Staying Strong In A Weak Economy

As featured in Hotel Executive Magazine
By Bryan Green, President, Advantage Fitness Products

I certainly don’t need to remind anyone about the tough economic times we’re facing in our country. It’s hard to go through a day without being confronted by it one way or another. The impact is universal, and the hospitality industry is no exception as business and leisure travel inevitably decline due to a mindset fixed on reducing expense and maximizing the value of every dollar. For most of us, the situation is forcing us to distill spending priorities down to the most critical elements necessary to keep our business alive and steady, amidst the economic storm. But in many cases, it’s not only where we spend our dollars, but how we spend them that can make or break success in the face of challenge.

For more the better part of two decades, fitness has grown steadily as a critical component to a hotel’s overall service offering. What once was merely an ancillary component of the hotel experience, grew steadily on the shoulders of a society that became more and more focused on daily wellness and ultimately, healthy longevity. Business and leisure travelers have made maintaining a steady exercise and fitness regimen on the road a top priority, and the demand for exemplary fitness services has reached an all-time high.

But has the weakened economy rendered fitness back to its original place as merely an ancillary concern for hotel operators? While the instinct may be to answer “yes,” I’m here to say “absolutely not.” With budgets tightening and less discretionary cash to throw around, travelers will more than ever choose hotels that have earned their satisfaction and loyalty. Therefore, protecting this loyalty by maintaining the level of service they expect is more critical than ever. As consumers wrestle to maintain financial health and longevity, the desire to maintain physical health and longevity is unwavering. So if you think that fitness is an expendable priority, you might want to think again.

The economy has placed an enormous amount of stress on most everyone. So the travelers that hotels will be serving during this tough period will be in need of stress relief like never before. It will be common to see lavish meals and cocktail hours dashed, in favor of an hour in the gym to break a sweat and effectively decompress. The last thing you want is for your fitness center to under-deliver at the time when it’s needed the most. Now I’m not necessarily advocating increased spending on fitness or the acquisition of new or upgraded discount commercial gym equipment or amenities. What I’m advocating is a closer attention to fitness spending to ensure that the dollars spent are done so strategically in ways that will protect and maintain customer satisfaction levels.

And if you operate a high-end resort where high-quality services and amenities are a benchmark of your brand and customer experience, you simply can’t afford to allow high quality standards to decline. The effects of a declined customer experience, and the related negative word-of-mouth reviews can be extremely damaging.

At the most basic level, several measures should be taken from a standpoint of covering the “bare necessities.” These are the areas that if ignored, can lead to dissatisfied, frustrated guests, and ultimately the exodus of once-loyal customers:

Cleanliness – There may be nothing quite as important as a spotless fitness environment. Keep in mind, unlike any other environment, a fitness center is a living, breathing space, continuously affected by a higher level of wear and tear. So maintaining a crystal clean environment can’t be underestimated. Whether staffing levels are maintained or cut back, the emphasis on a clean environment should be paramount.

Hygiene – As important as appearance may be, it’s not enough that a fitness center merely appear clean. The demand for a healthy fitness environment has never been greater. As the fitness industry boomed, horror stories of bacteria-induced staff infections and related liability issues linked to unclean environments have made consumers and fitness business managers more conscious hygiene than ever. Ignore the need for hygiene and you could be facing far more costly and damaging long-term problems. To this point, fitness centers need be equipped with an ample supply of disposable wipes, conveniently placed and enclosed waste baskets and work out towels readily available for guests.

Upkeep/Maintenance – Never has the need to maximize and extend the life of your existing fitness equipment been of greater importance. When budgets are tighter, the last thing you want are machines breaking down, creating costly expenses or a “black eye” on your floor space that will leave guests disgruntled. Furthermore, there are safety concerns with equipment that’s not operating properly and many times, associated liability issues that you just can’t afford. This is where a monthly preventative maintenance contract with a certified technician is money extremely well spent. Preventative maintenance will not only keep equipment operating efficiently, but it can also save you from the more drastic costs associated with equipment when it ultimately breaks down.

These are the most baseline and critical areas that hotel operators need to address to maintain consistent customer satisfaction even within a culture where cost-cutting is inevitable. But hotel operators shouldn’t limit themselves to this “baseline” or “precautionary” mentality. There are still ways to do a lot, with less – smart and crafty ways that a fitness center can remain fresh and relevant amidst tough economic times.

Little Things Mean A Lot – If you can’t afford to buy new equipment or make more significant upgrades (which is currently the situation for many), keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Smaller, operational-based expenditures such as replacing upholstery, adding additional stretching mats, and other ancillary “finishing touches” in the gym can go far in showing a continued commitment to keeping you fitness offering fresh.

Accessorize – The evolution of both functional and core training within the fitness industry has increased the emphasis on body-weight based and or accessory-based functional training methods. This is a breath of fresh air, as expensive machines are giving way to training methods where more lower-priced fitness accessories are the tools of the trade. In lieu of new equipment, consider arming your fitness center with a healthy selection of bosu balls, resistance bands, kettle bells or other accessories. On the one hand, they’re cost effective, while on the other hand, they maintain a “current” and “relevant” quality to your fitness offering.

Buyer’s Market – All are forced to reckon with a challenging economy, and that includes providers of fitness equipment, services and expertise. The best of them will be ready, willing, and able to provide you with creative solutions to stretch your budgets or take advantage of various factory incentives. However, more than ever, you’ll need to choose a provider that has expertise in effective selection and design, but one that will be committed to the ongoing service support required for your facility. Getting a great deal on some equipment may appear attractive on the front end, but poor planning for placement, installation execution, and ongoing support can produce nightmare’s you do not wish to endure. Make sure you select the provider that not only displays a commitment to these offerings, but will be a long-term partner committed to your success long after the wake of the economic storm.

While it may seem “easier said than done,” the smartest businesses find opportunities in challenging times like we currently face with today’s economy. While others may be reeling, these businesses are capitalizing and gaining critical advantages. There’s no doubt that costs will be scrutinized, and for many, minimized. But cost-cutting doesn’t have to come at the expense of customer satisfaction. Now more than ever, we need to place more energy and emphasis in smarter spending to maximize dollars, maintain customer satisfaction and minimize the potential of decline. Seize this opportunity to work smarter and send a message to your customers that protecting your business’ bottom line will not come at their expense.