Business is more competitive than ever before. We all know that but what does it really mean? It means that the customer has more options and choices.

Thirty years ago there were only 7,036 radio stations, but today there are more than 13,000. Thirty years ago there were only 339 magazines, but today there are more than 800.

Our selection in the supermarket has grown by 500 percent in that same time period, and 30 years ago we didn't even know what a Web site was, but today there are more than 6 million. And as recently as 1984 there were 6,742 fitness facilities competing for members while as of January 2002 that number topped 17,800.

So what is the bottom line? Just having good service and selection of equipment and programs at your club and offering fair and competitive prices are not enough. These standards have become the minimum levels of customer expectation. We have to learn ways for our clubs to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

SET YOUR BUSINESS APART

Three main categories differentiate a business: product, presentation and people. There are many variations within these categories but they are the trunk from which all of the other branches grow.

Product

This can be separated in three different ways: 1) Uniqueness of the product. 2) Level of service provided. 3) Quantity. How many hours are you open to your members?

Presentation

This is the most diverse of the three categories. 1) Displayed. What does the place look like? 2) Advertising/marketing. How do you look to your potential customers? How are you positioned within the marketplace? 3) Association. A business differentiates itself not only with a specific brand or service but also by the assortment or collection of brands or services. This could be considered in the product category, but I believe it's the mix of services that is part of the positioning process and the way you present yourself. 4) Professionalism vs. a more “homesy folksy” approach. 5) Pricing. Many of you thought that this should be in its own category but it is a part of how a product — a fitness facility in our case — is being presented. Try not to differentiate yourself by just price because you will just attract a price-motivated customer who will only be loyal to price. You want that loyalty in other areas.

People

This category is the dragon slayer because a business can have the best advertising, the best services, the newest equipment, a great logo and image, but if a part-time employee ignores or insults a client, then it's all for naught. That is the reason why we will see businesses that seem to be doing everything wrong but are succeeding. I have visited more dumpy businesses that are successful because of the people that are there. 1) Training. We can never stop. We must constantly review and make our employees as knowledgeable about the products we sell as possible. 2) Likeability. How likeable are your employees? We do business with people we like. You can talk marketing till you're blue in the face, but if we don't like someone, we rarely buy from them. 3) Hire right. Training is great but give me a positive attitude and a willingness to learn and I'll show you a winning employee. “Hire attitude, train the skills.” 4) Fun. Lighten up and make your business a place where people want to go, stay, tell their friends about, and where employees never want to leave.

When you look at a business try to figure out what makes it different. Las Vegas is all in the presentation, Joe's Diner is probably the people, while Godiva Chocolate is all product. How are you differentiating yourself?

Rick Segel, CSP, is an author and speaker. He blends business topics from sales and marketing to customer service with a side order of humor. Rick is an internationally recognized speaker and is the author of “Retail Business Kit for Dummies” and “Laugh & Get Rich,” and has appeared on more than 100 radio and TV shows. Rick can be contacted at rick@ricksegel.com.