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Preparing for the Olympic Year
By Dave Peterson

As we look ahead to the next few months, everything you do will matter in the grand scheme of improving your success. The exposure ramps up through the many qualifiers of spring, the Olympic Trials in June/July, the pinnacle event - the Olympic Games in Rio - and the cool down celebratory tours around the country (winning Gold being the goal of our Elite programs.) All told, we have a very short window of time in the Olympic cycle to maximize the potential opportunity to grow the sport across the U.S. Assuming our teams and athletes will be medalists again, we have an extended exposure – winning is good for business at all levels. With the national office separating the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Trials in 2016, such a change presents new opportunities to explore outreach to our communities and increase our expectation of success in both the men’s and women’s programs. Be ready to address the change in positive terms to the general public and take full advantage of what I’ve been advised will be increased amounts of television coverage leading up to the Games. I will attend both Trials – and if you’re serious about gymnastics, you will too.

Personally I prefer small group discussions and would welcome the opportunity to meet any other owner or manager at the upcoming Congresses or throughout the season after the meets to discuss ideas. There’s no better way to energize yourself then to engage in spirited healthy conversation about the good, and the challenging, of our industry. Until then, here’s some thoughts for your consideration as you plan ahead for the most exciting time in the gymnastics business cycles.

We all know the importance of the three R’s in education, but let me ask you to consider a version that’s worked well for me over the past several years - Review, Reinvigorate, and Reinvest.

Facilities. Now is the time to invest in your spaces. Yes, it’s still true – you have to spend money to make money. If you’re not in a position to add a location, expand an existing site, or move to a newer location within the next 12 months then at least make a plan to reinvigorate the spaces you’re in – BEFORE June of next year. Interest rates for business loans are at an all time low – ask your bank officer. It’s critical to look fresh. Find a block of time when you can pull everything off the walls and paint. You’ll throw more away than you ever would have considered – until it’s in a pile to sift through. If your trophies, plaques, and banners are collecting dust you might give them to existing or former athletes. A major goal should be to open the look of an existing space, create a clean environment as if you’re a new business opening – and make room for the next 4 years of successes. If you’ve been in business a while, you might even try to organize a reunion of sorts (handout the old team trophies to former athletes to take permanently.) If you can spare the time, you might consider taking everything out of the gym – and I mean everything – and rebuild the space. Even if, like in a few of our 7 facilities, you could never see the layout changing, putting everything back, replacing a few items for new, really ‘clean to the corners’ as one industry expert likes to say, will enliven your people, excite your customers, and very likely surprise you with improved financial results. Be ready to schedule a debris box, but you’ll be thankful for the improvements and above all a ‘new’ clean space. It will cost you – a long weekend or weeklong closure, staff hours, some new equipment, trash hauling, paint, a new vacuum cleaner (or two), and some meals and drinks for the staff. But spending a months income will have a net return many times over. Imagine if you could have opened your business on the very first day with the same number of students you’ve spent the last many years to develop and grow – that’s what you’re doing when you close to celebrate a ‘grand re-opening’. Those established clients will talk about the upgrade for months/years to come and will have the added bonus of having been a client for years already. Of course, if you want to add-on and expand your business then let’s talk about how to do that successfully another time. I’ll buy the drinks as it will be my pleasure to learn more about your business and to watch you succeed.

Staffing. You’ve cleaned up the place, your existing staff helped you do it and you’ve rewarded them for their hours and dedication to make it a success. Take it up a notch and ensure additional training occurs for all of them. Again, you’ve got less than a year to prepare them for new successes and a busy gym. You might only have a staff of 15, and you may feel you know them all very well, but it will enhance your strengths to take them on a retreat – out of the gym. This might be done before the facilities remodel to discuss what that would look like and how they would plan to be an integral part of it. You might do it after the remodel/clean up as a reward for the completed job. Set a date, close the place, and provide for staff training - or use a Saturday night and all day Sunday. At California Sports Center we provide an annual staff training in January every year where all 200+ employees come together in one location to listen to guest speakers from inside and outside our industry and set in place an overall theme for the company’s new year. We also use that time to set department goals – or program goals. In our case, I like to meet separately with my team coaches since ‘team’ is its own programs within the larger business. Our amazing team coaches are the ‘top of the food chain’ as experts in their fields and their focus is already defined for them by a Code of Points – but how they get there differs from one coach or program to the next. That said, a team is only as good as the rest of the program that feeds it athletes. Our preschool and recreation programs bring the students to team - not the other way around. Neither team nor recreation is more important than the other and our team coaches know that they are an integral part of the success of preschool and recreation – they must honor, respect, and assist all coaches not just their fellow team coaches. Take the time to build program goals – be sure they tie in with the site or location goal – and then be sure they align with the ownership or directors. At CSC, we offer to pay for 80% of the cost to attend Region 1 Congress – but they have to commit their time and it’s their choice, we don’t make them go. Last year we had 60+ attendees. We take our leadership team away from the gym in mid-year. We’ve attended the Disney Institute several times, we’ve gone to the beach, completed overnight socials – work related – events that build up our leadership, working hard to let them know how important they are to the future of the company’s success – which allows us to reinvest back into their success, their programs, their facilities – and finding new ‘qualified’ staff (a separate issue all together.) One Business One Team. We value our talented employees and their continued growth and education – do you?

