Drop And Give Me 20… Small Business Lessons

by Lynette Liu on October 11, 2010
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On most mornings when you enter Gymtowne Gymnastics in Moss Beach, California, you hear the cacophony of a successful gym: excited children’s voices, encouragements from the coaches, and of course thumping feet running across the floor. It is presided over by Bill Strom, the owner of Gymtowne, who took over an existing gym a little over 18 years ago and made it into a flourishing part of the Half Moon Bay community.

Here’s how they’ve managed to survive through fat times and lean.

Starting out

Gymnastics has been part of Bill’s life from early on. He started out as a gymnast himself, moved onto coaching, then parlayed his computer science major into developing scoring software for gymnastics competitions. It was in this last role that he decided to take the plunge into gym ownership. Along the way, his wife Doris joined the business and they run it together today.

Knowing your customers

Bill says he’s learned a lot as owner of Gymtowne. Soon after taking over, he realized that in order to be successful, he needed to focus on the business aspects of running the gym rather than purely on coaching. Today Bill has a firm grasp of what his customer segments are and how best to serve their needs. As Bill explained, his gymnastics students fall into one of three groups:

  1. Preschoolers – The parents of this group are seeking a supportive, fun activity which helps their kids develop muscle coordination and listening skills. Having coaches with basic gymnastics knowledge is important, but perhaps more important are skills for engaging young kids in age-appropriate activities. Most of the parents here do not have aspirations that their children will become competitive gymnasts.
  2. School-age recreational gymnasts – These kids are seeking to improve their existing gymnastics skills and learn new ones. They consider gymnastics to be a recreational activity and the coaching style should reflect this.
  3. Competitive gymnasts – These kids hope compete at gymnastics meets at regional, state, and even national levels. The coaching approach needs to match this higher level of commitment.

Over the past 18 years, the size of each of these groups has shifted up and down. The important thing for Bill has been that the gym remain flexible enough to respond to the needs of the current batch of students, no matter what level they’re at.

Marketing

Moss Beach is part of the greater Half Moon Bay community, which has a small town feel despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. As a result, Gymtowne’s marketing efforts are 100 percent local. Gymtowne advertises a few times a year in the dominant local newspaper, the Half Moon Bay Review, which reaches most of Gymtowne’s target market.

Gymtowne also makes heavy use of word-of-mouth to get new students. One of the most successful word-of-mouth vehicles it has found is hosting birthday parties at the gym. With birthday parties, potential new students are introduced to the gym with what is essentially a free trial class. So although Gymtowne makes little profit from birthday parties, they are a very effective way to get new students.

Community involvement

Gymtowne is also involved in supporting local schools. This can run the gamut from lending out snack bar equipment to running and providing prizes for fundraisers. Bill adds that he is able to make a bigger impact in the Half Moon Bay community because there are only a handful of schools here. And like many small business owners, Bill rates delivering value to his community high on the list of what he gets satisfaction from.

Read on for more stories from our business visits in Half Moon Bay.

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