Have you ever think you company achieves success too fast in this market? What is the most important thing to achieve it? Equipment, staff, luxury environment, quality service or smart marketing plan?
There is a public perception that we had this instant success but what people didn’t see was the 15+ years my core team and I put in opening clubs in other markets around Asia and the US developing our strategy and building our back office management systems. You don’t fall into success. When people take the time to read past the headlines they will find a story that had many ups and downs and lessons learned along the way before we ever sold our first membership in Vietnam.
We experience the same growing pains that many fast growing companies go through but as a business leader you have to know the difference between normal problems and abnormal ones. The challenges we are experiencing are quite normal and we have strategies and plans for working through them as we grow the business.
As to the most important thing that we attribute to our success? It’s all those things that you mentioned. Equipment, Staff, Environment, Service and marketing. But it’s not just having the ingredients that guarantee your success its knowing how to use those ingredients in the right way and in the right amount. The power of anticipating what you must do to be successful is the real key. It’s like a chef baking bread. You must know how much flour, water, salt and yeast to put in and how long and at what temperature to bake it at. If you’ve done it a few times before and even failed a few times before you are better able to predict your outcome because you’ve been through the steps and have a recipe to follow.
This is what we have as our key ingredient. Just as a master chef can take the same ingredients as an armature cook and make something far superior than the armature is able to. It’s not the ingredients or the tools that are different it’s the years of careful practice and refinement that makes the master superior.
It’s not just the operation of fitness centers but it’s the hands on experience of going into new markets and opening clubs and building brands. Very few if any teams in the world have opened in as many countries across Asia as we have and stayed as a single cohesive leadership team while doing it.
Recently, California is considered as a standard of fitness and yoga center in Vietnam. Your clients are the high income earners; the price tag makes your gyms hard to be afforded by middle class people. Do you think that is a problem? Have you ever think to reduce the price or open more clubs to have more customers?
Our vision and promise as a company is to Make Life Better for the people of every community we serve and even the ones we don’t. In order for us to have the greatest impact and deliver on our mission we have to have a strong sustainable core business. In Vietnam that means developing a brand that caters to the upper class and upper middle class. That’s not to say we don’t on all people in our communities but there are many different ways for us to educate and serve people without them being a member of our clubs. Over the next 15 years Vietnam’s population will move into the global middle class economically and we will be here to educate them how to live a healthier and more prosperous life. This positioning gives us the greatest long term impact on society as well as creating a stable business built to last as this economy grows.
Will we open more clubs? Absolutely as well as additional services in different sectors. For us the game is not fitness only; it’s about teaching people how to live better and get the most out of their lives and with that view we have a multitude of businesses we can create to achieve this outcome. It’s not a question of lowering prices. The question I ask is how can we add more value to more people’s lives. In creating a successful business that’s a much better question to ask than how do I lower the price to reach more people.
During the economic downturn, many companies face lots of challenge, their solutions are downsizing; cutting back on operation cost…For California Fitness and Yoga, your company is continuing to grow? What are the thoughts behind that and how did you manage to grow strong during this hard time?
Peter Drucker the late, world famous professor of business and leading business expert who established the philosophies and practical foundation for all modern business said that business comes down to only two things; Marketing and Innovation. Marketing in its truest form is influence. You must create a compelling vision and story that causes people to want your service or product and then you must constantly innovate. When I say innovate what I mean is constantly add more value to your clients lives. As soon as you stop adding more value then your business is in trouble. People fall in love with their product too often instead of their clients. When you are constantly looking for ways to add value to your client’s lives you will adapt your business based on their needs and economic downturns won’t feel so painful.
For my company this economic downturn is a great opportunity to grow our business. Real estate is more readily available and landlords are offering better terms. Additionally we are able to hire top quality staff because many companies are downsizing. For us this is the time to grow and secure our position in the market. It is my personal goal to have our company become the #1 rated place to work in Vietnam and you will see use expanding faster than ever over the next 24 months.
As the leader in this industry, what is your prediction of the new trend in fitness and lifestyle in near future? Will you plan to introduce any of those new services and products at your gyms in Vietnam in 2013?
There are profound changes happening in the way we live; and we plan to be on the forefront of products and services to improve the quality of people’s lives. When I attended the International Wellness Congress a few months back in Italy, we were able to tour Technogym’s brand new research and development division at their new Wellness Campus and I have to say I was very impressed with some of the innovations and new technologies which are being developed there. Former US President Bill Clinton attended and he discussed with us what is happening on a global scale with health care. We were talking about ways of saving countries hundreds of billions of dollars each year if we get people living healthier and better quality lives. Preventative health care is one of the biggest areas of focus that both developed as well as developing countries are focused on.
