After the big Grand Opening shindig and your studio is running smoothly, many assume the honeymoon will last forever. Successful studio owners know anything “new” will trigger momentum, but sustaining momentum is the secret sauce and why some thrive while others fail.

In my 15 years of launching over 200 indoor cycling and fitness studios worldwide, I hear the same excuses when classes once full are now half empty. Owners wonder why their waitlists have disappeared and begin the blame game: “It’s summer and they’re on vacation.” “It’s that other studio down the street.”  “If we only had better instructors, if we only had newer equipment, if we only had an aggressive PR firm.” The list is endless.

When numbers and revenue begin to slip, owners should take a hard look in the mirror and confront these 6 signs of studio sabotage:

1. Inconsistency

The most insignificant features of your studio are often the most important to clients. And when a “hit or miss” attitude creeps in, inconsistency will undermine your success. Policies important in the beginning, such as sending a handwritten note to new clients, passing out chilled towels after each class, or greeting clients by name are part of the brand and not optional.

Treat every day as if it were grand opening and never forget the little things. Ever.

2. Lead from Behind

When a leader blames the followers for not following, the leader has ceased to lead. Studio owners are often their own worst enemy and want to control every aspect of the business. Everybody benefits when owners delegate responsibilities and thoughtful delegation will allow someone else to shine. Leadership is not about getting things done “right.” Leadership is about getting things done through other people. Remember that experience alone doesn’t make you better at anything. However, “evaluated experience” enables you to improve and create a thriving environment where everyone wants to be part of your team.

Hire a leadership coach.

3. Front Desk Divas

Front desk greeters are the face of your business. Most negative Yelp reviews or dropped memberships are because of unclear policies or incidents which happen here. Does your front desk staff assume it’s the client’s fault when a credit card is declined? Do some clients get exceptions to policies while others do not? Does your staff represent diversity in age and ethnicity? Are they professionally trained in customer service?

Practice role playing with real-world scenarios to help greeters anticipate the unexpected. Say Yes before No.  Always.

4. Words Matter

Bartenders and baristas often know more about a business’s health than the owner. When staff gathers in a public setting to unleash their frustrations toward management and even clients, it doesn’t take long before the ripple effect of negativity spreads like wildfire. Class attendance dwindles and top instructors turn in resignation letters. Words spoken by management and instructors, both inside and outside the studio, are the true trademark of your business.

Complaints are like questions. They communicate what a person truly values.

5. Assumptions

It’s ironic that clichés like “no judgement” are promoted on websites, yet staff and instructors often contradict this by formulating assumptions which judge the oldest, the smartest, or strongest. When customers require glasses to see tiny locker numbers, sign-in lists or return policies, without saying a word you’ve shouted, “you don’t belong here.”

Young instructors often bask in their social skills from elementary school and apply labels such as “Miss Sarah, Dr. Bob, or Yes Ma’am.” While some claim it’s a sign of respect, it’s a judgement of age, status, or ability.

How people feel when they step through your doors is the trademark of your business.

6. Forgetting Who is Boss

As Walmart founder Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”  Studios that enforce a lengthy list of rules that prevent customer satisfaction will not last in this highly competitive industry. Being kind is better than being right. If you win the argument, you’ll probably lose the client.

Mandatory reading for the entire staff: “The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America’s #1 Customer Service Company,” by Robert Spector.

For more information on design, startup, and operations of a successful fitness studio, visit Indoor Cycle Design at www.indoorcycledesign.com


Barbara Chancey, Owner, Indoor Cycle Design