Beyond the Front Desk

Check-in software is a staple at most clubs. But if you are only using today's technology for signing in, you maybe missing out on opportunities to add more efficiency to other areas.

Virtually every club with a software system uses the technology for check-in, since that's the bare minimum computer experts recommend for even the tightest of budgets. But there's a lot more to a software system than controlling the flow of traffic at the front end. Everything from collecting dues to keeping tabs on your inventory is a few key strokes away when you've got the right automated system in place. Here are a few of the functions that have made the lives of many club operators so much easier.

Member Tracking
As you store member data on your computer system, don't think quantity; think quality. While it's critical to know how many members are coming through your door and using your club every day, wouldn't it be great to know exactly what they're doing while they're in there? Well, you can with the right member tracking/management function.

"One of the most important parts of our system is the ability to track the history of all the members," notes Gus Martinez, owner of The Firm Fitness Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "We track every little thing they buy and their activities."

Such information is key in developing both marketing strategies and programming. "We know what they're doing, thanks to their numbers and history," Martinez adds. "The computer spits it out and helps us make a determination of what we feel the members want. What they're buying really tells us what they're looking for."

It also helps him make determinations about how to market memberships. For instance, the data pulled from the system will point to trends in the length of membership people are buying. "Some people are more interested in one-year memberships and others are interested in two-year memberships," he offers. "Based on what the most popular type of membership is, we can judge where the market is going, and price and market accordingly."

Tracking functions can also let you know how many members you are gaining and, equally important, losing. With this information, you can look for what factors may be drawing people in and/or driving them away. As Dave Duncan, systems administrator at Atlantic Coast Athletic Club (Charlottesville, Va.), says, "The name of the game is retention."

"The key to this side of the business," Duncan offers, " is being able to keep up with members and monitor their attendance. If you gain 200 new sales and lose 300 current members, you're not gaining anything. So we make sure we track that with our system."

Tracking has been a marketing dream for Sean Schickel, owner of a Gold's Gym in Appleton, Wis. "We track right down to the individual and what they buy," Schickel says.

Take bottled water, for instance. It's a popular item at any pro shop or juice bar, and it can tell you a lot about your membership. "If we find out people are buying a lot of a certain kind of water, we might get a special deal on that water if we buy it in bulk," Schickel adds.

Guest Tracking
Your members aren't the only ones you can keep technological tabs on with your in-club system. Every guest who walks through the door represents a potential sale. So, with a proper guest tracking program, you can ensure that no opportunity falls through the cracks.

"We enter every single guest who comes through the door into the system," Schickel reveals. "We send them mailings and birthday cards, even when they're not members."

For the sales staff at Powerhouse Gym in Brick, N.J., the guest tracker function is critical for helping them maintain their numbers. Not only do they see who's coming in the door on any given day, they see when a person's guest pass expires, which opens the sales door.

"The system tells us who's on a week pass and who will be ending their trial soon," says Eric Casaburi, owner of the Powerhouse. "It really makes the sales staff accountable and helps them with better follow-up. They know everyone who walked in the door on a guest pass and everyone who came in on a free trial. It's a really strong system."

It also enables the sales staff to know those prospects by name, so the relationship can be brought to a more personal level. Guests will perceive the staff to be very attentive and personable, which is what wins you prospects from the club down the street.

Inventory Control
Those of you with pro shops or other retail ventures don't want to miss this one. Computer automation has made controlling inventory a much more painless process than the labor-intensive methods of years gone by.

Casaburi doesn't know how he'd get by without the inventory control function on his system. "We're able to print lists of our entire inventory and look at vendor files; that's all directly available," he notes. "We can list all of our active items, view each one of them, edit and adjust them, as well as run reports on each one we sold."

You can break the items down chronologically and see how each item sold during a particular month, for instance. The system actually gives users a sales history over the last 12 months, and shows profits and quantity sold of that particular item during that year. "You can really see which items you're moving and which ones you're not," Casaburi adds. "It really is an in-depth view of what's going on in the club during a given period of time."

The inventory control function also enables you to reduce shrinkage, an issue that regularly affects clubs selling small items such as nutritional supplements and T-shirts. "Every time you sell something, [the software] automatically deducts it from the inventory," he says. "If your computer doesn't match your [nutrition] bar supply, then you know items have been disappearing."

