Clubs rely on people power

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2011, 12:00am

A boom in sports retail and healthy lifestyle has boosted Hong Kong's gym and fitness club sector in recent years. But increased business and growing competition have fuelled a shortage of homegrown talent that is felt across the local industry.

Many companies understand that in order to stay ahead in this highly competitive market, improving staff quality and developing talent are of utmost importance.

'Good people can help grow the company, that's why we are always on the lookout for high-quality staff,' says Isabella Tam, regional human resources manager of JV Fitness Limited, which operates the California Fitness chain and mYoga.

'It is difficult to find the right kind of talent, especially when the demand is higher than supply. But because we are a global leader in this sector with a long history and a quality brand, we can attract quality people,' she says.

Managed by JV Fitness Limited, California Fitness is a wholly-owned subsidiary of 24 Hour Fitness, which has about 400 clubs serving more than three million members worldwide. The first California Fitness club was opened in Hong Kong in 1996.

Apart from the conventional channels, the company also uses alternative recruitment platforms to source talent, including online activities and fitness associations. It has even explored hiring from across the border, searching for potential candidates in Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

'We have 10 fitness clubs in Hong Kong, plus two mYoga centres, that's why we are always looking for fitness consultants and professional trainers. And, because of a constant demand for qualified staff, we provide internal training,' Tam explains.

'This sector is not just about fitness. We are in a service-oriented industry, so personal communication is very important because we have to deal with customers all the time. And personality counts just as much. Therefore, candidates have to be energetic, outgoing and proactive with good communication skills,' she says.

In Singapore, the club has the same problem with recruitment. There they have to search for talent in Malaysia and the Philippines. Last year, the club hired three professional trainers from Guangzhou. 'To deal with the recruitment issue, we now welcome beginners and as long as they have the potential and the right qualities, we will train them internally. Our staff, both sales and personal trainers, need to be well-rounded and well-versed in interpersonal communication skills. We expect them to be willing to go the extra mile. Because this is not a regular nine-to-five job, they need to enjoy what they do in order to feel committed,' Tam says. The company has a buddy system in which more experienced staff act as team leaders to help train less experienced colleagues. 'We find that this kind of peer influence helps motivate people better than the more rigid training model. People feel more at ease in this relaxing environment, and thus more willing to take advice from a friendly colleague than from a human resource manager,' she says.

Besides providing a good working environment, the company puts a lot of emphasis on on-the-job training, induction programmes, service training, professional training for fitness coaches and regular workshops.

'Our customers have high expectations. When they come to California Fitness they expect five-star services, and we must deliver. Our staff know they have to constantly improve in order to stay on top,' she stresses.