Tim Bainton is the President of Blue Chip Sports Management based in Washington D.C. Tim is a published author and frequent industry contributor.
This month: Part 6
Alex Planes is the CEO of FoundEdge, a content marketing agency. He has worked with some of the world's largest brands and has published or syndicated thousands of articles in The Motley Fool, Business Insider, USA Today, the BBC, Fox Business, and elsewhere.
Alex leads all content strategy and development for Blue Chip Sports Management and has been integral in developing BCSM's market authority through content creation.
Club Management Mastery
A Full-Spectrum Guide to Building Better Fitness Facilities
If you’ve made it this far in our series, you’ve probably done quite a bit of legwork already to give your health club more opportunities to succeed.
You’ve thought about branding, marketing, legal issues, financial requirements, and more. And on top of all these other considerations, you’ve probably also implemented some systems to manage membership, billing, and other core operations.
Are you and your club using the best software and other technology available? Or are you using bad apps that can cause lost revenue, high member churn, poor employee morale, and even potential legal risks?
Most clubs now use software provided as a “suite,” which means it’s built to handle most of your core operations within the same system.
All modern club management suites are also cloud-based. This simply means you’ll access them entirely through the internet. If your club can’t get online, you could have some problems managing its day-to-day operations.
Cloud-based suites typically require monthly fees for use. These fees can add up over time, but they do help you avoid any large upfront costs. Cloud-based services are also more likely to be up-to-date than anything you install on your club’s computers since you won’t have to download and install any bug fixes or feature updates on your own.
Health clubs need these essential functions from their facility management software:
Attendance / activity tracking
Membership billing / invoicing
Scheduling management (classes/training sessions)
Every major software suite made to manage health clubs will provide all these functions. Many also provide additional key features:
Employee management (time tracking and payroll)
We’ll only look at suites offering all these features.
In my view, it’s more efficient to use fewer systems than to spread your operations across a bunch of different apps, which you’ll then have to tie together somehow.
You’re encouraged to do your own research to find what works best for your club, your team, your comfort level with technology, and your overall management approach.
Suite Name: MINDBODY
Capterra rating: 4 of 5 stars (1,916 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 3.8 of 5 stars (269 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 3.96 of 5 stars (1,915 reviews)
Pricing: $129+ per month ($349+ per month to unlock all features)
Why clubs use MINDBODY: Many users appreciate its ease of use and range of functionalities. Customer service is usually attentive.
Drawbacks of MINDBODY: Payment processing can be delayed at times, and some features occasionally have bugs that aren’t fixed quickly.
Suite Name: Vagaro
Capterra rating: 4.7 of 5 stars (2,077 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 4.4 of 5 stars (22 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 4.73 of 5 stars (2,075 reviews)
Pricing: $25+ per month for sole proprietors (up to $85 per month for 7+ employees)
Why clubs use Vagaro: It’s intuitive and well-designed. Many users also like the marketing functions it offers, including a website builder that costs another $10 per month to use.
Drawbacks of Vagaro: No “tiers” for users who don’t need every function offered. Some features can be tough to integrate with other apps.
Suite Name: Zen Planner
Capterra rating: 4.3 of 5 stars (200 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 4.4 of 5 stars (64 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 4.34 of 5 stars (199 reviews)
Pricing: $117+ per month (up to $227 per month for clubs with 251+ members)
Why clubs use Zen Planner: Easily customizable with excellent support. Clubs can pay more ($524+ per month) for a custom-built website and done-for-you digital marketing services.
Drawbacks of Zen Planner: The suite can get expensive, especially if you opt to use its done-for-you services. It can also feel a bit slow and dated at times.
Suite Name: WellnessLiving
Capterra rating: 4.4 of 5 stars (170 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 4.1 of 5 stars (24 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 4.43 of 5 stars (170 reviews)
Pricing: $39+ per month (up to $599 per month for all features)
Why clubs use WellnessLiving: A well-designed and intuitive interface, digital marketing add-ons, and excellent customer service.
Drawbacks of WellnessLiving: Can be sloppy when handling class bookings. Using all services (including payroll processing and marketing automations) can be costly for small clubs.
