Why building partnerships is good for the fitness industry

In these unprecedented times, operators are looking at commercial opportunities with fresh eyes. But should they go for quick deals? Or spend time developing partnerships? And how do you get the most out of a partnership once you’ve launched it?

Eamon Lloyd, Senior Director – Head of Partnerships, UK and Ireland at Gympass is directly responsible for 2.2k partnerships, while the company is invested in 50,000 partnerships globally.

We spoke to Eamon about:
– The difference between a deal and a partnership
– How to take a partnership to the next level
– The trade secrets for forming effective partnerships

How would you define a partnership, is it just a fancy word for ‘deal’?

A partnership is a long-term agreement. It’s two parties coming together to create something of value for each other, which also brings value to the fitness industry as a whole. Together we can be greater than the sum of our parts, driving revenue and defeating inactivity. A deal on the other hand is a harder transaction on both sides. As such, it doesn’t necessarily offer the same level of value to both parties nor does it imply a commitment to a common goal.

At Gympass our whole philosophy is about creating long term partnerships. We’ll do a ‘deal’ but it’s unlikely we would put our best people on it, nor would we give it the same level of resource as we would a partnership. My team could do three deals in a month but I couldn’t sign three partnerships as they take time to develop and nurturing to be exactly right. We’re also more motivated to look after our partners, as they see more perks and benefits than organisations where a ‘quick deal’ is done.

What advice would you give to operators when approaching a partnership?

Define what success looks like and remember this will be different for everyone. Don’t agree arbitrary goals just to please each other or to force a partnership across the line. Each partner must believe they are achievable, or you will all be setting yourselves up to fail.

Be curious to learn about your potential partner and understanding what you both gain from your relationship. If you open up to each other and are both honest and respectful of each other’s stance, you will be able to enjoy mutual added value much more quickly.

How do you take a partnership to the next level?

Believe it or not, our strongest partnerships have grown when mistakes have been made. How both parties respond to mistakes can make or break a partnership. Where you have two companies striving towards grand goals, mistakes are likely to happen. But as in life, it’s not the mistake you’ll remember most, it’s how you managed and resolved it that will have a lasting impact. Having the confidence and humility to accept that mistakes were made is essential. Then, discussing what went wrong, learning and adapting from the error will stand you in good stead going forwards. I’m not advising you push the limits on purpose to test a partnership, but there’s no need to be afraid either of getting a few things wrong along the way. Just because you didn’t get it right the first time, doesn’t mean the partnership can’t be great. Provided both sides have faith and trust, the partnership will prevail.

Can you share a few lessons you’re learned along the way?

When we piloted with Everyone Active, we exceeded targets with some centres and under-performed with others. That didn’t stop them pushing forward with the full estate roll out, trusting that we could increase numbers across the board if we continued working together. This is one of longest lasting partnerships and feels very strong.

During another pilot, we drove over 1000 people to one single club in a month. A huge over-performance, it caused a real problem for the partner, but together we acknowledged it was a good problem to have and were able to find a solution which drove visits in a more manageable way.

In summary:

  1. Build trust
  2. Learn and adapt
  3. Create value

How much of a good partnership is down to personal relationships?

Likability helps at a surface level, but you need more than that to build a strong partnership. Partners have to get along, but you need honest, and sometimes difficult, conversations to progress a partnership. To manage this effectively, both sides need to show trust, transparency and respect.

The partners must understand each other’s businesses, this helps to be sensitive to any politics, to foresee bumps in the road and to be solutions focused. Passion or interest is important too. At Gympass we split our team by type of operator. Our boutique fitness partnership execs really live and breathe boutique fitness and this helps them to do an outstanding job with in this sector of the industry. Likewise, we have team members who are passionate about defeating inactivity and generating social value within communities and so they work best alongside our leisure partners who share this common goal.

As someone responsible for creating major partnerships between Gympass and some of the UK’s biggest operators – including Anytime Fitness, Bannatyne, Fitness First and Everyone Active – what are the real secrets of success?

Research is important and timing is everything. Always put yourself in the shoes of the partner, look at the partnership from their perspective. Respect internal politics and the decision making progress of the organisation you are hoping to partner with.

If you truly believe you can bring value to a potential partner, don’t stop at the first ‘no’. Find someone who will listen, as they will be the person able to unlock the next level of discussion.

Be patient. These discussions can take time depending on the current climate, business goals and priorities for your potential partner. If your proposition is right and you stay alert to your proposed partner’s position, you will see your moment. Be prepared and ready to seize it the opportunity when it comes.

Posted in The Fitness Network.