Reopening our company doors to our clients presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to start fresh. After all the uncertainty, loan applications, unemployment discussions and waiting, fitness studios and other small wellness businesses might want to primarily focus on implementing new cleaning and distancing procedures, but I challenge owners to consider doing much more.
The business climate has shifted so much from storefront to online solutions and enough time has passed since the stay at home orders began in many states, that it almost seems as if we are starting relatively new companies and could implement significant changes, from the way we advertise and treat clients to how we build our teams. This isn’t just an opportunity to shift operations because of COVID; it’s a chance to undo the wrongs of the past so that the company thrives in a way that was unlikely before. Here are 5 areas where business owners in the boutique fitness and wellness industry should consider a fresh start, starting with internal efforts and shifting to client facing efforts.
Ask anyone who’s built a great company and they’ll tell you that a great culture is one of the most important aspects of success. Many boutique fitness firms primarily hire contract employees, which inherently suggests that they are less committed. However, it is a mistake to believe that a company made up of mostly independent contractors can’t build a great culture and generate loyalty. Loyalty not only leads to decreased costs, but also higher productivity. Having invested in several leadership courses by the ultimate champion of culture, The Ritz Carlton, I can confidently say that focusing on building a great culture undoubtedly makes a difference for the bottom line. I can’t possibly give the “answer” to how to build a great culture in one paragraph, but a place to start is to look at the alignment of staff values with company values, empowering employees, leading by example, developing people and improving communication, among many others.
It is unfortunate that some companies won’t survive this period and it is also very likely that many of them have already downsized, which means that plenty of talented individuals will be in the job market. This is a great opportunity to hire high performers because many of them may have lost their jobs. Another major opportunity is to seek talent that just graduated from college. After all, if companies primarily focus on re-hiring their previous staff members, that leaves plenty of college graduates out of the industry for the time being. Companies that chose to hire talent from the 2020 graduating class will have more ability now to choose quality candidates with the greatest potential because the initial demand for these candidates will be low and the supply pool will be significant.
Now that our companies have suffered in a way we never imagined, we have more perspective on how important it is to set ourselves up for survival and never feel this way again. Prior to my work in fitness, I worked for a company that specialized in operational efficiencies, so this was one of the first skills I developed as a manager. Lean operations is about two things – maximizing value while minimizing waste. To maximize value, we must ask whether every client offering is worthwhile, whether every inch of our physical space is contributing to revenue, and whether each class we offer has high quality and attendance. On the topic of waste, we must evaluate whether each process is worth doing. Is it done quickly and effectively? Are there queues in the system – from emails sitting in an inbox to dirty towels sitting in a bin to excess inventory? Queues lead to a decrease in quality, which ultimately costs us. This is where I will encourage my fellow leaders to realize the importance of data. Select a handful of key performance indicators you believe are important to measure, collect the data, analyze it, make adjustments and then see if you made a difference. Taking these actions will contribute to our confidence that we are focusing on the right things so that we can face any future challenge, no matter how massive it is.
I have guided plenty of fitness and wellness business owners on their sales process and, without fail, they all dread this aspect of their companies. Whether it’s a lack of passion, interest, skill or desire, sales has developed a bad reputation in boutique fitness, which typically results in no sales efforts at all. The first step in overcoming this hurdle is for the leaders in the company to embrace the idea of sales and view it as an opportunity to add value to people’s lives. The second is to develop the skills of selling, such as prospecting, qualifying, presentation, handling objections, closing and follow up, so they can teach their staff. A great resource for a perspective shift is to follow one of my favorite former Booth professors Craig Wortmann who not only brings new energy to sales, but also delivers a wealth of information to help small business owners because he is one as well.
Before COVID, the idea of “community” dominated the boutique fitness industry. People flocked to studios where they felt like they were part of something. My advice is to keep this up. It might look a bit different, with more emphasis on a virtual community, but it’s still important. Nevertheless, I want to emphasize adding another component to the equation of customer loyalty and lifetime value – strong personal relationships. Not only will there be a decrease in class sizes, which can impact the strong feeling of community, but there will most certainly be a shift towards one-on-one fitness. By definition, training with one trainer limits the availability of a community feel so there must be another intrinsic appeal for clients. Yes, results and safety are the focus, but now people will also expect connection. During this time, our emotions have been put to the test and we are in need of an emotional connection, empathy and understanding. For small studios, building personal relationships with clients will address this need. That means sending mass emails is now replaced with checking in with clients personally with a text message or a personal email. Communicating with clients via social media comes second to picking up the phone or buying our clients a coffee while we ask them how they are doing. I recommend viewing these great TED talks on how to build strong relationships.
There is a silver lining in all of this chaos and difficulty. As an entrepreneur, I reflect on lessons I’ve learned and ponder what I would do if I had another chance to take a stab at it or start fresh. This unexpected break from our companies allows us to step back and determine where our focus should be. What wrongs could we make right? The mindset of most people is in a place where they are open to the new. From clients to employees, people want life to resume and they will embrace a fresh approach because it comes with the territory of moving forward after everything we’ve been through. Let’s use this opportunity when we reopen to impress everyone.
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