How to Develop Your Health Club's Strategic Plan

Creating a strategic plan from scratch can be a massive undertaking for any health club owner. This roadmap will get you started.

If they're honest, some health club owners will admit that they began with no greater plan than to combine their occupation and their calling. While that's commendable—you must have passion to succeed in any business—it's not enough.

What you need to succeed over the long haul is a strategic plan. Here are some tips from industry leaders on how to formulate one.

Figure Out Where You Fit in the Health Club Landscape

The first thing you must do is identify what your club offers that others in your area don't. Is it lower cost? Better member benefits? More workout options?

Whatever sets your club apart, it should be emphasized in your strategic plan. That will help you leverage your competitive advantage.

"Once your club is up and running you need to differentiate it, distinguish it, from the competition," wrote Joe Cirulli, president and owner of Gainesville Health & Fitness.

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Stay Focused on the Big Picture

Running any business—especially one that requires employing a significant number of people—is stressful. Employees sometimes fail to follow instructions or meet expectations. They call in sick. They quit.

Don't let these types of short-term problems overwhelm you. You need to devote most of your energy to worrying about how you're going to grow your club over the next five years—not who is going to cover the afternoon shift this Saturday.

Mark Miller, vice president of Merritt Athletic Clubs, made this a point of emphasis during an IHRSA session titled, "Strategic Planning for Club Operations Professionals."

"What I find a lot of the time with managers is they get so sucked into the day-to-day they become really reactive," Miller said. "When something unexpected happens, it takes them off course, and the next thing they know they're struggling and they're never focused on how they can improve business and operations."

Stay Flexible

If you want a reminder of how quickly things evolve in today's world, just look at a five-year-old smartphone—if you can find one. So while formulating a five-year plan should be part of your club's strategic planning, you also need to remain nimble enough to respond to new developments in health and fitness technology, social trends, and so on.

Refreshing your plan is so important, in fact, that Miller recommends doing it every 90 days.

“Whatever sets your club apart, it should be emphasized in your strategic plan. That will help you leverage your competitive advantage.”

Use KPIs As Your Yardstick

While navigating your strategic plan, you need a tangible way to track your progress. As Molly Kemmer, former IHRSA chair, put it in a recent post, "Measure relentlessly."

The best way to do this is to identify your key performance indicators (KPIs). These are simple, bottom-line measurements of your club's overall health, such as membership renewal rate.

When reviewing your KPIs, you have to be as coldly objective as possible. For example, you might think you've come up with a great new renewal offer. But if after a couple of months your renewals have declined, you must accept that the offer isn't working and try a new approach.

Because the dollars don't lie.

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HFA Staff @HealthFitAssoc

This article was a team effort by several HFA experts.