Interviewer: Hey, Mark. Welcome along to the show.
Mark Miller: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited.
Interviewer: We are here at Club Industry at the moment, so it’s really nice to have the opportunity to do the interview in person.
Mark Miller: Yes, it’s fantastic.
Interviewer: And you’re going to be speaking over the next couple of days, and as people would have heard in your prequel “Quick Fire Five” last week, there’s a couple of different topics that you’re speaking on, but the one in particular that we are going to dive into a little bit of detail today is all around learning from outside of the industry.
Mark Miller: That’s perfect.
Interviewer: Before we get into that detail, let me first ask you this: are there any apps, systems, or rituals that you use to stay on top of things?
Mark Miller: Yeah, there’s many. One of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years is that … and I’ve actually learned it from the REX Roundtables, Justin’s probably familiar with it too … is that I have to balance family life out. So for me, when I’m looking at things that I do, I always look at things from personal, family, and business. So for me it’s very important that I spend time with my wife and my kids and that I also have time to be personally taking care of myself. What I find is if I do those two things, the business aspect actually takes care of itself and I don’t over-plan. And then, obviously, I have rituals that I do, such as I never plan more than 60% of any day. I just simply don’t.
What I’ve learned is that stuff always happens, and if you don’t have time for things to happen or just pop up, that’s when you get overwhelmed and when stress happens and when emotions start to set in. You can’t think rationally when you’re in an emotional state, so I’ve learned that if you just plan out 60% of your day and allow yourself to focus on what the most important things are … and you’ve got to be able to say no to a lot of things. That’s a challenging thing, because as leaders we always to try something new or do something, but sometimes you’ve just got to learn to say no. You’ve got to kind of stay the course and stay true to who you are.
My other big ritual is … and I said it in my Fast Five … is that I get up early every day. Even on weekends, I’m up early. It’s kind of like my time, just to be by myself and drink my coffee, read a little bit, take some notes, study some things, use it for sharpening my saw, such as what they say in “The Seven Habits”.
Interviewer: I think it’s really important. Can I ask you, in that prequel Quick Fire Five, you mentioned a book recommendation, which was the one thing …
Mark Miller: By Gary Keller.
Interviewer: Right, and that 60%, planning that 60% of your day and then leaving the time free, is that one of the habits that they mention in that particular book, or is that just something else that you have found works really well for you?
Mark Miller: I find it works really well for me. It’s something that I’d kind of known ahead of time, but one of the things that they teach in that book is that you focus on what’s the one thing that if I do right now is going to help move me forward in my business, in my personal life, and that. And what ends up happening is, it’s almost like Brian Tracy years wrote that book, “Eat Your Frog,” and it was do that biggest daunting task first. In this book, it’s about just being focused on one thing, and a lot of times people come in and they have to-do lists, but they’re like a mile long. What he said is you don’t need any of those. Just what’s the one thing that if you do right now helps you move forward? And then you go do it.
When you’re done doing that, then you ask that question again, what’s the one thing that if I did now is going to help me move forward even more? I think it really is about being present in the moment and not worrying about past things or worrying about any future things. It’s really enabling you to be focused and then get it done.
The other thing that they teach in there is about time blocking. What they do, is they teach that if you get interrupted, you get off course very quickly and it takes you … I forget … I think 29 minutes to get back on track. So a lot of times you’ve got to block your time out, like this is when I’m going to do emails, this is when I’m going to make my phone calls, rather than trying to do things and switching gears, because I don’t know about other people, but I just can’t multitask anymore.
Interviewer: Yeah. You know what, I’m a huge fan of time blocking. I think it’s a really effective way to work, so thank you for going through those with us. Now, we want to talk today about, I guess, what it is that we can learn from outside the industry, because quite often we come to conferences or we are in roundtable groups with people that are in similar businesses to us, so we learn a lot from people in similar situations, but what would you say is the danger of doing that, of only learning from people within our industry?
Mark Miller: I think the danger becomes when you start to either learn from people within the industry or you even try to copy people, is … I call it sameness. It’s almost like you go into buildings, and what ends up happening is they’re all painted the same colour, or you go into neighbourhoods and you can tell that the builder only built two styles of homes, and every house looks exactly the same. What ends up happening is it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s effective to do that, but it doesn’t have any uniqueness to it.
And I think the same thing happens in our business, is that we only learn from people within. The challenge that I’ve always had for myself, and the challenge I give to all of my managers and my leaders, is that they’re not always going to go to the same conferences. I don’t want them attending, unfortunately. I’ll attend them, but I like to shake it up so that people go to different ones, because I want them to learn from outside. What can we learn from outside the industry, so that we’re not being the same as everyone else?
Interviewer: Okay, so from your experience what are some important innovations from outside the industry that we should actually know about?
