Two months into the new year, the pressure is still on for clubs to achieve higher revenue goals, get their members to spend more money and make up for the members they lost last year. Many of us wait all year for this opportunity that will either start the New Year on a strong note or, at the very least, make up for a weak finish to 2006. While January is our busiest and highest month in sales (and also stress), quieter February is a good time to look back at 2006.

Last year we saw many stressful changes in most marketplaces across the country. After speaking with hundreds of club owners and managers, we found that this past year was one in which many clubs felt stressed by all the change in their marketplace, by the amount of competition, by the lower volume of guest traffic, and by the ongoing challenge of increasing sales and retention of not only their members but also their top performing employees. Bottom line: It's becoming more challenging for independent club operators to compete.

The answer to relieving some business stress may lie in getting our businesses into better shape. Like people looking to improve their health, some can do it ourselves, but most of us need help or motivation from others. Just like members join our clubs to get healthy, seeking answers from others to help with our challenges is a smart move — not a sign of weakness. Club owners should turn to resources such as national and regional club associations and trade shows, where you not only learn from sought after experts, but you also develop relationships through networking with other operators. You can also take advantage of club management roundtables or hire consultants to help increase sales or improve retention. Make sure you find a qualified mentor though, not a part-time or recent expert who has worked with only a handful of clubs.

To find the best solutions, you first need to ask some hard questions and answer honestly. Is your business fit? Can you get the business into better shape? What changed in your marketplace? Are you willing to change? Do you have a plan? Where should you look for help in getting the most effective plan? Are you easy to do business with? Is your team friendly and well trained in customer service procedures? Does your staff exhibit the mentality that the customer is important and comes first, or do they spend their time gossiping and gabbing? Is your club clean and visually appealing? Do you offer enough classes and is your equipment well kept? Does your club provide a motivating environment?

Many of our clients are experiencing growth in challenging markets, and some are even experiencing new profit levels. Their secret is that they proactively seek to increase their knowledge, realizing that learning never stops. They then act on or execute that knowledge and consistently deliver value through their services and staff members with the goal of creating not just satisfied customers but also loyal customers.

Lastly, equip your team with the tools they need to properly do their jobs. Take advantage of training, invest in the ongoing development of your people, and help them succeed. I've worked with companies who invest a great deal in their employees and others who spend a bare minimum. The difference in their overall results is always significant.

Today's business environment is more challenging and competitive than ever before, which means you need to give people a clear reason to do business with you rather than someone else. It's time to get on track.


Ed Tock is a partner in Sales Makers, a marketing and sales training consulting firm that has worked with more than 1,000 clubs and won the IHRSA Associate of the Year. He can be reached at 800-428-3334 or eddie@sales-makers.com.