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Wednesday
Jul152015

Best Practices: Fostering a Sense of Community

ANTHONY WALL

DIRECTOR OF PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EXERCISE (ACE) SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

Everyone likes to belong! Keep that in mind. Exactly how a club creates a sense of belonging and community will depend, to some extent, on the type of facility. However, at the end of the day, it comes down to making members feel welcome. They need to enjoy their experience so much that they’ll want to come back.

Some clubs do it by offering the newest, most appealing equipment, and others, by providing a full complement of services, e.g., towels, personal lockers, etc. To make sure the member’s experience is enjoyable, some others develop running or hiking groups.

Regardless, the one thing that all successful health and fitness facilities have in common is staff who are genuinely concerned about members, and enjoy being part of their involvement in club activities.

And, while being made to feel welcome shouldn’t stop at the front desk, it most definitely starts there. In a world that seems to be moving more and more toward automation and digital interaction, the club that creates a warm, welcoming, personal environment will always win.

Also keep in mind the fact that the process of fostering a sense of personal connection begins at the top. It’s simply not good enough for management to expect front-line staff to be the best if it, itself, isn’t serving as a role model of what the best looks and acts like.

Remember that the adage, “Treat your staff the way you want them to treat your members” is as true today as it ever was.

The bottom line: everyone wants to feel as though they belong.

ALI LUCAS

DIRECTOR OF MARKETING BODYBUSINESS HEALTH CLUB & SPA AUSTIN, TEXAS

Beth, a former member of our club, had to cancel because her husband’s job change was taking her out of state. In a video testimonial, she said she was sad to leave Austin for two reasons— she was going to miss her church and her health club. “Lots of gyms have nice equipment and good classes, but it’ll be hard to

find one with the same kind of heart,” she said.

All clubs should aspire to do the things Beth regarded as important: a staff that knows all of the members by name, and that demonstrates true concern and devotion; high staff and member retention; a team culture that encourages staff to refer members to other employees who can be helpful; and members who view the staff as “family.”

Note that Beth didn’t mention fancy new Internet-enabled treadmills, or community-building events that require loads of time or money; nor did she single out favorite employees. For her, our club has “heart” because the people working here have “heart.”

How do you make this happen?

Hire and fire the right people. Define your purpose and values, and compare every decision against them. Compensate and reward employees based on their performance. Train them to create a consistent member and guest experience.

Need a roadmap to get started? I suggest Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

Ultimately, you want your members to say what Beth said in closing: “It’s home, and it’s always hard to leave home.”

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