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Managing a Quality-Driven Business

Dedicate yourself to delivering high value at all levels of your fitness facility.

We all strive to run a quality business, but achieving that goal takes great focus and commitment. Managing excellence begins with having a strong definition of quality. What is your definition? It’s easy to say, “Yes, I offer quality service and run a quality business”; however, it’s not always easy to deliver on those words. In this article I will ask hard questions about the quality of your business; define quality indicators; and apply a DETAILS approach to help drive your business to a higher level of service delivery.

Excellence Defined

Let’s begin by reviewing the definition of quality. Quality is an essential and distinguishing attribute of something or someone. To offer quality is to excel, to stand out or to surpass the expectation of the purchaser. We are in the service business, and having a clear definition of quality as it pertains to our industry is very important.

Managing quality is all about paying close attention to the DETAILS in every sense of the word. The details ultimately give the buyer an impression of quality service and delivery. This is how it breaks down:

Dedicated to your vision
Excellent at what you do

D = Dedicated to Your Vision

Any quality business has a very clear vision of what the company stands for and how it differentiates itself from competitors. Begin by clearly defining who you are and what you can do to deliver higher quality in your service, facility, programs and environment than anyone else in your market. Also look at businesses outside of the fitness industry, to determine what reflects quality to you.

Think of three business models with a high level of quality, and ask why they are successful. Considering this will help you define what quality means to you. What are the quality indicators for you? I look at other service businesses like hotels, airlines and restaurants to identify businesses that reflect the type of quality image I want for my own company. I like the experience of staying at a W Hotel, for example, because of the staff attitude, dress code, interior design, music and general vibe. I look at WestJet airlines in Canada because they’ve created a culture that actually makes flying fun. They have a young and hip attitude, tell jokes and sing songs during the flight, and serve you with a smile. Key quality indicators like these transfer well to a fitness facility (see the sidebar “Quality Indicators” for more).

E = Excellent at What You Do

In order to excel, you must strive to stand out and be unique in your market niche. How will you project your vision to clients (both current and prospective)? What must you do in order for members to understand and experience your vision? Once you have determined your vision, the hard work begins. Now you must be dedicated to it in everything you do. My company, Heavens Fitness, has identified our slogan as “Elevated Fitness.” We look at all aspects of our facility and ask ourselves, “Is this an elevated fitness experience?”

Don’t know where to start? Do what I like to call a “walkabout.” Stroll through your facility and look at your club through the eyes of a potential buyer. What does the physical environment reflect? Do the walls need painting? Are signs torn, or are machines plastered with handwritten out-of-order signs? All of these conditions affect your quality image. One of our most successful programs is our “phantom member-service evaluation.” In exchange for a membership, secret or phantom members (unknown to our staff) evaluate our level of excellence in all categories of our club, including classes, services, programs, facility and administration.

One phantom guest we had in the past was a business motivational speaker who was quite happy to share his findings at our annual meeting. His insight was extremely valuable—specifically for our personal training department—as he found the trainers “unapproachable.” After some brainstorming, we came up with ways to give the perception that trainers were available even though they might be busy with a client. It was a challenging, yet rewarding observation to confront and solve.

T = Time-Sensitive

People are becoming more and more sensitive to time. They have less of it, and they want to get what they need quickly. Banking can now be done online, at home, at any time of day or night. Groceries are delivered to your home, and answers to your questions are a click away on the Internet. Do you offer your services in a time-sensitive manner? Look at all aspects of your business. Our company has time-sensitive policies in every department. For example, the front-desk employees pick up the phone within two rings, and we offer personal training by the minute. How flexible is your corporate and membership structure? We have found that flexibility has become more important than price. We offer a wide range of membership options to give the buyer a choice. People appreciate being able to structure their membership based on their needs. The fitness consumer wants options and will pay fairly for it.

Everything is time-sensitive, including your vision. Therefore, visit it regularly and keep up with the ever-changing business environment.

A = Adaptable

One weakness I’ve observed in the past 30 years is a resistance to change, or a slowness to react. In business today this could mean the difference between continued success and failure. Keep up with industry trends in classes, equipment and programs. Use benchmarks such as the annual IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey to stay on top of what is happening in the fitness industry.

People’s expectations constantly change. It used to be acceptable to wait for a response to a comment card—this is no longer true. People want answers immediately. Be open to change, and embrace it in each department. Look for new and better ways to do what you are doing today. How can you make it more convenient for members? We review our procedures on a quarterly basis and make sure we are still servicing clients in the best possible manner.

I = Integrity-Based

Consumers are much more sophisticated than they were 10 years ago. We can no longer sell on hype and fail to deliver on service. Reduce the hype in your messages, and increase the honesty. What is your perceived value? People want to know your fees. List your rates, and make them accessible on request. Does Mercedes-Benz hide prices from customers? No. We all know their cars cost more than other vehicles, and we expect the prices to be higher. In the end, just as when shopping for cars, your members will determine the value of your product and decide whether your price is justified. Bottom line: what matters most is that your members feel they’ve made a good buy, where the value is greater than the price. Make sure they believe they made the right decision in joining your facility.

L = Language-Conscious

Evaluate all of your communication channels. How do you connect with members and potential members? Consider verbal, nonverbal and written forms of communication when evaluating your business for quality. Communicate to all the senses. What does your message look like, feel like, sound like and smell like? Have you ever walked into a gym that smells like a gym? Now you know what I’m talking about!

Look at how you communicate to members in writing. Do you maintain a consistent look and feel? Or does each department run with its own ideas of how things should be communicated? Simple things like logos should appear the same way at all times—this reflects attention to details. Read all your written communications, and be sure they represent your company vision. Look at the images you use in advertising, and be sure they are in line with what you believe is quality business. For example, we do not refer to sales or discounted memberships in any of our advertising. We also do not use images of extremely fit and sculpted people.

Keep your staff informed so they can give the best possible service. Train them always to respond to a request by first saying yes. Most important, always be thankful. Thank people for visiting your establishment, and ask them to come back. This goes for everyone—not just your front-line employees. Instructors and personal trainers need to be thankful they have clients. People never tire of hearing “thank you.”

S = Service-Driven

It’s the little things that have the biggest impact. People do not usually leave a business because of a major event. Often it’s the accumulation of many small things that affect people’s perception of service: the machine that hasn’t been repaired, the front-desk person not saying “hi,” the microphone not working in the group exercise studio, the paper towel dispenser not being filled regularly. All of these little things add up to the perception of a business that doesn’t care about the client.

Service begins on the inside, with how you manage and treat staff. Treat and manage your staff the way you want them to treat customers. What employees most commonly want in a work environment is to be listened to, respected and valued. You cannot portray or be something that you do not consistently practice.

Managing a quality-driven business happens from the inside out. It begins with a corporate philosophy. Then you must dedicate yourself to delivering quality service and products at all levels of the company. You have to walk the talk and manage the DETAILS.

Quality Indicators

Make a list of everything you believe reflects quality in other companies and compare it with your fitness facility. The following key quality indicators will give you an idea of where to start and what to look for:

Physical Environment
wear and tear

Services Provided
programs, classes, personal training
additional services
flexibility of these services

internal marketing materials
external marketing materials
community presence

mannerisms and greeting
ability to answer questions
general appearance


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Helen Vanderburg

Helen Vanderburg is owner of The ACADEMY fitness studio and teacher training school, the author of Fusion Workouts, and the fitness education manager for Balanced Body®. She is the 2005 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and 2001 Canadian National Fitness Leadership recipient. Vanderburg is an elite athlete as a world champion synchronized swimmer and a member of the Canada and International Sports Hall of Fames.

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