The buzz at IHRSA, the regional fitness conferences, in the media and the club locker rooms is still small group training, group personal training and outdoor/indoor boot camps. We have traditional group exercise classes! We have personal training services! And now we have group training! Group Training is what I call the missing third piece of the Club Programming Triad.
At Ellen’s Ultimate Workout Group Training Center in Davie, Florida, the number of group training sessions completed for the week is 150. The number of visits for the week is 1,725! Ellen’s students are paying an average of $150 per month for fee-based group training programs that include Spinning, the Ultimate Boot Camp, and Pilates-Fit Programs in a 6,800 group training center! What is it that Ellen Latham is doing that the rest of the fitness industry does not yet understand?
In this article, we will cut through the hype and excitement and examine group training from three distinct but interrelated perspectives: the club, the fitness professional and the educated consumer. If group training is done right, everybody wins...financially, professionally and personally!
What are the Benefits of Group Training as part of the Club Programming Triad?
- The creation of additional fee-based programming options
- Availability of more fitness professionals with new skill sets: the Hybrid Fitness Professional
- The creation of a stronger club branding message delivery system (group exercise programs, personal training programs and group training programs)
- An increase in gross income to the club
- A higher profit margin to the club (i.e., increase in net income)
- Lower club member attrition rate
- Higher club member retention rate
- Higher referral rates from satisfied clients
- Higher hourly income for fitness professionals
- An increase in club income per member
- The strengthening of the club’s brand (i.e., the club’s value proposition)
- An increase in percentage of non-dues revenue
- A reduction of employee overhead expenses
- An increase in synergy of all club programs
- The strengthening of the club’s competitive-points-of-difference
- The reinforcement of the club’s customer relationship program
- A reduction in fitness professional turnover
- More success in recruiting highly qualified fitness professionals
What is Group Training?
We define group training as fee-based programming options that can be configured either as a small group, with three to eight participants or configured as a large group with at least nine but can include up to 20 participants. Whether it’s small group training (SGT) or large group training (LGT), it must be positioned as a distinctly specialized, branded experience that is delivered by highly trained fitness professionals. This definition is critical in order to distinguish fee-based group training programs from mainstream group exercise programs whose costs are included as part of the normal club membership fee structure. In fact, equipment that is used in fee-based programming should not be the same equipment that is already included in non fee-based group exercise programs.
Why Group Training Programs Fail
Now, if the definition of group training is so clear and the R.O.I. in Table A is so obvious, why are so many clubs having such a hard time implementing and managing successful group training programs, from both an operational and financial perspective?
We have had the opportunity of evaluating group training programs, both SGT and LGT, in various markets domestically and internationally. The most common denominator for failure that keeps raising its ugly head is what we call the “poor planning syndrome!”
This basically means that no strategic business planning occurred before the group training program was launched. Without good planning, the program cannot be successfully managed. Without a successful management process, group training will always be destined to fail!
The second most common failure factor is not having the club’s group training program fully integrated into the club’s overall programming mix. This occurs because group training was positioned as an option that did not reflect the club’s branding message. Again, this occurred because of the “poor planning syndrome!”
The third most common failure factor was the skill sets of the service provider. In most instances, a technically proficient personal trainer was assigned the task of running the group training sessions. However, because the managers did not understand the dynamics of a group-focused teaching/learning environment and the skill sets needed to manage such a dynamic environment, the personal trainers were destined to fail, despite their technical knowledge. Group training is about using dynamic coaching skill sets to motivate each individual to do his/her best for the common good of the entire group.
Here's a list of red flags that will doom your group training program to failure:
- Group training programs have been launched with inadequate planning.
- No “champion” was assigned to manage the programs.
- The programs were not positioned as a credible distinction from traditional group exercise programs.
- Personal trainers, with no group exercise skill-sets, were assigned to develop and deliver the programs.
- The group training instructors were not positioned as "subject matter experts." These group training instructors should be called coaches.
- The service providers were not incentivized to grow the programs.
- The base compensation was too low to attract the best skilled professionals to participate in the programs.
- The programs were not positioned to support the club’s brand or value proposition.
- The club had a weak or non-existent value proposition.
- The programs did not create a valuable member experience.
- The programs had no specific goals and objectives.
- The programs did not support the club’s customer relationship program.
What is necessary for a group training coach to have in order to succeed?
- Entrepreneurial mindset
- Ability to sell services for a fee
- Ability to set and share a vision
- Ability to focus on customers
- Ability to develop and support team and group-building dynamics
- Ability to solve problems and make decisions
- Ability to lead people (club members)
- Ability to lead people (personal trainers)
- Have professional coaching skill set
- Ability to manage time, resources and projects
- Ability to take initiative beyond job description
- Display professional ethics
- Ability to manage change
- Ability to deal with individuals as individuals
- Ability to share information
- Ability to manage business processes
- Ability to display technical skills
- Have group training technical skills
- Have cueing, communicating & presenting skills
- Have musical interpretation skills
- Have emotional intelligence
- Show compassion/empathy
- Lead by example
Group training, boot camp programs, etc. are a tremendous business opportunity for clubs, managers and fitness professionals. These programs are also great cost effective opportunities for educated consumers. However, you can have the “best” programs, offer or promise the “best" experiences, charge the most “cost effective” price possible! But if the personality, the energy level, the persona of the fitness professionals who provide these services does not create a sense of “why” these educated consumers should join the programs, should keep coming back and refer other students to join, something is incredibly wrong!
We are raising this issue at this point because of a recent case where a fitness professional had created and delivered a technically superior boot camp program. He was praised by the attendees for his creativity. He was even told that his program was better than that of other group training instructors. However, while they were indeed satisfied with his “black and white” superior techniques, he was not able to create an “emotional bond” with these students. He had focused so hard on the “techniques” that he had neglected to focus on the students as the people that he was responsible to "coach to success.” He was deficient in relationship management. Of the 23 DNA characteristics that are listed in Table B, 13 of these items, or 56.5 percent of the total items, focuses on relationship management. Of all the points that are referenced in this article, relationship management will make or break the success of your group training program.
Now, are you ready to launch your program?