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about fi tness, some offer very seductive environments and some have good customer contact – but not all three. “Fitness is still quite a young sector,

and I think a number of the infl ection points we’ve seen appear recently, like the arrival of the low-cost operators, are evolutionary. They’re signs of an industry moving forward, which is great news, because that always spurs more innovative thinking, which in turn drives penetration and drives more people into the industry. But for now, I don’t think we have enough understanding about the things that drive demand.”

A SENSE OF BELONGING And this is where we return to Fitness First’s new behavioural psychology- based approach, based on belonging, confidence and encouragement as the key to maintaining the appeal of – and demand for – the gym. Delivering on this philosophy, one

of the most visible shifts in the design of the rebranded clubs has been the introduction of extensive ‘freestyle’ areas for functional training, with small group training sessions included within the membership. Open-plan reception areas have been introduced to create a more welcoming fi rst impression. “A lot of the thinking about our club

layouts revolves around the casual interaction between members, and between members and our staff,” explains Cosslett. “A sense of belonging is key and, while everyone has a different mindset when they’re in a club – some want to be left alone, some want to be engaged, that’s the same in the hotel business too – the skill is to train your people to be smart enough to

The rebranding doesn’t stop at the ad campaigns, but rather penetrates company structures

know the difference and to be able to engage with customers on their terms, but still engage them, because that’s the precursor to keeping them as members.” Creating a connection with members

outside the club is also vital to engagement, and Fitness First is in the process of building a digital platform, the likes of which Cosslett believes “doesn’t exist out there at the moment”. He adds: “Fitness First needs to use its scale better, investing in R&D rather than relying on manufacturers to tell us what’s happening next. Our new platform will be the start of a new form of relationship with members and everything that’s made possible for them as a result of being a member.” Another signifi cant proportion of

the company’s £270m, three-year global investment – which will cover everything from refurbishments to rebranding to building new clubs – will go into developing its people, with fi tness qualifi cations for all just the start. “In any business I’ve ever been involved

with, the primary driver of difference is how you engage your people, what you ask them to do, how you empower them, what you teach them, how you teach them. It’s about helping them feel enriched and empowered. It’s about setting standards and rigorously training them in – ensuring gym staff know members’ names, for example. “It’s also about who’s on your team in the fi rst place, and we’ll be

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recruiting and training for attitude. We want people who are confi dent and empowered but who are also sociable. I know that’s obvious, but it still doesn’t happen routinely in the fi tness industry.”

REPUTATION BUILDING He continues: “When you move a brand on, you can’t do it in bits. As someone once said to me, you can’t jump a chasm in three easy steps. You have to take the whole brand and the whole business to a different place. The brand look and feel is just the face of it – everything has to change. Your understanding of your customers has to change, meaning how you train your staff, what they say, how they engage, where they stand, what they wear – all that has to change. Your fitness products must have points of difference that make you distinctive and make people talk about you. “What all great brands do is build

relationships with their customers, keeping them loyal for longer and making them greater advocates of their brand ahead of others. That’s what we’re aiming to achieve.” But how easy a task is that for Fitness

First, given all its negative baggage? How does it re-engage a disillusioned public? “Changing your logo as we’ve done is

like an announcement, a way of fl agging to the world that you’ve changed,” says Cosslett. “However, brand reputations are built – and particularly in these days of social media, they’re built by people talking about you. So it’s about winning over one customer at a time, day by day, encouraging them to walk back through the door and see that change has really happened and it’s not just cosmetic. That’s how we’ll earn our stripes.” ●

March 2014 © Cybertrek 2014

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