Mark Miller: Those are great questions. I think there’s several different ones in my opinion. The first one is, obviously, technology. You can go into several other stores, and for years the way health clubs operated … let’s talk about sales for a second … is that you came into the desk, and they called it the front desk. And you signed a guest register manually, and then the salesperson came out and greeted you, and they had a paper “needs analysis”. That whole thing is almost like going to a doctor’s office. No one wants to feel that stuff. So now you start to go to other businesses, and what you find out is that they’re using iPads, and the iPads unplug, and they walk around with you, and they show you different things.
If you went to an Apple store, they’re not called sales people, they’re called “geniuses”. And you want to learn about laptops, they go, “Great, let’s go learn about laptops” and “Would you like to learn about this as a complement to that? How about this aspect of it? Do you need any of these things?” And the whole time they’re with you on the journey, and they’re interacting with you, not making you feel like you’re getting quizzed or dug into and like you’re going to the back office, like they used to do in the old days with sales.
So I think that’s one aspect. The other aspect is hospitality. I think the world’s evolving. As we’re getting more technological, we’re also starting to lose service, but there’s still some companies that seem to get the service, and I think if you go there and you observe what they do … By our clubs, we’ve actually started to study a couple of the restaurants that are in the area and really dial in how they train their staff, how they teach their staff, what do they call their things, and we’ve actually changed. We no longer call it the front desk, we now call it the welcome desk, and their aspect is to really welcome people. So in our new clubs, as we’re designing them, we’re eliminating every aspect of smoothies, towels, and everything, so that the only thing that that person does at the welcome desk is greet people, make a connection, and do things different. It’s almost like what happens at a hotel. You walk up and you’re a guest. They register you and all that.
So I think there’s different things like that, and then the last aspect is when you start to look at sports. Everything is about an experience. You’re going there and they’re creating an experience so that you have a good time. And what ends up happening is you spend a tonne of money going to sporting events, especially if you have a family of four or five, but the experience that they create is different, and they’re engaging the senses. I think that’s an aspect that we need to learn how to do better.
Interviewer: I totally agree, and it’s interesting when you … the first of those three elements you mentioned was technology, and being here in the States, one of the experiences that I had, which I think would work really well in a fitness facility, was I went into a Nike store. Similar to the Apple experience, I had a couple of items in my hand, looked forward and I looked at the queue, and this was this huge big queue down the front of the store. I was at the back of the store at this stage. One of the salespeople grabbed me, and she had a mobile device, and she went, “Oh no, I can process that for you right here.” So I was standing at the back of the store …
Mark Miller: And they took care of you.
Interviewer: … and they took care of it right then and there so I didn’t have …
Mark Miller: And think about how that saved you time, energy, and you know you-
Interviewer: And stress of not having to line up.
Mark Miller: And you might have chosen not to get those because of that line.
Mark Miller: You might have just said you know what, it’s not worth it to do that.
Interviewer: Yeah, so for me that ticks the box of technology and experience in both of those.
Mark Miller: Both.
Interviewer: So Mark, in what … you’ve given us a couple of examples, but are there any other sort of practical ways that you would take those lessons and implement them into a club?
Mark Miller: We’ve done a lot of the different ways. Some of our processes and our systems and organisations, we’ve actually taken from businesses outside. I’ve give you an example. We actually, our hiring process, our whole … from the beginning to when you hired to when you get on-boarded, we actually took from a pizzeria, and it’s actually Nick’s Pizza.
Interviewer: Ah, Nick’s. I just interviewed Nick a week ago.
Mark Miller: Yeah, he’s fantastic. We didn’t, obviously, take all of them, but we took the concepts and the ideas and we utilised some different things that obviously fit the fitness business, and then we came back and we implemented them. And we had to do a couple rifle shots to get things going initially, to make sure that we could get it to work, but over the years we’ve now got a process. We still, to this day we look at how Starbucks, how Chick-fil-A, how Nick’s Pizza, how the Ritz-Carlton, how Four Seasons, how all those different organisations, how Google, how they hire people and how they on-board people. Then we bring back ideas and we figure out how to enhance ours. We’re not looking for how other operators are doing it. So I think practically, you have to go learn something and then you have to come back and implement it, and you have to try it.
Interviewer: Give us a specific detail on that. What did you used to do … maybe give us one or two examples … versus what you’ve now implemented with what you learned from Nick.
