Fitness Industry: Your staff will make you or break you

Every year more and more people are recognizing the benefits of joining health clubs and improving health instead of turning towards medicine.   This has allowed the fitness industry to continue to defy odds and grow at an extraordinary rate.    IHRSA estimates that there are currently over 54 million people who are members of health clubs with a growth rate of 18.6% from 2008 to 2016.  This trend has continued through 2015 and 2016.  Due to this growth, club expansion and growth has also increased.  The last poll shows club growth between 2013 and 2014 has increased by 6.4% totaling over 34,000 clubs.

With so many new clubs opening, competition is becoming more and more stiff.  Each new facility has the shine of a new build out.  There are pools, walking/running tracks, Group X rooms, racquetball courts, basketball courts and so on.  The equipment is state of the art with the newest strength training equipment, cardio and accessories.  With the internal amenities of each facility being incredibly similar, how are clubs able to differentiate themselves from others in the market competing for the same exact members?

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the ultimate difference-maker for clubs is the people they employ.  With everything else being so similar, it is the experience with the employees of the gym that can ultimately determine whether someone joins that club or not.  From the moment a potential new member walks into a club, the people they come in contact with have a huge impact.  It is highly important that you take inventory of three key areas where the people are going to greatly determine your success.

1.  Front Desk: According to Forbes magazine, it takes only 7 seconds for someone to form a first impression.  Studies have shown that non-verbal cues, more so than verbal, have four times the effect on a first impression.  This information is crucial when determining who is working your front desk.

All too often, front desk staffs are distracted and not interested.  They are playing on their phones, talking with other staff members who are hanging out around the front desk, or sitting down at a chair, noticeably bored.  When a potential new member walks in, they see someone who looks unhappy to be in the club.  For someone who might already be uncomfortable entering a club, these are signs that will resonate with them and cause even more discomfort.

Your front desk staff should understand the level of importance they hold for the appearance and personality of your club.  The training required should be centered on the first seven seconds that someone enters the club.  Here are a few tips to make this experience one that lasts:

  • Greet each person entering the club with direct eye contact, a smile and a heartfelt welcome.
  • If currently a member, address them by name after they check in, make it personal.  Let them know that if they need anything, you are there.
  • If it is a potential new member, welcome them to the club.  Ask them what brought them into the club today.
  • Ask them to sign in on the guest registration.
  • Ask them to take a seat and explain that you will be introducing them to a membership consultant who will answer any questions they might have.
  • Ask them if they would like a bottle of water while they wait.
  • Once the membership consultant is present, personally introduce them and hand them off to the membership consultant.
  • Once their tour is over and the potential new member is leaving, thank them for stopping by the club.  Let them know that you hope to see them again soon.  If they joined, congratulate them on their new membership.  Let them know that you are a source for anything they might need while being a member.

This entire interaction can take only a few moments but will make a lasting impression on the new potential member.  They are being personally cared for from the moment they enter the gym.  They are also observing the interaction between the staff and other members, noticing the use of people’s names and personal conversations showing a sincere interest in those who are a part of this club.  They will have a feeling of comfort and believe that the members of this club are truly cared for.

2.  Membership Consultants:  Sales of club memberships can be challenging.  What makes it even more challenging is the lack of professionalism and training focused on arguably the most important position in the club.  Club owners and General Managers, do not hire this person as a trained sales professional, whether they admit it or not.  They look for someone with hustle, a little personality and set them loose on the community.  There is little direction and no professional sales training.  The compensation is also, in some cases, minimum wage with bonuses attached to selling memberships or personal training at point of sale (POS).  This type of pay does not attract the best talent.

In order to set yourself apart from anyone else in the market, you have to present yourself like no one else in the market.  This means making sure that your membership consultants are the peak of professionalism.  They must be professionals at selling club memberships and personal training.  The following could be a great guideline to developing a team of A- player membership consultants:

  • Recruit new college grads, Enterprise Rent-a-Car employees etc. and establish a perception of an entry-level sales position.
  • Develop a pay structure to reflect entry-level sales positions.  Example: 30k base salary plus commission or 40k base with company bonus based on successfully meeting or exceeding membership, revenue and PT goals.
  • Develop a formulated sales training program or invest in sales training for new membership consultants.  Develop standard questioning strategies as guidelines for finding pain.  Suggest training:  Sandler Sales Training
  • Develop quarterly and monthly goals focusing on memberships, corporate accounts and personal training.  Develop a scorecard to evaluate performance quarterly based on achieving goals.
  • Develop a prospecting game plan for new member acquisition, marketing campaigns, lunch and learns and corporate on sites.
  • Create a 15, 30, 60 and 90 day follow up call sheet for all new members and club visitors.  Create ownership mentality for all new members signed up by membership consultant to have consistent follow up during the entirety of membership.
  • Perform customer reviews with new members and non joining prospects to get accurate feedback on experience with sales team.
  • Perform daily huddles with sales staff to review previous days wins and roadblocks.  Review current days numbers such as appointments, requirements to hit goal and any other needed communications.
  • Perform monthly sales meetings used for continuing education on sales processes.

