Helpful Tips for Transferring Leisure Services
Over the past 2 years, TA6 have supported a number of leisure operators transfer their services back to the Council or moved into a community interest company. Our support has ranged from being an integral part of this process in managing certain aspects of the transfer, through to continuing to deliver our marketing and training services alongside the operators focusing on the transfer of their service. In this short article we share some ‘golden nuggets’ we have picked up along this journey and how these can help other leisure operators embarking on a similar process. Whilst our support has been varied, here we discuss a number of benefits related to sales and marketing.
Objectives and Planning
As with any project that may be last-minute and/or urgent, the temptation is to rush in and start doing the doing. But step 1 needs to be to take a step back and evaluate what the objectives are and what the end goal looks like. Creating a transfer plan may be a little time consuming but will ensure all stakeholders and outcomes are considered. Allowing sufficient time to address the scale of the project shouldn’t be underestimated and having the correct resource and experience to advise and action the plan is imperative to delivering a proposition that is ready for launch. At the end of this article we share details of how you can access a free checklist tool that may help.
Who takes back control may be clear to the operator, staff and council, but the public are often confused about who runs their local leisure service. How many operators still get frustrated after a decade of running a leisure centre only for a member of the public to say, “I thought the council still ran it”! Therefore, a clear brand vision is needed which can be communicated to the public at launch. Understanding the objectives and the reason why facilities are coming back in-house is integral to how this new brand will be built. This will shape the value-for-money proposition that we create through working with the client and their project team. These then need to be show-cased to all stakeholders via tools such as a playbook, launch events, regular comms and signage.
The creative really does need to reflect the personality of the brand and what it stands for – there needs to be a story behind the design that reflects the new brand. The transition for all stakeholders is a journey and communication is key to making the transfer successful and a positive experience.
CLIENT EXAMPLE: A new leisure brand for Plymouth
In April 2022 Plymouth Active, a council-owned company, took control of the leisure facilities across Plymouth from the previous operator Everyone Active. A new brand was created to represent an environment where health and wellbeing is at the heart of Plymouth in order to improve making physical activity accessible for everybody who lives in the city.
The digital shop window. In most stages of the consumer buying process, your website has an important role to play, from brand recognition and awareness, through research and consideration, to purchase and advocacy. As with the overall transfer plan, an understanding of the requirements of the website is needed to begin with. Showcasing your products and services in a vibrant format is one outcome, but helping the community understand the new brand’s purpose and vision is also crucial. Good functionality that provides a high-level customer experience is a high priority, and this must work and connect with the infrastructure of the existing Leisure Management System (LMS). Ease of navigation is also essential so constant reviews of various customer journeys should be at the forefront when the site is built and tested.
Finally, the personality of the brand needs to be reflected in the content of the website. We recommend investing in a photoshoot to update the stock images and video to be used across the sites – real customers, real situations, in your leisure facilities.
It is important when the new brand launches that a plan is in place to raise awareness, promote new initiatives and proactively sell products and services. You never get a second chance to launch a new brand like this. The message and strap lines used within a launch campaign needs to reflect change, understanding of the reasons for the change and how the change will be a positive and improved experience for customers and staff. A full programme of customer communication alongside a marketing strategy should be mapped out well in advance of the launch. A range of digital, offline, Out of Home (OOH), partners and stakeholder channels should be factored into this plan.
CLIENT EXAMPLE: Launching Lampton Leisure
Lampton Leisure, part of Lampton 360, a trading company wholly owned by the Council, took over the management of the leisure services in Hounslow from Fusion Lifestyle in November 2020. A 3-phased launch was planned and executed with Get Ready, We’re Open, Welcome Back messaging.
Putting the customer at the heart of the new and improved approach will be fundamental. A cultural change may be needed, which will take time, but having clear expectations, vision and service commitments will support the journey. A training programme to look at a new and improved ways of delivering customer service is also needed. Key areas of the customer journey should be focused on which include the acquisition, onboarding, dropout and feedback stages, as well as exploring cross-marketing opportunities to maximise the value customers receive from using the facilities, and the benefits of additional income generation. These training considerations should be factored into the whole organisation’s systems and not just around memberships, which is often the case.
The final area to consider is the use of data to look at current delivery and also new opportunities. When was the last time any demographic analysis was conducted on existing customers and members? When was the last user and non-user research carried out? Are dashboards in place to measure the objectives and KPIs set out at the start of this transfer process? This invaluable work enables a level of understanding which can influence new initiatives, services, delivery models, staff recruitment and pricing.
Transferring an entire leisure service to a new operating model is never easy or straight-forward, but support is available from various sources. If you would like a copy of a free checklist we developed whilst working with our clients then please contact Neil Harrison, TA6 Head of Operations – Neil@allianceTA6.co.uk