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industry’s ever-present retention challenge remains to be seen – as will its ability to put these theories into practice – but Cosslett seems quietly confident, if measured in his response:

“We’ve set out our stall and believe it’s the way to go, but joining the dots is very difficult and it will be a long journey. We’ve moved the brand renewal programme through at pretty high speed and we’re still learning.” That said, he has a strong and

diverse team in place, their experience in sectors such as retail and airlines complementing his own background in brands and hospitality. Having learned his trade in the 1980s at the “great university of marketing” that is Unilever, Cosslett progressed into general management for Cadbury-Schweppes in Australia and Asia before moving into hospitality at hotel group IHG in 2005. “A lot of the same issues apply in

hospitality as in fi tness,” he says. “The hotel industry is very inward looking – it continues with practices that have been around for many, many decades. What we did with IHG was overhaul it and challenge some of the preconceived notions of how things should be done.” That included the relaunch of the Holiday Inn brand: 3,200 hotels around the world in a “four-year journey of massive organisational challenge”. Listening to Cosslett speak,

particularly with the strong customer and brand insight his experience at the likes of Unilever has given him – as well as his clear personal passion for fi tness – you get the feeling he could be the man to turn Fitness First’s fortunes around.

Classes and small group training help to create a sense of community in the clubs

“I’m willing to ask the crazy

questions,” explains Cosslett. “When I got here, I saw an opportunity to do something a bit different. “From an outsider’s point of view,

it’s always struck me as strange that an industry that should be seen as a paragon of virtue in society wasn’t portrayed that way. We’re saving people’s lives, making them happy, helping them fulfi l their dreams and go further in life, yet the industry’s reputation was nothing like that. It was way down the pecking order in terms of appeal to executives to join it; the Offi ce of Fair Trading was all over it for its overcomplicated contracts and terms and conditions; and there was little trust from the public. And as an observer and user, I agreed with a lot of what was being said. “Fitness First in particular was a brand

with quite a lot of reputational damage. It wasn’t the case in Asia or Germany, but in the UK it had run out of money and hadn’t been able to invest in its infrastructure. We live in a world of design-led environments and Fitness First had been left behind, so we have a big programme of renovations underway. “The company also had a reputation

as a selling machine, and that needed to be addressed. If you come through our doors as a potential new user, we want all your early contacts with us to

36 Read Health Club Management online at

be positive ones. We want you to feel you’re talking to someone who knows their product and knows what’s involved. When you walk into the Apple Store, you aren’t confronted by someone who can’t answer your questions. They don’t have to go and fi nd someone else for you to talk to. They know their product inside-out, they understand it and they’re advocates for it.” With this in mind, every single

member of staff – from receptionists and sales people, right up to Cosslett as CEO – is now being trained towards a fi tness qualifi cation.

MISSED CONNECTIONS But perhaps Cosslett’s biggest concern on joining Fitness First was the lack of what he calls ‘connecting the dots’ across the fitness sector as a whole:

“My 30 years in business have been about running international brands, but I walk into fitness and I see no brands – just names over doors. “I also don’t see much focus on the

customer. I see a lot of knowledge and focus on fi tness and what that means, with an assumption that the world knows what we’re talking about. But in practice, the connections just aren’t being made. “In the UK, penetration is stuck at

12 per cent or thereabouts, in spite of everything we know about the benefi ts of exercise, an ageing population, activity being on the government agenda… So something’s missing. Something’s wrong. And it’s partly because the industry doesn’t connect the dots. Some companies in the industry know a lot

March 2014 © Cybertrek 2014

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