Has your organisation recognised the value of being genuinely useful to its community – not settling for ‘doing good by helping people get healthy’, but actually putting community interests at the heart of the business? It’s a way of thinking that’s finally gaining traction in the fitness sector thanks to initiatives like Gymtopia.org – a website that curates life-affirming examples of gyms doing genuine social good around the world – and The Fitness Sector Social Good Report, published earlier this year by Gymtopia founder Ray Algar, which highlights the eight key attributes a business must have if it’s to ensure long-term relevance with its stakeholders (download the full report at the Oxygen Consulting website).
While altruistic, this approach also makes commercial sense, driving profits by building a truly loyal customer base. Algar’s report makes it clear that customer engagement today is about far more than simply providing the nuts and bolts – people want to buy into your whole ethos and to identify with your overarching purpose, the consistency of your generosity and your authenticity. So what does this look like in practice? On page 64, as part of our inspirational Gymtopia series, we tell the story of Franco’s Athletic Club in the US, which has been giving back to its community for 26 years – a way of saying thank you for all the support owners Ron and Sandy Franco received when their young daughter was diagnosed with cancer. With a philosophy of ‘never say no’, the Francos made a pledge to always respond to requests from charities, schools and community groups; they’ve since directly raised more than US $1.5m for charity and donated significantly more from in-kind use of the club’s extensive facilities. “It wasn’t a conscious decision to start being community players,” says Sandy. “We felt an obligation. They were there for us and we want to be there for them.”
But it also makes commercial sense: located in the state of Louisiana – which has the sixth highest adult obesity rate in the US – nevertheless the penetration rate in the club’s catchment area is almost double the national average. The club has also grown from 28,000sq ft (2,601 sq metres) when the couple bought it in 1988, to 250,000sq ft (23,225 sq metres) with 15,000 members today. “People who appreciate your efforts will want to be a part of your club and do business with you,” says Sandy. Yet in spite of great examples such as this, the sector as a whole is falling short, as Reynir Indahl, chair of Health & Fitness Nordic, explained in his Health Club Management interview earlier this year: “The industry has a huge potential to contribute to society, but to date I don’t think it’s been particularly useful. That should be the very purpose of business, but we’ve somehow forgotten that over the last 20–30 years. As a general rule, the sector has been far too focused on squeezing the last dollar out of every customer.”
We have an opportunity to enhance the reputation of the sector as a whole, drive genuine involvement with our clubs, and boost retention. We need more businesses to take inspiration from the Francos.