In order to change the feeling of the used car salesman membership consultant, you have to change your approach to selling club memberships.  You have to view this position as a professional sales position.  You must recruit and train as such.  In doing so, you will drastically separate yourself from other clubs in your markets by keeping a professional, result driven, member focused sales team.

3.  Personal Training:  This profit center is one with the most upside and little overhead.  In order to gain revenue from personal training, your biggest expense is the people.  You already have the building, equipment and everything else you need.  The only requirement will be educated, certified personal trainers.  All to often however, the trainers that are working in these clubs have no education, no certification and absolutely no business training others in health and fitness.

Across many clubs in America, there are trainers who should not be working as a health professional.  Their appearance is sloppy, disheveled and many are even over weight.  (Now, before there is a huge explosion, being overweight does not mean you can’t be a trainer.  There are many in the business that are overweight but have amazing transformation stories and are actively living the lifestyle.  I’m not talking about these individuals.)  These trainers are passively counting reps and more aggressively building their social media pages than their client books.

Your personal trainers should be the driving force in your club for reaching goals and creating an atmosphere of health and wellness.  They should be constantly working the floor looking for opportunities to sell their abilities to members.  The problem is most trainers don’t want to be looked at as sales people.  This might be due to experiences with membership consultants or other mediocre sales professionals in other businesses.  Nonetheless, personal trainers should be consistently selling themselves in order to re-sign current clients, improve new member conversion rates and continuously develop new clientele from an existing member base.  The list below will give a guideline on how to improve personal training sales and new member conversion:

  • Increase requirements for hiring personal trainers.  Make sure trainers have current and nationally recognized certification or a degree in exercise science or a related field.  Require professional references of former clients and establish a history of success.
  • Develop a formulated sales training program or invest in professional sales training.  Create a new member personal training sales presentation based on questioning strategies and desired client results.
  • Develop a floor prospecting strategy to convert current members to training clients.  Create a monthly educational series for members and a guest.  Work with membership consultants to schedule lunch and learns with current and new corporate accounts.
  • Develop a new member follow up call log to continuously interact with new members who do not buy personal training.  This should be similar to the 15, 30, 60 and 90-day call logs for membership consultants.
  • Create a standardized training folder for Fitness Managers to review.  Have and hold all trainers accountable for results for all training clients.
  • Develop monthly and quarterly goals based on new client acquisition, sessions trained, client folder standards, lunch and learns and educational series.  Include personal goals and continuing education goals.
  • Create a success wall for current clients highlighting goals achieved and milestones.  Create a Trainer of the Month spotlight including personal information, background, personal achievements, and success stories of clients working with said trainer.
  • Create a work out of the day development by each individual trainer and display on dry erase board at entrance of club or behind front desk.

Personal training can be a great asset to your club and completely change the member experience.  Having trainers who are educated, professional and customer focused and increase member retention and increase the revenue flow in your club.  These members, whose lives have been changed, can become the best marketing tools for your club and drastically increase your potential new member traffic.

With new clubs opening every day and markets becoming more and more saturated, the difference maker is going to be the people you employee.  The investments you make in the people you have working in your clubs will separate you from anyone else in the industry.  When you approach the club from a professional business stance and develop your staff as such, members and new potential members will notice the difference and appreciate the professionalism.  This will lead to an increase in new member acquisition and retention.  The ability for your club to be an example of health and professionalism will be the difference between renting a market and owning it.

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One thought on “Fitness Industry: Your staff will make you or break you

  1. Jonathan…finally read your blog and must say you are right on the money.
    Front Desk personnel are critically important and, in fact, can make or break a future sale.
    Sales Consultants must also be professional. They need to be trained as if they are professionals and management must treat them as such. Most important, in hiring and evaluating them remember, you can’t train someone on attitude, not even an experienced sales person. Look for the right attitude because you can always train the person with a good attitude to sell.
    It’s all about leading by example, which seems to be what your blog is saying.
    Same concept with trainers. I’ve seen highly educated and super-fit trainers who were poor communicators and I’ve seen caring and compassionate trainers with far less experience. I’ll take compassion and communication skills any day.
    Good article.

    Liked by 1 person

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