Over the past three years, I have taken on the role of health club consultant, which I find rewarding and at times frustrating. I get a great sense of accomplishment helping someone help themselves and fulfill their dream of club ownership or management. It is thrilling to see someone listen, understand your advice and follow through to better their business. However, the road to helping people is not always easy. Sometimes, gym owners do not know that a better way exists to conduct their business. Sometimes, they know a better way exists, but they do not reach out for help. Other times, they realize they need help, bring someone in to help them and then resist their help.

I often see new owners entering the health club business with successful non-fitness-related business track records. They may feel that the health club business is easy and that they are going to reinvent the wheel and blow all the existing club operators away. They may purchase franchises and not follow their standard operating procedures. Though there are many valuable tried and true business philosophies that may apply to every business, what may work in another industry does not always apply to the health club industry

New club owners will discover challenges on their own, but when things get too hard, they can reach out to a resource that will help them. If you are faced with some of the following issues, it may be time to hire a consultant:

  • You do not have policies or procedures in place or do not have them thoroughly documented.
  • Poor management, poor leadership skills and lack of attention to detail.
  • You have little sales, marketing, advertising, social networking and public relations experience.
  • You are losing more members than signing up new ones.
  • A new competitor has entered your market.
  • You have no business experience.
  • You feel that you have tried everything and nothing seems to work.

Choosing the right consultant requires time, and it requires you to know what you want the consultant to do. Consultants can help in many areas of your business, including sales, advertising, marketing, public relations, social media marketing, club operations, hiring and training, employee compensation, job descriptions, personal training, group fitness, human resources, financial planning, raising capital, strategic financing and competitive threats.

The consultant you hire should be a full-time health club industry consultant. You do not want to waste time or money getting a consultant up to speed on our industry. Expect to pay $100-$350 per hour on short-term projects. Most consultants require payment before service is rendered. The best arrangement is a blend of hourly work and an incentive-based compensation. Expect to pay for travel time, material, gas, tolls, etc.

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Find a consultant with expertise in your area of concern. Success as a player and now as a coach is important, but these do not always correlate with their number of years of experience. The number of years using the “consultant's tool box” is relevant only when that tool box works. Beware of consultants who use dated materials. Consumers and employees have changed. Make sure that your consultant’s tool box has all the tried and true tools as well as progressive and timely strategies and procedures.

Always interview potential consultants before hiring them. Use well-thought-out questions during the interview process. Ask the same questions of each prospective consultant and measure the responses. Check their references.

Develop a detailed plan with your consultant that includes your opinions and expectations. With the help of your attorney, put together a legal and binding contract and have the consultant sign it.

You should manage the relationship with the consultant rather than letting the consultant manage the relationship. Designate who the consultant should report to and which employees he or she will interface with. Communicate with your staff. Explain why a consultant has been hired and what they can expect.

Meet with your consultant as often as possible or as often as you spell out in your agreement. By communicating and staying on the plan, you ensure that you get the most from your relationship. Although phone calls, emails and Skype have their benefits and reduce costs, onsite hands-on consulting works best.

Lastly, your consultant must agree to supply detailed daily time/work sheets. Hold them accountable for time billed and work accomplished. Keep your contract handy and measure their performance against your agreement.

Hiring a consultant or advisor is essential at any stage of your club’s development. It certainly makes the most sense when starting out, but you can always use an outside opinion about your club operations and business plan. Not all businesses are alike, nor are all gyms alike.

BIO

Tony Santomauro is owner and president of The Santomauro Group, a health, fitness, martial arts and sports consulting and management company. Santomauro, a 35-year health and fitness veteran, was co-founder and former president of Can Do Fitness Clubs in New Jersey for 12 years. He has extensive direct/corporate sales and marketing experience as well as expertise in advertising, public relations, martial arts and kids programming, equipment layout and design, class and fitness programming, and all operational aspects in the field. He is an internationally certified Kukkiwon black belt. He can be contacted at tonysantomauro@thesantomaurogroup.com or 973-396-2100.