Look good. Feel good.

Design matters. Why? Because it is one of the first things to effect The Guest Experience. It establishes the tone of the on going relationship. Whether it’s your store, your club, your restaurant or your web site, these impressions matter. If you have any doubts about the value of investing in good design, and thus The Guest Experience, these two articles should help reorient your compass.

“Environment Plays a Huge Role in Member Retention” by Bruce Carter (Fitness Business Pro, August 2009).

When you spend on your club’s environment, you are spending on marketing. Think about having an environment that is so exciting, fun and stimulating that people actually love being there, and it makes them want to tell their friends about it.

“Turning Up the Juice” by Garrett Peck (Sante Magazine, September 2009)

No matter the size or demographics of your bar, creating and sustaining a successful vibe requires tuning (and sometimes retuning) the sensory experience and physical layout to match your clientele’s expectations and, above all, affording each customer personal and professional service.

The key is empathy. Stop thinking about what you see, or what you think you see. Now look at your company from the outside in. What do they, The Guest, see? And what impression(s) does that make on their experience?

Sometimes big risks are worth taking

“Leadership Skills Critical Now for Club Executives” by Ed Tock (FitnessBusiness.com, 1 July 2009). Please pardon the delay in getting around to this. As usual Mr. Tock’s thoughts are well worth the wait. These are challenging times for all of us. Some will rise and some will fall. How you lead, whether it’s others or yourself, is going to define where you eventually stand. Hopefully this will enable you to step towards your personal winner’s circle.

Mr. Tock’s topic brought to mind an oldie but goodie… “Achieving executive balance: Nine ways leaders and managers work together” by Shannon Kalvar (TechRepublic.com, 16 May 2006). Notice how leaders are the visionary means and managers define that vision with ends.

And finally, here’s one from the bottomless to-be-posted pile. “Chris Gardner: 5 Things I’ve Learned” by Kristin Burnham (CIO Magazine, 15 November 2008). Mr. Gardner is the author of the book, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (as played by Will Smith).

Three great one pagers to keep ya goin’. Now get goin’!

Broaden your vision

“Minimize Cancellations And Grow the Bottom Line” by Karen Woodard-Chavez (Fitness Business Pro Magazine, April 2009). Ms. Woodard-Chavez makes a number of good points. She must be commended for her guestcentric approach. To her list we would like to add a few things that didn’t make it into her must-read one-pager:

1) Analyze the triggers  that got members to sign-up. Maybe there’s a particular promotion, message, channel, publication, etc.  that drove in more cancel prone individuals that others. Look at those details and try to figure out what went wrong. In other words, maybe it wasn’t them, maybe it was you.  In theory it’s possible to reduce cancellations but trying to target people who are less likely to get cancel. Maybe there’s a profile for such people? Be proactive.

2) What about ongoing relationship maintenance? Instead of waiting to the end, why not follow up with members a regular basis to see how they feel? What they like? Or don’t like? A simple greeting as they walk in isn’t enough. Instead of being reactive at the end, why not be proactive throughout their entire membership? Again, maybe there a profile that develops. It would seem that typically most people are probably gun-ho when they first sign up and then taper off and time goes on. Well, find out where and when the threshold is for a canceler and then get to them sooner.

3) Don’t just listen to what they tell you, take that feedback and do something about it. Listening is great but if there’s no procedure in place to actually address the info collected then the same issues can in theory persist for a long time. Over reacting to each and every canceling member might be overkill but any trends should be tracked and addressed.

In summary… Avoid marketing to targets who are likely to cancel… Be proactive with staying in touch with the wants and needs of your guests… Don’t just listen but be prepared to act on what you hear.

Keep your promises

“Fear and Loathing Doesn’t Cut It” by editor Pamela Kufahl  (Fitness Business Pro Magazine, May 2009). Written food for thought and inspiration. Unfortunately, FBP requires opening an account. For this short article by Ms. Kufahl we’ll spare you the effort.

Fear is spreading across the country these days. A late February poll from CNN and Opinion Research showed that 73 percent of Americans surveyed are fearful about the way things are going in the country. Fear can cause some people to do crazy things with their businesses and their money. It also can cause some to just quit when in other times they might have stuck it out. (Read an interesting column, “The Quitter Economy,” about this topic in the Feb. 2 issue of Newsweek.)

