Ross Campbell of the Exercise Club in Clifton, Bristol, explains how he attracts customers and keeps them coming back for more
"I took over the business from my previous boss a few years ago, so there was an existing customer base, although I needed to attract more people. One of my senior staff and I used to work for the previous owner, so we had our own ideas about how we could improve the business.
"We rely on our location and word-of-mouth to attract new customers. A lot of people pass by our premises, which means they don't have to go out of their way to get here, which certainly helps.
"The type of exercise we offer has been designed with those who wouldn't usually go to a gym in mind. That's our unique selling point. As our exterior sign says, we specialise in exercise for 'the unfit, unsure and un-youthful'.
"When I first took over the business we went out distributing flyers several times. We used to get more people signing up in the few days afterwards, but success was limited, so we rely more on word-of-mouth these days.
"Our website is purely for information, it's nothing fancy. I haven't done any online marketing so far, but I'm thinking of starting an e-newsletter containing, among other things, health and exercise tips for customers from our staff. Keeping the lines of communication open with my customers in this way might also help me to retain them as members. It provides added value.
"We don't try to compete with the big gym chains. We've found our niche and we're after a different market. Those that want Lycra-clad classes with booming music won't like us anyway.
"The way to retain customers, I believe, is to target the right ones to start with. We try to educate people so they realise exercise is primarily a health and fitness thing, rather than simply a way to lose weight. We try to attract people who realise that the product they're buying from us is actually an integral part of their existence, not a luxury.
"We generate word-of-mouth recommendations by simply doing our jobs well and providing our customers with a service that is friendly and professional.
"We only have some 500 members, so we aim to give each and every one a very personal service. We greet each customer by name within ten seconds of them entering the club, so they don't have to stand at the desk and give us their membership number. The exercise they do is recorded and we set up the machines for them each time, so that we maintain close customer contact and can have a chat - which is an informal way of gathering valuable customer feedback. The aim is to find out how we can improve our service.
"We try to build the kind of relationship where customers feel they can tell us if they aren't happy with something we're doing. If they have a complaint, I usually sit down, have a cup of tea with them and chat about it. It's important to respond quickly, effectively and personally.
"During a new customer's first visit, we sit down with them and ask what they want to achieve, then we talk about exercise and start them on a plan that is absolutely tailored to their needs. You have to have that chat because otherwise you have no idea what people really want. If you don't know what each and every one of your customers wants, you can't hope to meet their needs - or hang on to them."
Ross' three key lessons
- Decide which customers to target, how you're going to reach them and how much money and effort you can afford to commit.
- Remember that- reaching a smaller number of the right customers is better than reaching a far greater number of the wrong customers.
- Provide your customers with a friendly and professional service. Listen to them and aim to continually meet their needs.