Marketing. Don’t wait for the TV coverage. Don’t wait for the U.S. teams to win gold. Consider both of those ‘icing on the cake’. Use your community to demonstrate who you are and what you do now and every year. I’ve always loved USA Gymnastics tagline “Begin Here, Go Anywhere”. There is nothing more true than that statement and it should be used consistently and aggressively. The perfect 10.00 may have been lost as a direct connection to our sport, but we are still the foundation of every other sport out there. We are the ‘perfect’ activity. If kids can accomplish basic gymnastics they will be more successful in life – and particularly in other sports. Great athletes of all sports know the value we play in their children’s future success – just ask them. Then let’s tell the world, but therein lies the challenge. In our market – San Jose / Silicon Valley – we have a very expensive life style or cost of living. We cannot afford TV coverage and our sports press is focused around the pro teams in the area (Giants, Sharks, 49’rs, Raiders, Warriors – and all their feeder minor league connections, and let’s not forget SJSU, Stanford, and Cal Berkeley college sports) We’re lucky if we get a human interest story for gymnastics once every four years in the San Jose Mercury News or the community newspapers. But what I can do is reach out individually to my area neighborhoods, schools, and business through local advertisement, some radio spots, and community events. We use National Gymnastics Day as a great example to pull people together and annually celebrate our sport. We’ve also taken to support our local children’s hospital annually – last year raising $25,000 for the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and over $200,000 dollars for Children’s Miracle Network when USA Gymnastics was aligned with them. We have learned over the years that our website is the second most critical connection to our future customers and nearly as important as ‘word of mouth’. Personally I hope we always find people talking about us with their friends and family rather than searching for us on the web. Times are changing and we will all need to spend money on social media and the understanding of improved communication through the technical world that’s ever changing around us.

Customer Service. Though ‘teaching’ remains our #1 priority – customer service remains nearly equal in importance. First impressions matter! How is the ‘tryout’ or cold call greeted? What do they see, hear, and smell in your facility when they walk in the first time? If your office is not open any time you’re coaching in the facility then you’re making a big mistake. I’ll forgive the private lesson training at odd hours, but I like to believe that seven days a week if there is activity in the gym, we need to be ready to answer the phone, greet a walk in, maintain a safe and clean environment, and welcome everyone. If there’s a chance that more than three cars will be parked at the front of your building entrance, get someone ready to greet all customers with a smile. Schedule the expense, measure the results, adjust as needed. Be sure you properly train your front desk staff and I’d encourage removal of all chairs/stools at the front counter. Your office management will need to sit to work (though stand up desks are all the rave), but greeting customers should be a mobile experience with an active opportunity to walk around the counter, get down to greet the child at their level, and welcome the family to the business. Every customer should be thought of as a potential customer for 10+ years. Do the math on monthly fees collected for that beginner over the next 10 years – how much is your customer service training worth now?

I hope you’ll take the time to consider the three R’s for every program, facility, staff member, athlete, and even their parents. Review, Reinvigorate, and Reinvest. You’ll be ready for the uptick expected over the next 18 months – and likely create your own uptick well beyond that timeline. I wish you all great success – and please reach out and say ‘hello’, I love to meet others so dedicated to the success of the sport.

Dave Peterson is Founder/Director of California Sports Center which is a privately held corporation headquartered in San Jose California. Cal Sports has been in business since 1987. We currently have 225 employees spread out over 8 locations including 7 gymnastics facilities, 3 dance facilities, and an Olympic size pool in 4 different cities within the county – and there are always plans for new growth. We hope you’ll visit us as you find your way to San Jose to watch the 2016 Olympic Trials for Women’s Gymnastics and the National Congress.