Three Sessions: Plan Ahead

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With all that was taking place at the Club Industry show this year, I didn't get a chance to attend as many sessions as I have in the past. The three I attended last week were quite good, and they all stressed the importance of planning ahead.

As a rule, I must sit in on at least one of Michael Scott Scudder's sessions during any trade show. And this one was by accident. Scudder was filling in for Roger Sargent, president and CEO of Affluence Business Solutions Inc. for the session titled "The Key Components to Writing a Budget or Business Plan." I happened to pass by Scudder before the presentation, and he told me he was filling in for a speaker, but I didn't realize it was for this session.

Scudder, who has written for Club Industry magazine in the past, makes any session lively and interactive. Sometimes, the interaction with the attendees is more entertaining than the subject matter. Think small college lecture atmosphere.

A couple of key points from the Scudder/Sargent session: October (now) is the time to begin your business plan for 2010, not December. Also, if January sales are slow (as they were at many clubs this year), it's imperative to have a contingency plan.

A club's business plan should include its niche, demographics, competition, revenue streams, marketing and programming. It's always best to set goals above your benchmarks. And club operators cannot "hope" that they do well in the coming months or next year.

"Hope is not a strategy," Scudder said.

In other words, write it out.

I also attended Wendy Williamson's seminar on "Economy Recovery: Are You Ready for 'Exercise as Preventative Medicine' Business?" Williamson is one of our Step by Step columnists.

The key point of Williamson's session was that medical exercise service professionals, especially those in post-rehabilitation, have to work at networking and creating business for themselves, just as club operators have to work at garnering sales for memberships. Williamson suggested getting in touch with local physicians to set up partnerships in hopes that they refer patients to you and your club. You can do this through socials, e-mails, phone calls and other events, says Williamson, who spent five years getting one doctor's attention. Now she has 12 to 15 of his clients.

"I love what I do," she said.

Wellness programming in clubs, Williamson adds, can help a club's bottom line and lower the staggering dollar amounts related to chronic diseases and health care costs. As proof that we all need more exercise, Williamson showed a photo of someone walking their dog while they were slowly driving their truck. I've seen this photo before, and sure enough, it was the same photo Dot Richardson showed during her presentation two years ago at Club Industry East in Orlando.

The third session I attended was actually my first at the show. Attorney Alan Roth, married to Sara Kooperman of Les Mills and SCW Fitness fame, presented the legal and business issues of "Raising Capital to Build Your Business in a Tough Economy." Like Scudder, Roth stressed the importance of building a thorough business plan.

When operating a business, times can be tough, and money may not always be there to pay the bills. Regardless, it is not a good business plan to stop paying sales tax or the IRS, Roth said. The government doesn't always come after you for owed money, he said, but it always collects.

Here are some additional notes for new club operators: Hire an attorney to negotiate leases, and hire an accountant to look at the books when buying an existing club. If friends or family provide money to open a club, treat them like a bank. And check how much cash you have in the bank on a daily basis, especially when planning for the slower months. No one ever says, "Why am I making enough money?" Roth said. They usually say, "Why am I not making enough money?"

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