Paul Woodford The Fitness Network

7 Mistakes every Leisure Centre makes

Paul Woodford is Alliance’s Director of Marketing and Partnerships. With over 22 years experience, Paul is considered one of the leisure sectors top experts in brand development, sales, marketing and customer service.

We met with Paul to find out where leisure centres so often go wrong and how they can use their unique position in the community to fight back against the budget sector.

What common mistakes do leisure centres make and how can they turn them into massive opportunities?

1 They lack brand identity:

As with any organisation, it’s essential that a leisure centre has a clear sense of who it is and what it stands for. For anyone that hasn’t read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow (and if you’re in sales or marketing then you should!), your local leisure centre is a perfect example of a brand that can really stand out from the competition. Not only do they often have facilities that the competition can’t match, but they are also viewed with a fondness and trust from local residents that the private sector would struggle to emulate.

“you need to establish clear rules and principles for every moment of engagement that your customers have”

In order to develop a clear brand identity, you need to establish clear rules and principles for every moment of engagement that your customers have with the leisure centre, from the moment they walk through the door. So, if you are claiming to be friendly, for example, then you need to ensure that the welcome people receive when they enter reception is reflective of that. So often I walk into leisure centres that have these kinds of values up on the wall and yet there is absolutely no evidence of it in the behaviour of the staff. That kind of inconsistency is what frustrates the consumer the most. ‘Brand’ is a living, breathing thing, and must be built into the very fabric of the organisation (more on this later!).

2. They focus too much on the gym

Leisure centres often forget that their biggest differentiator is that they offer a broad range of facilities that private gyms, particularly budget operators, can’t match. From their front of house and cafe to the swimming pool and children’s play areas, leisure centres are able to provide a complete offering That means that if you’re delivering a marketing campaign, it should coexist across every department of your business, internally, externally and from service to service. That way you can get people seeing you for what you are, which is not just another gym.

“it should coexist across every department of your business”

3. They misallocate physical resources

Many leisure centres are blessed with huge facilities, and yet so often this space is misused. Do they really need two large sports halls or could one of these be turned into a different leisure offering, such as a trampoline park? By thinking creatively about the space you have available you can attract entirely new audiences and generate significant new streams of income.

4. They neglect modern media

While there is still a place for offline marketing, in 2017 the majority of spending should be going into digital efforts, from SEO and PPC to social media and email marketing. This is where leisure centres so often fall behind their local private competition. It is viewed as less risky to just stick with traditional techniques and not try anything new, but that all but guarantees lost business. The consumer – at all age groups – lives online nowadays, and leisure centres need to make sure that their strategies reflect that.

A particular challenge encountered by leisure centres is that their websites often have to comply with legislation that effectively forces them to build separate landing pages or microsites for their services, which can be difficult to find and offer limited functionality. One way around this is to ensure your social media platforms are on-brand, informative and easy to find. By going to your customers in this way rather than making them come to you, you can bypass the limitations of your website and ensure your audience still receives all the relevant communications.

5. They use outdated systems and fail to track their data

In the private sector, operators are developing their own CRM’s to suit their exact requirements. They are able to track the ROI of all marketing campaigns and tailor all of their communications to each audience group. Conversely, leisure centres tend to use outdated systems and often have almost no means at all of tracking the return of each channel.

The investment required to develop such a CRM is often viewed as prohibitively costly, but the truth is that these investments would pay for themselves in a matter of months through the improved targeting and communications they would facilitate.

6. Ignorance of the bigger picture

Leisure centres tend to operate in a vacuum, but in order to be at their most effective, they need to tap into the broader fitness ecosystem. From online fitness bloggers and social media influencer to national fitness campaigns such as This Girl Can, there are all sorts of opportunities to leverage these movements and engage a broader audience. Leisure centres need to ensure they keep their finger on the pulse and have documented strategies for both the content calendars and influencer engagement.

7. Communication

The way that people are purchasing is changing. If they’ve filled in a form online to inquire about your services then they probably don’t want you to call them back, but would rather receive an email. We can’t assume that people want to communicate in the way they have traditionally. Some will want to talk over the phone, but others would rather communicate via social media, email, SMS or WhatsApp. Your sales team (or the people tasked with this responsibility) need to be prepared to communicate via all of these channels or risk losing prospective customers.

8. It’s all about culture

Even if you’ve nailed your brand identity, got a strong online presence and you’re well connected with other wellness and leisure communities, it won’t count for anything if it isn’t reflected in the behaviour of each member of the team. Some of the most effective methods I’ve seen for embedding a clear team culture include:

Filming your staff inductions – your staff inductions are perhaps the single most important process you have. They should set the tone and provide a clear framework within which all new members can operate, ensuring they know exactly what’s expected and how their performance will be measured. I recommend recording these on video to ensure they are taken seriously and can be reviewed afterwards.
Mystery shopping – every month a mystery shopper should visit the centre and their experience should be recorded on video. This ensures that all feedback you then provide can be backed up with evidence.
Ensure performance is measured – performance reviews all too often involve lots of subjective observations and vague recommendations, giving little clarity to the team member. I always recommend establishing clear and objective metrics for each member of the team, against which their performance is measured. This removes emotion and subjectivity from the review process and gives far greater clarity as to how the person can improve and develop.
Learn from the hospitality sector – when you walk into a great hotel, shop or restaurant, there is a level of customer service that we have come to expect that the leisure industry currently can’t match, but why? Ultimately we need to realise that we too are in hospitality and have lots of opportunities to impress our customers. I use a system called Expect, Impress, Wow:

  • Expect – this begins with ensuring that at all times your team’s behaviour lives up to customer expectations – that must be that absolute minimum you should expect. For example,  if I turned up to a class workout, I would expect it to start on time, the receptionist to be friendly and the kit to be ready.
  • Impress – how do we then go a step further and exceed their expectations? Could the receptionist know my name, for example?
  • Wow – how do we blow the customer away? This last one is impossible to systemise as it all comes out of your culture. Do you have a  team that is all buzzing with a shared enthusiasm for the customer and will be likely to do something amazing to help the customer whenever the opportunity arises?
    If your leisure centre learns from these common errors and follows the recommended solutions then I believe this can be an amazing time for leisure centres to grow their revenue and cement themselves as a pillar of the local community.


Posted in Gyms & Clubs, Interviews, The Fitness Network.