How to Compete Against the Big Gym Chains

 In Strategy

If you operate a locally owned and operated independent fitness club or are thinking about starting one, you may be wondering, “How can we possibly compete against the big name fitness chains?”  After all, those big companies have resources, track records, know-how, and strong brand awareness.

Don’t fret!  Your small business can have significant advantages that can be leveraged to enable you to compete head to head.  If you integrate these six key business strategies, you can positively differentiate your club as well as create success over the long term.

Key Strategies and Differentiators

On-Site Leadership: Big chain executives are located far from the action and the frontline. They don’t interact daily with the staff responsible for operating and managing the day to day of the business. They don’t know the members and don’t get first hand customer feedback that can impact whether or not a member decides to stay or go, refer a friend, or buy a service.  You, along with your top managers, can have a true advantage when working on-site.  You’ll know the members. You’ll know the staff.  You’ll witness first hand how the club operates on a day-to-day basis. You’ll have your fingers on the pulse of the business, and if you and your managers are good communicators and relationship builders, you’ll be able to motivate staff at all levels directly, form strong connections and community with your members, influence how the club operates, and how it overcomes obstacles, all of which helps to generate strong bottom line results.

Staff Engagement: Workers who don’t have access to decision makers and have little say in how a business operates feel like cogs in the wheel. Their ideas aren’t heard, they have little input, and as a result, they likely aren’t as engaged as they could be.  On the other hand, if the decision makers are on site and have good relationships with their team, it’s a win for the business and staff alike.  Having you and your managers on-site enables your employees to have a say in what the business does.  They can share ideas in real time, see those ideas get acted upon, and feel like they are having a positive impact on the members, service and ultimately business performance. As a result, they’ll be happier, stay longer, work harder, be more likely to go above and beyond, recruit their friends to work there or join, and overall be more committed to the success of the business.

Flexibility and Agility: Big chains move slowly.  Due to bureaucracy, red tape and the many layers of staff and locations to consider, they usually make decisions and implement new initiatives and improvements slowly.  Small businesses, on the other hand, don’t have these obstacles. With fewer decision makers and obstacles to consider, they can be more responsive, effective and efficient and move quickly to make things happen. Ultimately, the ability to be flexible and agile can positively impact customer satisfaction and business performance.

The Customer Experience: With more flexibility and agility, decision makers on site, and more engaged employees, the customer experience in locally owned and operated clubs is more likely to surpass that of a big chain.  Big chains are impersonal.  Their complaint resolution processes are more likely to be cumbersome and their staff may not be empowered to make quick decisions that would benefit a member or fix their problem.   A small business can create customer resolution processes that empower their team to give their customers the love and service that a big chain can’t.

Social Media Marketing: Large club chains don’t use social media to focus on their local customers and community.   You can!  Use social media to share stories about your members and local community by creating quality content local in nature that members and prospective members care about. In doing so, you’ll create a strong local identity, a deep connection to your membership and market, and more positive local search results online.

Community Engagement: “Buy locally” is alive and well, and not just in the food industry. Many people would prefer to be a customer of a local business that cares about their community than a large chain with no community roots. As a locally owned business you can engage in the local community in a way that the big chains simply can’t.  Your club can be a true member of the community by supporting local events and causes and engaging and building relationships with other local businesses.  Find ways to give back. Provide space to hold local events and fundraisers.  Support local teams.  Engage with schools, hospitals, and medical professionals locally.  Not only will you be making a difference in your community, but you’ll also generate exposure and add a positive spin to your brand.

Keep your eyes on your competitors.  You need to be aware of what they offer and how they do what they do.  But if you use data to understand performance and drive decisions, and use the strategies in this article to your advantage, you’ll be able to differentiate you club in your marketing, sales process, and customer experience, thus creating a powerful message that drives success and business performance that can compete against even the biggest chains.