Differentiate Your Health Club by Breaking Free of Industry Norms

When clubs stop doing things the way they've always been done, they start winning.

What makes your health club stand out in the eyes of the consumer?

Really think about it for a moment. Is your equipment that much better than the machines at the club down the street? Is your staff notably friendlier and more knowledgeable? Are your group X classes truly in a class of their own?

Maybe your business excels in each of these areas, but, chances are, the club down the street thinks they do, too.

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Yoga at Merritt Clubs

“There is a prevalence of sameness within most businesses,” says Mark Miller, vice president of Merritt Clubs in Baltimore, MD. “They look within [to see] what everyone else is doing and then make sure they have.”

If you’re struggling to differentiate your club in your market, it may be because you’re copying other clubs’ business models—possibly without even realizing it.

“Copying each other is a common denominator,” says Miller, who will present about the topic during his Wednesday, March 21 IHRSA 2018 session, “Checkmate: Winning by Differentiation.”

“There is a prevalence of sameness within most businesses.”

Mark Miller, Vice President

Merritt Clubs​, Baltimore, MD

Rethinking the New Year $0 Enrollment

An example of the prevalence of sameness in the health and fitness industry is promoting $0 enrollment around the New Year. It’s a promotion that Merritt Clubs offered themselves until they stopped and dissected that decision.

“Moving forward, we are not looking to compete on price; as a matter of fact, we want to increase prices and deliver more value,” Miller says.

“If you do everything [everyone else] is, the real question is ‘why?’ Why are we all doing it that way? If the answer is ‘because that’s how it’s always been done,’ then maybe that is the wrong reason or even the wrong question we are asking.”

Making Members Happy at Any Cost

This approach ties in to Merritt’s key differentiator: its culture and ownership.

“The ‘why’ we do things and the way [we do things] are different from most, and [it’s] not always comfortable for people,” Miller says. “For example, we have a freedom that allows all our staff to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy, including and up to giving them a free year membership. The obligation is you have to stay within our purpose and values.”

While no staff person has taken advantage of that option in the three years since the rule was instated, Miller is proud that his staff have it at their disposal should they need it.

“Most clubs only allow the managers to do that,” he says. “We let anyone.”

Breaking the Sameness Cycle

If you’re looking to break free of the mold and differentiate your business, the number one way to start is by adjusting your mindset, vision, and focus, Miller says.

“It starts with what they see and how they act,” he says. “It must change at the top.”

Next, look at your habits and behaviors. Unpack the way you operate and consider breaking away from industry norms.

Merritt leadership approaches differentiation by purposefully and intentionally acting and behaving differently from other clubs, Miller says. To do this, they’re constantly looking for blind spots using a few kinds of tools.

“One way is through assessments. Another powerful way is in defining excellence and then [the] observation of it,” he says. “The key to breaking habits is first being aware of them—it’s moving from unconscious to conscious.”

Learn more about IHRSA 2018, March 21-24 in San Diego.

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Marianne Aiello

Marianne Aiello previously served as IHRSA's Senior Digital Content Manager—a position focused on crafting and monitoring IHRSA’s digital strategy and covering IHRSA events.