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Thu 15 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Why quality counts

With consumer spending decreasing, focus on high levels of service that will promote customer loyalty.

While realtors, property developers and construction companies along with the financial sector battle through an economic trough that's affected employment, growth and revenue around the world, its trickling effect has left a sense of uncertainty among the rest.

As a business owner in the fitness sector in the UAE I find myself bewildered at its seemingly unfettered effect on my business and perhaps, others in this industry.

With disposable income on the decrease, you're left in a position where client retention through loyalty and service is of key importance, along with sales targets, marketing strategies and public relations. It's a fact that finding new clients is three times more costly than retaining the old ones, so when looking at budgets and cash flow it's really a no-brainer.

While the bigger health and fitness facilities' goal has been focused on quantity rather than quality, client numbers rather than client satisfaction and new client generation rather than client retention, a long needed change in their focus will benefit their own facilities as well as their reputation in the industry.

Personal training studios and boutique gyms, whose primary concern has been customer needs, five-star service and client satisfaction, have set themselves up in these money-tight times and through persistence and continual quality, they will continue to succeed.

‘Value for money' and ‘value-add' are key. Personal training is still a great revenue stream and in most cases will help to increase member retention as well as new member sign-ups through word of mouth and positive PR and press.

Good trainers with an international standard of qualification and experience will provide their clients with a value-add that enforces loyalty and customer satisfaction.

However, the opposite is just as much a reality. Those facilities employing trainers with limited knowledge and/or experience - the personal training robot whose main aim and direction is to reach targets, budget and quota - will leave their client with nothing but a bad experience and a feeling of dissatisfaction. It's these clients that are willing to drop their health club membership in an effort to reduce costs and help with their budgeting.

I believe there are fundamental and definite ethical principals to your relationships with clients and members when running a facility. You need to make your clients see your business as a need. You need to make sure your clients couldn't be without your facility or without their trainer.

A business is nothing without its workforce; choosing the right workforce is critical and as a standard I believe a Registered Exercise Professionals (REPs) qualification, first aid and updated CPR certificate are a great starting base.

Client loyalty to a trainer is based on the trainer's ability to associate with their clients, to motivate and encourage. It's because of this that the character of your employed trainers is just as important as their qualifications.

Having a well-educated, experienced, people-friendly trainer will ensure that limited costs are spent on selling their abilities - they'll do that for themselves.

Giving your trainers sliding scale commission structures along with decent packages will ensure their hard work and loyalty. Weekly sales meetings and team budgets will ensure a group effort and a sustainable future.

Why do people come to you and why can't your competition steal your client base? Companies need to look at their business plans and answer these two questions.

It could be a unique selling proposition forcing barriers to entry, a price point that is impossible to beat or a customer-care focus that creates a sense of loyalty and client satisfaction.

It's now that we all need to differentiate in order to survive and to grow. There's more than enough business in a market place like Dubai, where expansion is explosive and development is aggressive. It's up to the health and fitness companies to ensure that the industry grows in a way that encourages the population to get up, get active and get involved, rather than creating a negative connotation to health and fitness with companies battling for the monopoly.

Clifford Tindell is the managing director of Core Direction - "the health compass to a fitter, healthier UAE". The company offers personal training, group classes and corporate wellbeing programmes. Visit: www.coredirection.com.

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