Running a High-tech Club

For many years I have struggled with the challenge of identifying the best combination of computer software to run a club properly and profitably.

As technology continues to become an integral part of our everyday lives, clubs have had to respond by allocating time and money to determine their best use of this technology.

It was not that many years ago that Net Pulse and E-Zone had taken the industry by storm and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to “capture the eyeballs” of the members during their 30 minutes of cardio training at its best centers in the top U.S. markets.

We are now exposed to numbers like “…hundreds of millions of Americans are online daily.” Discounts have become accepted when making purchases online because the online purchaser provides the labor, which saves the seller the labor cost that gets passed back to the online purchaser. In a recent USA Today, the front page had a graph that showed a direct correlation between the level of education and the percent of homes with Internet connectivity. It has long been established that there is a direct correlation between the level of a person's education and income so the conclusion can be drawn that the health club's target market is online. Finally, as a proof source, I am a parent who competes for my home computer with a teenager, which represents the generation that grew up online and skipped over e-mail directly to instant messaging.

STAYING CURRENT

So what do you need to install on your club's computer system to stay on the cutting edge of technology? You need four basic software programs and the better the data can interface with each other, the better it is in the long run.

Front desk management software

This software will run the front desk and membership billing. All memberships are input in this software including short-term memberships and all guests. Follow-up all missed appointments with telephone calls to reset them while they're hot. Export your club guests who do not enroll periodically, as well as your alumni members so your sales force can follow up on them after 90 days.

Accounting software

Club revenue information is typically exported or extracted from your club management software into an accounting software program, which most clubs use to prepare their profit and loss statements and all necessary federal, state and local tax filings required including sales tax and income tax.

Club Web site software

This software will have a place for your cyber guests to register and to receive an introductory offer. Web surfers like to read content that changes often, so keep your online quarterly newsletter fresh and educational. Good web site software should offer you an auto e-mail responder, e-commerce for your cyber store and a chat room for your members and trainers to instant message. Creative use of your web site can broaden your target market to online surfers for home-based memberships for usage by appointment with an online personal trainer.

Club management software

This software is used for e-mailing, faxing, calling and exporting a file to print. Input all telephone inquiries, referrals and leads directly into this software and set up your data entry systems by assigning key people to be responsible. Call your members to collect their e-mail addresses and receive their permission to e-mail, which will save you the cost of printing and postage and, more important, time. E-mail or mail your club quarterly newsletter with club promotions to your members and to your corporate accounts.

Because all of us have limits on our time and money, it is important to take on the technology challenge in chewable bites at a comfortable pace.

The order that I have listed the software: club management and billing software, accounting software, your Web site and your contact management software are in the proper order. So now you simply have to ask yourself this question, “What are my goals in regard to using technology in my business?

Paul Bosley has served in the health club industry for 28 years as an operating partner of a New England Bally subsidiary and as a vice president of Q The Sports Clubs. Paul founded www.healthclubexperts.com six years ago and works with independent health club owners throughout the United States and internationally.

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