Finding solutions in other industries

Going to industry trade shows, talking to peers and reading trade publications can teach you new ways to run your club successfully. But did you ever think to look outside the fitness industry for some fresh, new ideas?

Club operators can gain knowledge from businesses that have nothing to do with fitness. Older industries can make great resources as they may have experimented with ideas that you are considering. You may even learn from their mistakes — so you don't have to make them yourself.

Before applying new business practices or ethics, however, you must understand the outside industry you wish to emulate. In addition, you must familiarize yourself with the industry's size and complexity. After all, some industries may contain certain intricacies that wouldn't work for health clubs.

For advice on how to garner knowledge from outside your four walls, Club Industry turned to two experts with experience in other industries.

  • Stop, read and listen

    “You need to read all the business journals you can,” notes Rick Caro, president of the consulting firm Management Vision and chairman of the Spectrum Clubs. “Especially the standards like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Inc.

    In addition, you can gain insights by reading professional newsletters on employee practices and education publications, such as the Harvard Business Review or Sloan Management Review.

    Attending lectures put on by independent organizations or universities are also thought-provoking, as are the many videos available on just about any business-related topic. Many successful business leaders have written books that can inspire and educate. And there is always the Internet, which holds a wealth of information.

  • The best of the best

    There isn't one specific industry that fitness clubs can mirror 100 percent. Every industry has some strengths that can cross industry boundaries.

    Where should you look? It depends on what you want to learn, explains Jim Solomon, president/CEO of Crunch, New York. For example, if you want to learn about branding, you may want to look at the athletic shoe industry — Solomon's old stomping grounds.

    “The athletic shoe business is larger and more marketing-driven than the fitness business, and because it has more competitors and it's more brand-driven, you can learn a lot about branding and how you position yourself against your competition,” he says.

    Here's another example: If you want to learn how to deliver exceptional customer service, remember that nobody does it better than Disney.

  • Apply the lesson

    After picking up tidbits from other industries, you must incorporate your discoveries one step at a time, Caro advises.

    “Prioritize. Focus on what you are most comfortable implementing right away and what is achievable,” he says, adding, “then get more ambitious and look at the whole strategy and [find] larger challenges.”

    Concentrating on three to five focal points to implement can help you build the confidence required for bigger challenges. But in order to apply any new lesson, you must share your goals and objectives with your staff. Once your organization understands the mission, you need to put an operational structure in place with checks and balances that can show whether your new way of operating is working.

  • Cross-pollination

    While it's a good idea to implement strategies from other industries, it can also be a good idea to hire people from other industries.

    Outsiders — whether new staff members or consultants from non-fitness markets — bring fresh perspectives. Plus they challenge you to do things a bit differently, says Caro. And when you combine new talent from outside the industry with people who know the fitness business, you get a nice mix that can only add to the success of your club, adds Solomon.