Mark Miller: Sure. What I used to do, or what we used to do, was we had people fill out an application, and they give us their resume. And we’d obviously look through the resume and then oh, they have a certification, that’s good. Oh, they have a degree, that’s fantastic. And then we would bring them in for a one-on-one interview, and we’d start off with a one-on-one interview. We would ask the traditional questions, what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, all the things that they teach you. What we would find is that we weren’t really, truly getting an authentic person. So we scratched all that, and now we do a group interview first. So you have to come in, and you’re with 10 other people, and they’re from every department. You could be a general manager, you could be the chief operating officer, you could be whoever it is, and you could be sitting right next to a care team worker, which is our housekeeping staff. And they’re all in this thing together.
We are doing nothing more. We’re not even asking the traditional questions. We’re coming into a room that has no chairs set up, and we’re watching how they behave. There’s two people interviewing. One is always watching, one is asking questions, and we watch how they do it. We make them put a puzzle together, and we see how they do with the puzzle, and what we’re learning is what their character traits are. But more importantly, there was two steps that happened before that, because our welcome desk is where they sign up, and we watch how they get greeted. We see are they friendly to that person. Do they take care of that person? Do they engage that person? Is that person really important?
And then we actually have one of our care team workers clean up around them and we watch … We have someone sitting in there watching how they behave around that person. Do they help the person or do they make the person … it’s like oh, they’re just a cleaning person. Because in our company we’re a family, and we treat everyone with respect, and if you can’t treat our care team worker and our welcome desk person the same way you would treat the interview people, we don’t want you there.
Interviewer: That is … I’m so glad you went into that detail, Mark. First of all, I love the fact that you have renamed your housekeeping, your care team. That in itself is fantastic, and then thank you for explaining in detail.
Mark Miller: Yeah, that’s my regional housekeeping director came up with that. She is very hospitality-oriented.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s great, and I could imagine that the people within that team, that must give them a great sense of feeling part of that family that you’re talking about.
Mark Miller: Absolutely, and what we do is we operate on purpose, not policy, in our company. That’s what we say. We don’t really want policies. You have to be able to operate in the grey. It’s about doing the right thing and taking care of people, and one of the things we learned was when the housekeeping staff used to see themselves as housekeeping, they thought their job was just to clean up. But now that they see themselves as care team, they understand that they’re taking care of people. They’re making a difference in people’s lives. What we found was that they are probably even the most impactful individuals in our clubs, more so than I could ever be.
We learned that when an unfortunate accident happened where one of our care team workers, she died in a car accident. At her funeral, there had to be over 250 people, and 100 of them were members of the club. Then, obviously, all of our employees were there too. We were probably another 75 of them. The stories that the members got up and said how she cooked them dinner when they were going through a divorce, or she watched their dogs for them when they were going out of town, or one of the ladies was going through a divorce and she had that lady stay at her house for two weeks. You didn’t realise that this is an individual who made an impact on these people’s lives. So they truly do take care of people.
Interviewer: That is such a … I mean, it’s a tragic story, but a beautiful reminder of the impact that so many people have with your members, so thank you for sharing that. Mark, can we finish off today, perhaps you can share with us a couple of tips for ensuring that we are always keeping up to date with new developments and new innovations from outside the industry.
Before we hear those last tips from Mark, here’s a message from one of our podcast partners. MYZONE is a wearable technology platform that leverages personal goal setting, gamification, and social platforms to motivate your members. To find out more, go to myzone.org.
Mark Miller: Yeah, so I’ll probably give two or three that I can think of off the top of my head. The first one would be stop reading everything from inside the industry. Read everything you can from outside the industry. Study what people are doing outside. And more importantly, maybe not even read it, go experience it. Go and sit at restaurants and watch what they’re doing. Talk to people, talk to the staff. Go sit at hotels and watch what they do, and become very curious. Ask questions. I think we have to unlearn more than we learn sometimes. We have to get out of our own ways. That might be number two, which is don’t think you already know it all. Just because you’ve been doing this, like for me for 25 years, I realise every day how … hate to say this, but how stupid I am, because there’s so much to learn and so much to grow. So you have to be willing and humble enough to know that you have to learn.
The other thing is build a really solid team around you, because they’re going to motivate you to get better, and when you get better you’re going to help make them better. You can learn from all of them. That’s the exciting part is when I can learn from my staff, then I know I’m doing something right.
Interviewer: Absolutely. Mark, if anyone wants to get in touch with you or if they want to find out more Meritt Athletics Clubs, where should they go?
Mark Miller: You can go to our website to find out about Meritt Clubs. It’s www.merittclubs.com. As far as getting in contact with me, either email me at [email protected] or you can even call me on my cell phone, (410) 916-4431. I love talking to people.
Interviewer: How good is that, direct contact line? So Mark, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been fascinating, and I loved hearing the insights into your business and the ways that you have renamed different parts of the business, the fact that you’ve learned from outside the industry. And I think there’s a lot of things that we can take away from that for our own fitness business, so thank you so much for joining us today.
Mark Miller: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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