Because of the importance of this one thing public and private enterprises are aggressively working on solving some of the key issues. The next real innovations for our industry will be in the development of cloud computing and mobility so you can keep track of your daily activity and be informed on exactly what you are doing and what is happening with your body in real time. When you begin seeing what’s happening with your body in a measurable way at any given time, I think it will make people more responsive to the activities they are doing which can a positive or negative impact on their health. We are also seeing some incredible services coming out which provide complete personal gene mapping so people will know exactly what diseases they have a higher chance of getting and how to avoid them with intelligent life decisions. There are also some truly amazing developments in nanotechnology and nutricuticals which allow for better delivery systems of micronutrients and medicines into the body. Exercise equipment is also going to become more integrated into your daily life; allowing you to stay connected with friends and work while simultaneously being entertained and active. Technologies like virtual reality and online social networking will have a big impact in this sector.
Over the next year we have plans to launch some of these new services and equipment to our Premium Centuryon Members so that we can provide the very best customized and effective solutions for enhancing the quality of people’s lives. As these new technologies become more accessible financially to the average person we will extend them to all our members. Regardless, in 2013 you will be seeing us launch some mind blowing new technologies and services that will radically improve the quality of our member’s lives.
Over the next 15 years the industry will look nothing like it does today. We will see a quantum leap in human performance and life expectancies. The 2009 Nobel prize winning study on Telomeres and the Telomere enzyme located at the ends of our DNA strands that cap the tips of our chromosomes is proving to be the be a significant breakthrough in our understanding of how to extend life. With these new discoveries and technologies the ability to enhance your life and live in a healthful way will become seamlessly integrated with work and entertainment. Maintaining optimal health and living in a peak state will become easier and easier to obtain for those who take advantage of the new technologies on the horizon. These are innovations you will want to adopt early and quickly. Being late to this game can literally be the difference of life or death.
Was fitness and lifestyle service your first choice when you was young and started your career?
I have always been passionate about the studies of influence as well has human potential. I started out in Travel and hospitality but very quickly I learned how to apply that work experience and education to my passions in fitness, lifestyle and entertainment. Once I moved into the fitness industry 17 years ago I have never looked back. I have a clear vision of what I am here to do and the legacy I want to leave in helping to make people’s lives better.
Let talk about failure, How many time did you fail in your career? How did you overcome? What do you learn from those?
Too many times to count! To me, failure is simply a part of succeeding. If you are afraid to fail you will never try anything new. The reality is every time you attempt to do something new you are most likely going to fail at it to certain degree. How many babies do you know who fall the first time they try to walk? All of them do! Failure is only failure once you give up. As long as you keep trying then each failure is just letting you know which way does not work. Eventually you will find the one way that does and then all of a sudden you are successful. No one likes to fail but if you just understand its part of the process then you will learn to fail more often and more quickly so you can get to the success part faster.
I think the biggest lesson I have learned from my failures is that success leaves clues. There are probably people who have been successful at what you are trying to do so study what they did and use their past failures as lessons so you don’t have to go through those same mistakes yourself.
Culture is the most difficult thing foreigners have to face when starting business in Vietnam. What was the most culture-shocking thing you had in Vietnam?
That’s very true. When I am hiring foreigners I always use the analogy of the “Alice in Wonderland” fairytale. I explain that they are about ready to slip down the rabbit’s hole and all the rules of their normal world are about to be shattered. If they approach the experience with judgment and criticism instead of curiosity and wonder they will for sure fail and get nothing out of the opportunity to learn how other cultures live.
I think for me the most culture-shocking thing is seeing babies and small children traveling unprotected on motorcycles. As a father myself I can’t help fearing for the safety of those children traveling on the roads.
Last question, what is your plan for the next year personally and professionally?
My goal personally is to learn more and add more value to the lives of the people I love. I am on a constant and never ending pursuit to enhance the quality of my own life and I have found the single most effective way of doing that is to continually grow and learn; getting better at things you are passionate about doing.
Professionally I have a very full year planned. We will open 3 to 4 new super Clubs in Vietnam, two of which are under construction right now. An amazing new Luxury lifestyle club located in the heart of Hanoi at the new Capital Tower building on Hai Ba Trung and a massive 3600 m2 high-tech fitness center at the new Pico Mall in Thanh Binh district of HCMC. Both of these clubs will also coincide with the launch of some of the most innovative and cutting edge life enhancing services ever imagined.
Additionally, as part of our ongoing relationship in developing Ho Ngoc Ha as a passionate student of yoga we will be launching an amazing 5 episode instructional yoga series with her as the teacher. She has really developed into a powerful student of yoga and is just beautiful to watch. 2013 is going to be a really exciting year.