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We’ve all been there. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? So it’s often said to be, at least. Organisations start out with the best of intentions, following procurement best-practice: looking to improve supplier performance, service quality and trying to reduce costs, as well as adding increased product capability. They shop around, gathering research, having software demos and meeting a seemingly-endless stream of enthusiastic salespeople. A decision is made.
However, when supplier inflexibility, vendor lock-in, poor knowledge transfer, data migration and a change-resistant staff set in, it becomes clear that managing the transition takes away from daily business activities, and the whole process costs you both time and money. We are going to share the story of how one customer took what he believed to be a sound business decision, but found out that the promise of new functionality and lower costs didn’t quite match up - so we welcomed him and his facility warmly back into the Gladstone fold. Read on to learn more!
Banks O’Dee is a medium-sized fitness centre, offering a wide range of innovative group exercise classes alongside traditional gym facilities, including a state-of-the-art FIFA regulation football pitch and a full-size multi-use sports hall. There are a range of membership packages on offer, either goal-orientated or simply monthly access, and currently, their subscriber base sits at around 1,400, down from 2,000 or so a couple of years ago.
They’ve been established for over 20 years, and within that time, they’ve partnered with Sports Scotland, won several major grants and completed large-scale extensions to their facility such that they are now one of the premier fitness centres in the region. They have a loyal client base and are well-known in the local community, hosting different groups and clubs every week.
What their customers say:-
We talked with Iain Watson, General Manager - Banks O'Dee Fitness, Aberdeen.
Iain explains: Aberdeen has experienced something of a downturn of late, especially within the oil industry, which is the biggest local employer. As a consequence, a lot of people have moved away, and those that have remained are increasingly price-conscious. The majority of our members are over-25. We’re finding that young people are turning to the budget gyms that have sprung up around us.”
In order to attract new customers and retain existing members, they’ve been focusing on group exercise, bringing in virtual training with Les Mills classes on a giant projector screen, as well as investment in the latest TechnoGym equipment and tight integration with their MyWellness app. Their philosophy is to always look after their members: they offer each member regular fitness testing sessions, at no charge, and Iain is at pains to point out that they’re ‘not about just endlessly pushing personal training on members’.
Do I Stay Or Do I Go - the agony of choice
These trading conditions have impacted the business in terms of reduced forward investment, projects are being put on hold and extensive internal restructuring has taken place. Having been a loyal Gladstone customer for some years 18 years, Iain reached a point where in order to achieve the functionality and performance he needed, further investment in Gladstone systems and software was required. ’I was faced with spending several thousand pounds on a system I’d already got, or spending the same amount of money to set up afresh with a different provider.’
Iain says. ‘After the recent downturn, I have to consider every investment - we’re a single-site gym, with no nationwide chain to back us up, and there are lots of budgetary pressures. Before, we wouldn’t have even considered these costs, we’d have definitely stayed with Gladstone. We had to restructure our memberships - I’ve never had to come down to sub-£20 a month to remain competitive.’
So it was only natural that Iain began to look at Gladstone’s competition. After one particularly attractively-priced quotation, Banks O’Dee took the plunge and signed up with another leading leisure management software provider.
Iain continues: ”The reason that we changed to another supplier was not only the promise of reduced costs - we also wanted to simplify our operations. They were offering to manage all of our direct debit collections for us, and chase defaulters, which was very attractive.”
Like many single-site operators, direct debit collections had turned into a major headache for Iain, and outsourcing offered a way of reducing pressure on his staff.
The New System
Once the decision was made to transition, Iain set about getting the data ready to migrate.
With Gladstone, it was easy to do, but in moving to a new supplier, the onus is all on the customer. I was drowning in Excel spreadsheets, and poring over endless fields in spreadsheets and documents. I’d definitely encourage other customers to ask lots of questions about the data migration process, and in particular how much support is provided.”
As the Economist famously pronounced, ‘Data is the new oil’ - it is your most valuable asset, and you need to be assured that it will be treated with the utmost care to allow you to exploit the potential business opportunities that lie within it.
You might be interested in the blog post: Data: The New Frontier in Leisure
That wasn’t the only challenge, however. As the new system went live, Iain’s team began to realise that certain features they had assumed were included weren't available.
We had to devise a number of workarounds in order to achieve the same functionality we had enjoyed with Gladstone. Over the course of the 12 months we realised that the switch simply hadn't delivered what we were looking for, and the old hands are now doing really well back on Gladstone.
It’s an important point, but all too easy to dismiss - a leisure management system is the beating heart of your facility, and needs to work across the board. The least IT-savvy member of your team needs to be able to accomplish what they need to, quickly and easily.
We have a boys football team who have around 15 football pitch bookings each week. With Gladstone, this was really straightforward to manage - each booking is tied to their central account within the member database. However, we quickly realised that the new booking system didn’t talk to the membership system, and we’d have to create a different account for each booking each week, which took us forever. Amending or deleting bookings also went from a single click to up to 2 minutes."
Additional fees associated with the direct debit facility was the final driver for the Banks O'Dee return to Gladstone. Bureau management fees couple with standard bank charges that hadn't been factored into Iain's initial cost considerations almost doubled the invoices Banks O'Dee were receiving each month, and left the long-term viability of the solution looking uncertain.
You might be interested to learn more about GladstonePay
Thinking of jumping?
One of the key take-aways from Iain’s experience ought to be to make sure that sales promises, marketing literature and real-world product usage align properly.
“I’ll hold my hands up - if you’re going to leave for a competitor, make sure you try out the software fully. We had a few demos, but we had no full trial. I’d always recommend going to see other sites and speak to other users. Everyone’s very keen to sell you a new solution, but you need to make sure it actually works.”
It’s had serious cost implications, but Iain is confident that with Gladstone’s new, cloud-hosted solution, staff satisfaction is up, customers are flocking to their new classes and Banks O’ Dee is on track for success through 2020 and beyond.
If you’re thinking of switching suppliers, have a read of our blog article: Considering a move? for top questions to ask both your existing supplier and any potential new providers, or take a look at our video here: Gladstone, a Great British Business.