Solid To (And From) The Core

In bodybuilding, trainers and coaches emphasize the importance of a solid core, centered within the abdominal region. Program-building is no different. Successful agencies first create and nurture a core group of participants, and then seek to attract additional customers by leveraging the core.

Commercial recreation and tourism author John Crossley identified three key components that contribute to achieving these two objectives:

1. Differentiate products from those offered by competitors.

2. Offer all customers (core and prospective) value for the dollar.

3. Provide excellent service.

If this list seems too obvious, consider the number of businesses that underperform or fail every year. If it was this easy, wouldn’t every agency prosper?

Decisions, Decisions

Consider the following scenario:

A large organization located on the West Coast offers its clients the use of an on-site pool and a recreation center as part of a client-subsidized benefits package. In other words, the clients already have paid for “free” access to the facilities. Nevertheless, results of a recent survey revealed that over half of those clients maintained additional memberships at equivalent off-site facilities. In other words, 50 percent of the clients were paying two fees but utilizing only one provider--the off-site alternative.

Clearly, the secret to creating a core is not contained within the three statements alone, but rather the actions taken to integrate them for maximum effect. The more you are able to align the three components to leverage each other, the more likely you are to continue building your programs. Figure 1 shows the components interacting in three dimensions.

To illustrate several of the Figure’s combinations, imagine two municipal parks and recreation departments located five miles apart. Each offers a tennis instruction program taught by the same independently contracted, certified tennis professional. The product could be differentiated by the type of programs offered--morning lessons for children at one site might mix skill levels together, but the other site separates beginners from intermediate players. This action creates a partial core based on differentiation.

Alternatively, the value could be differentiated by the length of the lessons, or the client-to-instructor ratio--a value-based partial core. Finally, while the instructor’s teaching ability should remain constant, one department might offer complimentary ice water, towels and new tennis balls at every lesson, choosing to offer a higher level of service--a service-based partial core.

Alone, each of these approaches may result in a competitive edge, but only by splitting the market three ways, not by capturing more of the market. The single-dimension core will be small, and clients may even shift among the three small cores as they seek the “best deal,” causing instability. Two dimensions in tandem, then, are better than one, and all three combined produce a solid, stable core from which to build programs.

Loose Ends

Returning to the West Coast example, the reason clients willingly are paying twice for a seemingly less-convenient service occurs because:

1. There is no product differentiation between what the organization and its competitors offer.

2. Value often is not leveraged--many clients are not aware that they already have subsidized the product.

3. The level of service is ordinary--clients do not feel special or particularly welcomed.

In contrast, high differentiation allows customization and individualization to leverage high service through catering to the more-specialized requirements associated with differentiation. These two then leverage value by raising the perceived (or even actual) level of agency performance in the clients’ eyes.

As athletes and coaches will testify, a strong core allows you to stand tall above the others, move with confidence and strength, and attract the attention and participation of people who also want to be solid to--and from--their cores.

Work cited:

Crossley, J., L. Jamieson and R. E. Brayley. Introduction to commercial and entrepreneurial recreation. 3rd ed. Champagne, Illinois: Sagamore Publishing, 2007.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at