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Now Is the Time to Position For the Upcoming Year

Next month, when we enter the fourth quarter of 2008, we will have just three months left to analyze and adjust our business plans to hit our forecasts for the year. During the past two months, my conversations with club operators, as well as vendors, have mostly been about how to reposition for the remainder of 2008 and how to strategically position for success in 2009.

For you to hit your mark, you must first look at where you are now. Is your fitness facility where you thought it would be? If your club is not meeting or exceeding your forecast, it's time to analyze why and make the necessary adjustments. Admit that you need to make changes, be honest with staff members about why changes are being made and get their commitment to implement these changes. You must think realistically about where you want your club to be by Dec. 31. Once that goal is set, move backwards to see what needs to be done to get there.

A SWOT analysis can help. SWOT is an acronym for Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis helps uncover your facility's strengths, missed opportunities and weaknesses. By understanding these factors, you can manage and eliminate threats. With the SWOT framework, you can also start to craft a strategy that helps your club stand apart from competitors.

To find your strengths, you should ask several questions. What advantages does your company have? What do you do better than anyone else? What unique element do you provide? What do people in your market see as your strengths? What factors will help you — not your competitors — get members?

Answer these questions realistically from an internal perspective and from the point of view of your members and people in your market. It's easy to fall prey to our own perceptions. Think about your strengths in relation to your competitors. For example, if all your competitors provide beautiful, well-equipped, well-programmed facilities and great member care, then doing the same as them is not a strength — it is a necessity.

Questions about weakness can include: What could you improve? What should you avoid? What are people in your market likely to see as weaknesses? What factors cause you to lose new member sales or current members? Again, consider this from an internal and external basis. Do other people perceive weaknesses that you do not see? Are your competitors doing better than you? It is best to be realistic now and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.

After identifying weaknesses, it's time to find opportunities. What are the good opportunities facing you? What are some interesting trends, and are they opportunities for you? Alternatively, look at your weaknesses and ask yourself whether you could create opportunities by eliminating them.

Lastly, threats must be identified. What obstacles do you face? What is your competition doing that you should be worried about? Where is the growth in your community? What differentiates you from competitors so that the market does not see you as a commodity? Is your lack of programming keeping your members' usage low? Is your retention where it should be? Are you hitting or exceeding revenue goals? Do you have bad debt or cash-flow problems? Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?

Carrying out an analysis like this is often illuminating, both in terms of pointing out what needs to be done and in putting problems into perspective.

Strategic positioning takes time, though. To attain success in 2009, club operators must start now. Constructing a realistic plan takes collaboration and buy-in from all parties involved. Start the process for 2009 now.

Karen Woodard-Chavez is president of Premium Performance Training, Boulder, CO, and Ixtapa, Mexico. Woodard consults and trains clubs throughout the world. She can be reached at 303-417-0653 or at

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