People with nice personalities are usually friendly, outgoing, smile a lot and are willing to listen to others. On the other hand, people with unpleasant personalities are often sullen, think too highly of themselves and don't pay enough attention to others.

Let's apply this to the fitness industry. Think of personal trainers who always have a lot of business, are friendly to everyone and have ready-made smiles. Now, compare them with personal trainers who primarily interact only with their clients and do not smile or interact with other members. It's easy to see who most people would want to train with.

In today's world of more and bigger competitors, one way the smaller club (or personal trainer) can compete is to have a wonderful personality. So many businesses of all types succeed because of this personality “plus” factor. And so many do poorly because of their poor personality. The successful businesses have better personal relationships with those they serve. They listen more and talk less.

Yet usually the people who make up the personality of a business are too close to the business to see what others see when viewing their club. In other words, those who work in the club every day and see it primarily as a way to make money can view the club quite differently than people from outside the club view it. Whether or not we accept it, most people from outside the industry see the idea of fitness and exercise differently than people inside the industry do. Despite the different views, the feelings and thoughts of those outside the industry are just as valid as ours. They truly believe that those who exercise regularly or who are thinner are inherently different from them.

Recently, a major chain selected five finalists from millions of members for its member of the year award. All five finalists mentioned how important it was to them that no one in the club judged them or made them feel inferior because they were out of shape or overweight.

This openness to all types of people contributes to a club's personality. Unfortunately, not all clubs have this attitude, and it is no wonder that so many unfit people feel uneasy in a club. They can feel the bad vibes of judgment that the fit staff and members give off at clubs like this. Many clubs are more geared to fit people than unfit people — the group they are trying to attract.

A personality assessment is probably one of the most significant things a club owner can do. If your club had a personality, what would it be? In a staff meeting, ask your staff about where their attitudes lie. For example, ask them what they think when they see an overweight person. Ask them if they think overweight people are lazy and weak. If many of them answer yes, they are not as open to your market as you may think, and they are sending out messages that overweight people are inferior. This is counterproductive.

Just as it is difficult for a person to change his or her personality, it is equally difficult for a club to change its personality. It can be done, but there isn't one way to make the change.

A club's personality has to do with how it looks and how those involved with the club interact with members, guests and other staff. Obviously, the club has to have a beautiful, clean energy and a friendly attitude toward everyone — not just a select few.

A key to being a successful club is insuring that employees have a better empathy for others and improved interaction with as many people as possible. A club can change its personality and be a unique home and welcoming environment for those who want to change their lives.

Bruce Carter is the president of Optimal Fitness Design Systems International, a club design firm that has created about $420 million worth of clubs in 45 states and 26 countries.