coaches follow, so customers get the same high-quality teaching and class experience regardless of which coach is teaching that day. An important thing to note for standardization is that the objective is not to turn everyone into robots. Instead, it is about setting guidelines and allowing individual personalities to shine.
You can also standardize class schedules. For example, instead of scheduling according to instructor availability, lockdown specific classes on specific days so members get used to the schedule. In a new business, this method will allow you to test what works and what does not.
Your new business will need some differentiation, but don’t obsess over it. Study competitors in your business vicinity, and check out the best performing competitors in the bigger area. Note down key elements of their business, such as branding, product offerings, how they operate, and marketing activities, and see how you can do better. If you succeed in having excellent operations, customer service, and standardizing your product, these may become your key differentiation points that customers will love you for.