Just a Bill
By now, EFT (electronic funds transfer) should be a household term for most club operators. Even if your billing is still limited to the old-fashioned mail-in coupon method, you've, no doubt, encountered those three magic letters.

One of the advantages of computer automation has been the ability to improve receivables by processing dues collections electronically. So, needless to say, the billing function has become one of the more popular features of club software systems.

"When you do anything on the computer it's easier, and that's especially true with billing," notes Karen Wong, senior vice president at World Gym in New York. "When you're scheduling payments in advance, you don't have to keep track of hundreds of people who owe you money. [EFT] is the only way we've ever done it."

The Firm's Martinez is a believer, as well. "It has improved receivables by about 400 fold," he raves. "It's the sure thing. I wouldn't do business any other way. If I didn't have it, I would have to hope every month that new members would come through the door and existing members would pay. I wouldn't be able to buy new equipment or make nice renovations because it would be a shot in the dark every month."

And it's not just about collecting. The systems offer thorough reports on anything involving revenue. For instance, if you get a charge back from a credit card company, the software enables you to perform a quick account search to find the member. "A lot of times, the credit card company tells you just the account number, and you have to figure out who that person is," notes Martinez. "The computer does that for you."

In addition, members can establish accounts for your pro shop or juice bar where money is debited from the balance when items are bought. Let's say a member puts $50 on a credit or debit card at the smoothie bar. Each time the member buys a frothy beverage for, say, $3.50, the computer will keep track of that. It's that easy.

Analyze This!
There's a lot more to sales than just the number of new memberships and renewals sold at any given time. Many software systems can give you a complete report analyzing sales activity at any given moment.

"Let's say you want to do a sales analysis of a particular shift to see what was sold during that period by the person on duty," explains Casaburi, of Powerhouse Gym in Brick, N.J. "You can see if there's a change in sales activity after a shift change. It gives you the exact date and time it was sold."

Not only can you get a 14-screen report on sales activity, but you can pinpoint the exact payment method. It shows the credit card type or whether it was paid via cash or check. "As an owner of a club, it has helped a lot," notes Casaburi. "If there are new people training or there's a lot of mayhem at the front desk, people may forget how things were rung up."

It also enables you to see how much of one payment type you did for a particular day. For instance, if you want to see how many people paid with American Express cards, you can call up a report of all AmEx payments during that period. This can come in handy.

For example, if an individual loses a receipt, you can reprint it for any single transaction in the member's payment history. Or if members have difficulty reconciling a discrepancy in their check-books because they forgot how they paid for something, the front-desk attendant can pull the information immediately from the system, enhancing the club's customer service record.

"Maybe the person paid by check and was mistakenly rung up under cash," Casaburi offers. "You can verify virtually any mistake."

Reports Galore
Homework has never been this easy! The only thing more important than the data you meticulously collect is the interpretation of said information. That's why many club operators swear by the various reporting capabilities software systems offer.

When you're running any type of profit center, from tanning to apparel sales, you'd be spinning your wheels without an adequate reporting system. "We're able to keep track of every profit center and exactly how much money they're bringing in," reports Schickel, of the Gold's Gym in Appleton, Wis. "Since we know what's coming in from each department, we tailor specific business plans for those profit centers. For instance, we have a plan just for the juice bar."

Demographic reports are critical to any marketing program you devise. Thanks to the latest software, it's all at the push of a button. You can find out the exact age and gender breakdown of your membership and develop plans accordingly. "If we're shooting for a particular market, and we know that our goal is to get 30-to-35-year-old females, we can determine if our marketing is effective enough," Schickel explains.

Most systems also can break down the information by zip code so you can refine your marketing for specific geographic locations.

Curious about your retention/attrition numbers? Ask the computer. Even if you're just interested in the numbers for, say, the month of June, the technology is happy to oblige.

And, if you only want employees of a certain level to see this information, you can restrict access. "Software is all passworded, so if you don't want certain people on some functions, you can password them out," suggests Casaburi, owner of Powerhouse Gym in Brick, N.J.

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