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to curl up in a ball and ask someone to wake them when this mess is over. But this mess will end some day, so no curling up is allowed. And that’s what smart business owners need to keep in mind. Smart business owners need to put aside fear and position themselves so they survive this recession and thrive once it’s over.

I’m not an expert on business or surviving a tough economy, but I have been reading about businesses that gained market share during other recessions. Procter and Gamble is perhaps the most well-known case. The company increased its status as a manufacturer of soap and other household products and increased its sales during the Great Depression by continuing to advertise when other companies cut back. In fact, the company spent money on a radical idea at that time — radio serials for homemakers to listen to while they did their housework. (Later, these programs became known as soap operas and moved to TV.)

However, plenty of other companies also saw growth during recessions. During the 1989-1991 recession, a MarketSense study found that the following companies increased sales by the following percentages: Jif peanut butter (57 percent), Kraft salad dressing (70 percent) and Pizza Hut (61 percent). How did they do this? Each of these companies increased their advertising during the recession. Taco Bell also increased its advertising and raised its sales by 40 percent. At the same time, its competitor, McDonald’s, cut back on advertising and had a 28 percent drop in sales.

A Buchen Advertising study found that companies that decreased their advertising in the recessions of 1949, 1954, 1958 and 1961 lagged in sales behind companies that did not cut back on advertising. The lag continued even after each recession ended. It makes sense that pulling out of the spotlight provided by advertising would hurt sales, doesn’t it?

Of course, advertising these days isn’t just about placing an ad in the paper or on the radio. It’s not even just about sending out direct mail. As more people turn online, club operators must also turn online (see the cover story on lead generation), and they must reach out into the community for low-cost methods of “advertising,” such as speaking at community events and meetings.

But it also means that once you have people in your doors, you must follow through with the promises that you’ve made. As Allen Adamson, managing director of brand consulting company Landor Associates, said in “Marketers: Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep,” a Jan. 20 2009 Forbes.com column, “A brand, for every intent and purpose, is a promise.” If you break the trust of those you seek by breaking promises, then no amount of advertising will help you through this time.

Advertising and keeping promises. It’s a plan of action that’s proven more profitable than simply reacting. It puts you in the driver’s seat, albeit on a very bumpy road.

If you do take the time to open an account then also be sure to consume:

“Execution of Ideas Leads To Accountability, Results” by Ed Tock. Btw, Mr. Tock’s column is consistently worth seeking out.

“Online Outreach” by Stephanie Bloyd as a sidebar to this article is another piece by Ms. Bloyd: “SEO and Social Networking”

Death, taxes and the internet

“Members Want More With Faster-Paced Technology” By Gregory Florez (Fitness Business Pro Magazine, Dec 2008, FitnessBusinesspro.com). Kudos to Mr Floroz! He gets it!! And he’s willing to share it!!! This brief article is jam packed with strokes of pull quote genius but let’s serve up this teaser:

Regardless of your philosophical leanings on this subject, one thing is certain: Your members are used to instant access — anywhere, anytime — and they want it quickly. I don’t imagine that this trend will slow down, and it certainly will not reverse itself. True, the always-on way in which we live — reducing our down time while increasing distraction — is a partial cause of many stress-related disorders. Regardless, your members are used to it, want more speed and likely will not settle for less.

Now before you dismiss this with a, “But I’m not in the fitness industry…” let’s point out:

– Looking to other industries is a great way to break your routine. It’s helps to find inspiration you’d normally miss. And by definition it immediately put you “outside the box.” Cliche or not, getting “outside the box” gives you perspective of what’s going on inside your box.

– A good exercise (no pun indented) would be to take out fitness industry and put in your own. The issue here is not only how you should always try to be figuring out what your guests want and need, but also how the internet is effecting guest expectations – both on and offline. That is the hidden story here.  You can ignore the fitness industry but you can’t ignore the internet.

– Most importantly, AU wouldn’t recommend it if it didn’t have universal appeal. Did you really think we’d waste your time? Of course not!