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Health Club Management
2013 issue 5

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Leisure Management - Social responsibility

Editor's letter

Social responsibility
Kate Cracknell

Why do health clubs – operations that pivot around the idea of doing people good – have to work so hard, and spend so much money, to engage customers? That was the question posed by Ray Algar, MD of Oxygen Consulting, who spotted a discrepancy between the way in which gyms perceive themselves – as socially-minded operations that help people live healthier, happier lives – and the way the public sees them: as contract-wielding enterprises that take your money and then leave you to fend for yourself, not caring if you attend or not.

Was there something that could be done to shift public perceptions, wondered Algar, encouraging people to see gyms as businesses with a social agenda – businesses they would therefore be proud to be associated with? And could this social agenda be delivered without ignoring commercial realities?

Algar was inspired by the story of TOMS Shoes, a for-profit company with a strong ethos of corporate social responsibility (CSR). When TOMS sells a pair of shoes, another pair is given to an impoverished child. When it sells a pair of glasses, part of the profit is used to save or restore the eyesight of people in developing countries. The model allows TOMS to be profit-making, but at the same time benefit from the huge goodwill of a public keen to buy from a company that makes them feel good about their purchase.

Recognising the huge impact of this on customer loyalty – an area in which the fitness industry has always struggled – Algar set about tracking down examples of positive social impact from within the fitness sector. A new website, Gymtopia, was born to share these stories – “to curate the social good that gyms and suppliers are doing around the world,” says Algar. Its intention is to showcase best practice and encourage other clubs to follow suit, putting social impact initiatives at the very heart of what they do: less the one-off charity event, more an integral part of the business. Algar believes this will create a true sense of community, allowing members to feel part of something, driving engagement and reconnecting with those who are disengaging from their club – not to mention acting as a selling point for prospective members and partners. “If a health club cares about its community, the community will care about the club,” he adds.

Due for imminent launch, Gymtopia has already gathered a number of inspiring examples: Cia Athletica in Brazil, for example, which asks members to donate old trainers whenever they’re trading up to a new pair. These are laundered and donated to a local charity that gets under-privileged kids into sport. Vivafit in Portugal asked members to bring in a tin of food whenever they came to work out during April 2009: more than 60,000 items of food were collected and donated to a charity supporting young mothers and their babies. And in the UK, The Gym Group has added a simple question to its sign-up process, asking if people want to make a one-off donation to charity; over £60,000 is now raised each year.

Such initiatives are win-wins for clubs: quite aside from the feelgood factor for staff and members, they are likely to boost retention and, with it, income. If clubs can be creative, it can also be done at minimal cost to the business. I’m excited by Gymtopia and hope it leads to a new CSR movement in the sector.

If you have a case study for Gymtopia, please contact Ray@Gymtopia.org

Originally published in Health Club Management 2013 issue 5

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