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Is It Time to Upgrade Your Gym’s Technology?

There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding hardware and software replacement, but there are factors that can help you determine when the time to update is right.

You have to be careful regarding every expense you incur, but it can be tricky when it comes to technology.

Recently, advances in technology have pushed forward streaming programming more quickly than anyone could have anticipated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make radical changes to your infrastructure. In fact, being on the “bleeding edge” may not be the best way to go. It makes more sense to balance your investment in tech against what market needs dictate.

“In 2020, in part because of virtual programming, we invested much more money into technology than we ever have before,” says Jacob Thomas, general manager at Razor Sharp Fitness, which has locations in Mt. Pleasant and Racine, WI. “Now that things have plateaued somewhat, our focus is on ensuring that we’re making rational technology decisions based on our business, members, and staff needs.”

Technology Razor Sharp Fitness exterior column

Keeping up with change.

In some cases, you don’t have a lot of choice. Certain technologies—typically less expensive—change with such frequency that it’s simply part of the cost of doing business.

“We are pretty simplistic in our hardware and peripheral needs—webcams, credit card scanners, signature pads, and ID scanners,” says Thomas. “The ID scanners have needed to be updated numerous times because of the changing technology, but the other items have remained nearly intact since we first got them.”

Thomas outlines some key basics Razor Sharp considers regarding upgrading tech.

Meeting competitive demand.

“When updating software and platforms, we look at what our current system does compared to what we need it to do based on the changing climate and competitive environment of our business,” he says.

While Razor Fitness has been using the same Jonas Fitness platform since opening in 2003, it has changed software packages to accommodate the need for better and more specific reporting, incorporate ancillary services including bookings, and update agreement capabilities.

“Our next focus,” Thomas says, “is updating hardware and peripheral pieces to take payments remotely and enable more contactless information gathering.”

Not keeping up with technology just for the sake of doing so.

Avoiding “learning curve” pitfalls.

At some point, constant upgrading can put you in a place where the technology you have is not as efficient as it could be.

“There are times when there is too much technology and you never truly understand how to utilize it for your benefit,” he explains. “And if you’re constantly chasing new technology, you might not be mastering what is at your disposal. In addition, changing platforms and updating systems takes a significant amount of time and effort. If this is done too often, then you start wasting time doing it."

Learning how to use any new technology properly takes time, as does teaching your team to do it. If you are going to be adapting to new technology, notes Thomas, be sure to have the time to train on it. Not doing so can equate to trouble going forward. You don't have to know everything, but you need to understand everything so that you can figure out how the technology will work for your business and how it can be adapted to do so.

“The most common pitfall we find in updating technology is around change management and communication,” states Lesley Silvestre, director of client success at Jonas Fitness, Inc. “When adapting or converting to a new technology, clients have the misconception that everything changes at the flip of a switch once they sign on the dotted line. The reality is that adopting new technology requires an extensive time and resource commitment from both of the parties involved: the vendor and client.”

When it comes to club management software, she adds, countless hours go into making sure that data is converted and validated adequately. After the data validation, you have to allot time to train your staff on the new product, both prior to going live with any new solution and after.

Technology Razor Sharp Fitness Welcome Desk column

Communication is a critical component.

In any supporting new release to its Compete platform, asserts Silvestre, the Jonas’ mantra is “communicate, communicate, and communicate.”

“We cannot overstate it enough,” she says. “Keeping our clients in the know regarding what’s new with their software is vital to ensuring that they can successfully leverage their investment.”

Jonas attacks the challenge in a variety of ways. Its product and marketing teams work together to identify the key highlights of each independent release. The company then sends out a “teaser” email to all its clients showcasing big picture items with more information on release dates, supplemental documentation, and any other resources.

As the release date gets closer, Jonas sequences out communication that digs in a little deeper into the release. About a week prior to going live, the company hosts a live webinar that includes a real-time demonstration of all of the updates that are included in the release.

Optimizing the technology you have.

To Thomas’ point about taking the time to understand all your technology can do, Silvestre says that there are components in Jonas’ platform that clients aren’t always aware of, but that could provide great value.

“We have incredible batch utilities that quickly allow for changes to be made in a few clicks, but prior to the pandemic, many of our clients never had the need to batch add invoices, batch change member status, dues post-dates, dues amounts, or expiration dates,” she says. “As we began to navigate the waters of the industry’s new normal, we found that many of our clients began to take advantage of these features. In essence, our batch functionality allowed them to stop their billing events if needed, prorate billing, or even batch freeze members that were not ready to come back to the gym.”

To learn more about the benefits Jonas Fitness’ club management platform provides, visit their website.

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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to IHRSA.org.