Suite Name: RhinoFit
Capterra rating: 4 of 5 stars (240 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 3.9 of 5 stars (15 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 4.03 of 5 stars (240 reviews)
Pricing: $57+ per month ($149 per month for more features)
Why clubs use RhinoFit: One of the more affordable options, and one of the easiest to use.
Drawbacks of RhinoFit: Some features can be more limited than those in other suites. Sometimes slower to release updates and bug fixes than other suites.
Suite Name: PushPress
Capterra rating: 4.7 of 5 stars (126 reviews)
G2 Crowd rating: 5 of 5 stars (2 reviews)
Software Advice rating: 4.71 of 5 stars (126 reviews)
Pricing: Free with 1% payment processing surcharge ($139 per month with no surcharge)
Why clubs use PushPress: Inexpensive with strong customer support. Good data reporting and automated reminder functions.
Drawbacks of PushPress: Less well-developed mobile functionality than most other suites. Event scheduling and member messaging features can be clunky.
There are many other club management suites available for use, and a number of these have been developed to serve certain club types, such as tennis-focused facilities, CrossFit boxes, or rock climbing gyms.
Make sure to choose a suite that works well for your club and your whole team, because you’ll all be spending a lot of time with it -- and the larger you grow, the harder it becomes to switch to another service.
17: Other Software and Apps to Consider
In this section, we’ll look at some other software tools and apps that can help your club in a variety of ways, from handling the bookkeeping to automating your digital marketing efforts.
You might be able to track membership billings in your club management suite, but these services tend to focus primarily on where your money is coming from. To get a more complete picture of your club’s finances, you’ll also need tools to track where it flows to when you pay employees, contractors, suppliers, and other businesses.
There’s a wide range of cloud-based accounting software available for small to midsize businesses like health clubs. Your accountant will probably use this software far more often than you will, so it’s important to choose something the number-crunchers want to work with.
The most popular business accounting apps are:
Thee apps range in cost from about $9 a month at the entry-level to over $100 a month for services with more features accessible by more users.
Your accountant may include the price of an accounting app subscription when billing you for their services, so you should check with them to ensure you know what you’re getting -- and if you can help them get payment data from your club management suite more easily.
Payment processing services
Many club management suites process payments for you, but the difference of a fraction of a percent in fees can be worth thousands of dollars to a thriving business. Make sure you consider the pros and cons of processing payments directly through your management suite rather than through a dedicated payment processing service.
Some of the most popular payment processors:
Project management tools
Project management apps or services help businesses develop detailed step-by-step plans to successfully execute any project, and as an added bonus, they’re also far more shareable and interactive for your team than ideas sketched on a whiteboard or notepad.
You may not need a project management app every day, but you’ll probably appreciate their ability to streamline your planning process when you need to take a more long-term approach.
Many of these apps can be used for free by smaller teams and for smaller projects. More complex efforts, involving more people, typically incur costs of $10 an up per month.
Here are some of the most popular project management tools:
Team communication apps
A thriving health club is a well-oiled machine with many moving parts. However, if your most important moving parts -- your people -- can’t easily communicate with each other when they’re not all in the same room, you could be wasting money, creating inefficiencies, and damaging employee morale.
Many small businesses use the free plan from Slack.
Teams that prefer to videoconference or host conference calls when everyone isn’t on-site can easily use Skype or Zoom.
If you’re using a cloud-based business productivity suite (more on those in a bit), you’ll usually get access to a dedicated business communications app as part of the package.
Every business needs a few basic tools, such as word processors, spreadsheet creators, and presentation designers. These tools are typically bundled into a single suite of software, much like your club management system.
There are three main options for business productivity suites: Microsoft Office, Google’s G Suite, and Zoho Workplace.
Microsoft Office is often installed onto each user’s PC, but it also comes in a cloud-based version called Office 365.
G Suite and Zoho Workplace are both entirely cloud-based. They’re popular with small businesses that often collaborate online.
Both suites include access to branded email (think you at yourclub dot com) as well as the typical word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation apps. You’ll need to pick up a domain name on your own to make use of branded email. You’ll also get a good bit of cloud-based file storage and a business communications app with either service.
Like other cloud-based apps, all three of these cloud-based productivity suites charge you on a monthly subscription basis. These charges are assessed on a per-user basis, starting at $3 a month for Zoho Workplace and $6 a month for G Suite.
