Summary: There is the stereotypical story of the entrepreneur who sees their industry and realises that the way their customers are treated has to change. The story of Ceri Smith and Sean Thornton, who now run Eze Fitness, a gym chain based at 8 sites across the UK, is one such story.
What they saw that had to change
Most industries and market places are pretty dull places and the fitness industry is no exception: predictable, dull, vanilla, not to mention over-promising and generally under-delivering. They promise so much but rarely deliver, accepting the clients money and delivering a general induction that leaves the poor unsuspecting 'new member' on their own despite using the generic marketing line of promising that they will "change the life of the customer". Most clients lose the enthusiasm or passion for their membership pretty quickly.
The Standard Fitness Club Customer Experience
Empty, vacuous promises suck in the unsuspecting client to hand over their money. Feeling overweight, unfit or lethargic, one is seduced into believing that ownership of a gym membership card will equate to getting the body they have always wanted. If (and it's a big 'if') the clients actually come to the gym more than a few times then they do start to feel better, however most clients lack constant motivation. They don't understand (or wish to believe) that a quick fix won't work and that a change for life is actually required. As a result they will fail to stay 'on the programme'.
Clients drift away and ultimately cancel their gym membership. And they will have a bad taste in their mouth due to lack of service on the part of the gym and no sense of achievement due to their own lack of willpower.
What had to happen?
Ceri and Sean realised that gyms had to change the way that they sell to and service their clients/members. At Eze Fitness they have set out to do just that.
They made the decision to run fitness clubs where you were welcomed and the client felt special, where the staff were there to help, assist and nurture the clients on the way towards their long term goals. Programmes were set up to maintain a relatively high level of engagement between the gym team and the clients today and tomorrow.
One issue was that the client needed to be made to understand that they were embarking on a 'change for life'. This has to be made clear at point of sale. This journey of at least 12 months had to be at the forefront of the conversation. Yes, 12 months! Too-good-to-be-true-fixes simply don't work. Rationally we know it.
As a result of this new, long term, more honest approach to the job-in-hand, clients (who realise that they can achieve results over a realistic timeframe) receive what they strive for and make fitness a part of their life. In terms of the centre itself, Eze Fitness were able to see measurable client results and produce PR to reflect this. In turn, this made it a more attractive business for partners, clients, employees and investors. A virtuous cycle.
The learning point
For this kind of initiative to be delivered requires a change in mindset of the fitness clubs owner, managers and team. The fitness teams delivering it have to believe in the value of their knowledge and what they deliver. A key point for staff is that they are not glorified cleaners; they are in their jobs to help change peoples lives for the better.
At Eze Fitness you can sign up for a Big Rocks programme which claims to be "the original and most supportive, customer-focused fitness programme in the UK." No idle claim. They even run 'results guaranteed' programmes.
Of course Eze is a work-in-progress. But the passion and self-belief makes you want their recipe to work. They are trying harder than the rest. They are trying to break the dull predictable model of the fitness centre as money factory. They actually believe in their mission of improving the quality of life of all their customers.
Small, independent, privately-owned. Personal. Passionate.
What Eze has done is look at the whole gym experience through the eyes of the customer asking, Why do people join gyms? What are their hurts, problems and fears? What are they looking for? How can we help people achieve these goals?
Eze have then set about designing the entire piece for the customer.
Gyms may never be the same again.