Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lessons from the Gym – Making Resolutions

I go to the gym fairly regularly. I belong to a popular chain that has several facilities here in the Austin area. Some of the locations are new. Some have been around with various names and owners for decades. Gyms are great places to think about how to manage a business. There are a lot of business models in the fitness industry, and in the gyms I frequent, there are many types of customers. This is a series of short articles reviewing business concepts and practices. I might have thought about them while I was on the treadmill or doing push-ups, but I expect you will discover, as I did, that they apply in the boardroom and at the cash register.

This is the end of January. It could be any year, but 2012 is unusual in some respects. The economic recession continues to linger; international economies are paying the price for years of profligate spending by governments and individuals; millions of people are unable to find work. People dependent on their savings are earning a pittance in interest because the central banks are holding interest rates down. To make matters worse, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, and opinion is divided on whether this means life on earth will end or life will go on.

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? Judging by the strangers in the gym, a lot of people resolved to get in shape this year. Gym regulars refer to the newbies as “resolutioners.” The gyms start getting crowded during the first three weeks of the year, and they will stay crowded until the end of February. I work out in the morning before work, so they phenomenon is not as pronounced, but during the lunch hour and after working hours, the gyms can be packed. A friend recently commented that the gym is like an ant farm after work. By March, however, there is space in the parking lot, exercise classes are back to their normal sizes, and there is no competition for equipment.

According to Market Research World only 27 percent of people with gym membership in the UK go to the gym regularly. I recall reading a much smaller number for the US in the annual report of a publicly traded fitness company several years ago. (Interestingly, there is a new membership model that charges people more when they do not go to the gym.)

How does this apply to your business?
You may not realize it, but you make similar resolutions in your business routinely. This will be the year that you will increase sales, or this will be the year you plan to reduce expenses. How can you avoid the fate of the resolutioners that start strong in January, and abandon their fitness goals by March? The first step is to take your goal setting seriously. Many people make resolutions because it is the thing to do in December. Unfortunately, failure also seems to be the thing to do. Why? Simply naming a desire is not sufficient. Achieving a goal means naming the goal, and the date you want accomplish the goal. The resolutioners that joined the gym without goals wasted their money.

Fortunately, some people are going to succeed, and it is not difficult to figure out who they might be. They are the ones with specific goals. One good example is a friend of mine, who is starting a program with Weight Watchers. He has a goal and a plan to accomplish the goal. His goal is to lose a specific amount of weight by a certain date. His plan is to be more diligent in his exercise and to follow the Weight Watchers program. Sadly, many of the new people in the gym have no goals. Instead they have vague desires to get in better shape or to look better.

Consider the following statements.
  • I will get in better shape.
  • I will lose weight.
  • I will start running.

These statements do not define goals. Compare them to these statements.
  • I will lose 10 pounds by May.
  • I will be able to run two miles by April.
The first set of statements is really nothing more than a list of desires. The last two statements express the same desires, and add a specific measurable objective and a deadline. Notice that the specific measurable objectives also lend themselves to being broken down into interim goals. Losing 10 pounds by May means losing two and a half pounds a month. Running two miles by April may mean running a mile by the end of February. Beginning with well-defined goals helps you develop a plan to accomplish your goals.
What about your goals? Did you begin the year resolving to increase revenue and decrease expenses? If you hope to do that, then restate your goals more specifically so that you are more likely to achieve your desire. How much do you want to increase revenue and by when do you want to increase it? How much do you want to decrease expenses? How will you begin? If you want to increase revenue will you do it by increasing volume or price? Will you expand share in existing markets? Will you explore new markets? How will you reduce expenses? Is your goal to reduce overhead? Do you want to reduce your cost of goods or the cost of selling? Be specific when you set your goal. If your goals are specific, measurable, and time bound you are more likely to achieve them.

Good luck with your resolutions, and happy New Year!

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