Zoho is cheaper, but Google’s G Suite is generally more feature-rich and easier to use -- you access your branded email through the same login page you’ve been using for your regular Gmail accounts.
You can manage your costs by only creating accounts for key team members rather than for every employee. Your front desk attendants probably don’t need a yourclub dot com email address, after all.
Looking for a different kind of business app?
You might run into situations where you’ll need specialized software, but the most popular options will cost too much for occasional use or can’t quite do what you want.
Over the last couple of years, I (Alex) have made a habit of checking AppSumo for lifetime deals on small business software. StackSocial also offers lifetime deals on apps, but it also has deals on tech hardware, skills training courses, and other things.
AppSumo has a wider range of small business software tools, but StackSocial has more of everything else. Check them out if you’re looking to solve a specific problem with an app at a reasonable price.
We’ve gone through plenty of aspects of health club management in this series, but so far we’ve barely touched on one of the most important elements of success: building a great team.
The next few sections will provide plenty of details on finding, training, and retaining the right kind of talent to support a great health club.
18: Building a Great Team
Very few health clubs are one-person endeavors.
Unless you’re planning to build the entire club around what you can do on your own (typically this would be one-on-one or group training), you’ll need a team.
Health clubs often employ many or all of the following types of professionals:
Front desk attendants
Personal / fitness trainers
Athletic or sports-specific trainers
Group exercise coaches
Managers (department or general)
Sales reps/membership consultants
A larger and more diversified health club might also employ massage therapists, spa or wellness coordinators, and pro shop attendants. Other roles, such as janitors, equipment maintenance technicians, accountants, and IT professionals, are typically contracted out to specialized providers on an ongoing or as-needed basis.
At BCSM, we’re fans of the adage “hire slow, fire fast.” This doesn’t mean it should take a year for you to find a front desk attendant, or that you should sack someone the first time they do something incorrectly.
It does mean you should be patient and methodical when hiring, and be ready to fire anyone who poses a clear risk to your team’s cohesion and integrity, your club’s brand appeal, or both. Just because many people are disengaged at work doesn’t mean you should put up with employees who only show up to collect a paycheck and do nothing beyond the bare minimum.
The importance of a good hiring process is critical.
As mentioned earlier in this series, many facilities we’ve worked with have tried saving money by offering low pay and minimal onboarding, only to discover their poorly-paid and poorly-trained employees weren’t any good at what they were hired to do. Replacing departed employees costs anywhere from 10% to 200% of that employee’s salary, depending on their experience and seniority.
You can find a great deal of localized salary data for a wide range of jobs, including those mentioned in my earlier list, on any or all of the following sites:
If you’re just starting out, you may not need too many managers, but any decently-sized health club ultimately depends on great management to succeed.
If you’re already established, but your club’s revenue and membership growth has stagnated, you might want to look at your management’s performance.
Poor managers can crush employee morale, which bleeds through into every interaction your team has with your paying members and clients. Absent managers can create chaos, whether it’s because a leader simply isn’t leading or because you haven’t yet put any leadership into needed places. Both problems can be devastating to the success and reputation of your club if left to fester for any length of time. If you know you’re employing a poor manager, move them into a more suitable role (if they’re still providing value in other ways) or lay them off.
How many managers do you need?
Current research suggests that the ideal number of direct reports -- that is, employees for whom the manager is ultimately responsible -- is about seven per manager. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. A manager can have more direct reports if they work part-time, or if those reports require little direct supervision. One person could feasibly manage a dozen part-time front desk attendants, so long as everyone manning the front desk knows how to respond to common issues.
The ability to respond to problems isn’t something you can expect every employee to master from day one. That’s why you should have well-developed onboarding processes in place for every role.
Front desk attendants not only need to know how to use your club’s management system, they should also know how to engage your members, how to deal with common complaints, where to find key tools and materials, and so on.
Good onboarding processes can boost employee engagement and morale from day one by instilling feelings of competence, confidence, and connection (to the club’s brand) in your new hires. Detailed onboarding will also help you and your managerial staff cut down on the time you spend dealing with more common or easily resolved issues.
Before you can onboard, you have to hire the right people.
Hiring well begins with a thorough understanding of the modern hiring process, which is more complicated than many health club owners and leaders might realize. We’ll take a good look at the health club hiring process in the next section.
Next month: Part 7