November 2007 - A personal trainer has opted to quit his regular job to become a full time personal trainer. His objective is to do 30 one hour sessions per week. He is certified. He takes continuing education courses. He is technically qualified/proficient. He has had at least five years of part time experience as a personal trainer. He is an independent contractor at a local club that has a membership base of 3,000 members. The average member household income is approximately $80,000 per year.
Fast forward one year. This personal trainer is still not fully booked with clients. He is at 30 percent of full capacity. Yet he has taken additional technically based CEC courses and programs over the past 10 months. These are the facts:
- He has been unable to retain most of the clients that were referred to him.
- He has not been able to obtain referrals from clients he has trained.
- Whenever he does a new member equipment orientation, he does not create a sense of “value” in the eyes of the consumer. The result, a low conversion rate.
- Whenever he is referred potential clients, his lack of follow up skills sub-optimizes his ability to “close the deal.”
- He is not comfortable “greeting” and “meeting” new club members.
- He does not have the skill sets to determine the members’ real programming needs.
- He is uncomfortable identifying other club programs and services that can help members reach their goals and support his training goals and objectives.
- He tends to focus on his price as opposed to the value of his services.
- He is not comfortable attending outside club events that would position him to “meet” and “greet” either club members or non club members.
- He is more comfortable working on the Internet than dealing with people.
Reality Check #1
How many of us have either (1) been in a similar situation but have been able to overcome these types of obstacles and survived or (2) know of other individuals who became trapped in this 10 step cycle and were never able to get out of it. It’s fantastic to have the greatest technical skills in the world! However, if we cannot successfully establish viable/credible relationships with our actual and/or potential clients, what’s the point of being technically “brilliant?” Going beyond this reality, how many of us are not skilled/proficient/comfortable in the following areas:
- Being an Entrepreneur: Thinking Outside the Box
- Being a Risk Taker
- Being Able to Set, Share and Establish a Vision for Ourselves and Our Clients
- Being Able to Focus on Customers
- Being Able to Create and Support Team Building Dynamics
- Being Able to Solve Problems and Make Decisions
- Being Able to Manage Club Members
- Being Able to Manage Clients
- Taking Initiative Beyond the Job Description
- Displaying Professional Ethics
- Managing Change (in Ourselves and Our Clients)
- Dealing with Individuals as Individuals
- Sharing Information
- Handling/Managing Emotions
- Showing Compassion/Empathy
These 15 points have become more of an issue because of the economy. Recession, the “R” word, has become a reality! The “R” word is forcing the educated consumer to make spending decisions that are totally perceived focused on value!
From a club’s perspective, from an educated consumer’s perspective and from my professional perspective, it’s ok to recognize that you may be deficient in these 15 skill sets. However, that being said, these deficiencies must be corrected if anyone really wants to be successful. In fact, unless these are corrected, the fitness industry does not really need any more personal trainers who are only technically proficient!
Reality Check #2
What does the fitness industry need? The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is the fitness industry’s only global trade association. IHRSA represents over 9,100 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 730 supplier companies in 72 countries. As part of the IHRSA initiative to understand “Why Members Quit,” the American Society of Quality has analyzed why customers leave our clubs. The four primary reasons include the following:
- Nine percent of customers leave because of competitors.
- 10 percent of customers leave for other reasons that include moving, death, etc.
- 14 percent of customers leave because of dissatisfaction with the product and/or service.
- 67 percent of customers leave because of an attitude of indifference on the part of a club or company employee.
If we total reasons #3 and #4, we find that 81 percent of the reason that members leave our clubs is totally preventable. How “bad” is bad? Let’s do the math! According to IHRSA, we had 42.7 million club members in the US as of January 2007. If we factor the current 36 percent average attrition rate and apply it to the 42.7 million current member base, we lost approximately 15.3 million members in 2007! If we apply the median membership dues price ($660 per year) against the 15.3 million lost members, we will be losing approximately $100 million in just membership dues alone because of customer dissatisfaction and club employee disconnection issues! This number does not even include the lost revenue from fee based programming that occurs because the size of the membership base is dropping.
As the membership attrition rate increases, the fee based revenue goes down and the group exercise studio occupancy rates go down as well! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the following: if we collectively improve the customer satisfaction level by having our team members proactively connect with and provide five star service to our members, they will stay with us! If they stay with us because they are satisfied, they will (1) not drop out: (2) will refer their friends, relatives and business associates to join our clubs as club members and (3) will renew their “value added” memberships!
Since this situation is preventable, it behooves club ownership and club management to take the proverbial bull by the horns and fix this problem for good by developing operational strategies that can correct this problem.
The fitness industry is in the business of making a credible return-on-investment (ROI). We define what that ROI should be by analyzing/managing some of the following financial benchmarks and key ratios:
- Revenue Growth
- Net Membership Growth
- Rate of Membership Retention
- Revenue Per Member
- Non Dues Revenue/% of Total Revenue
- Revenue/Indoor Sq. Ft.
- Salary, Wages & Benefits (SWB) Performance
- EBITDA Performance/Total Revenues
The veterans of our industry know that the best way to protect the ROI is by (1) fully integrating new members into our clubs, (2) keep those members that we already have so that they can (3) refer new members to join the club. More importantly, the member integration process must focus on driving our members into both fee based and non fee based programming options. Obviously, to the extent that we drive our members into fee based programming options is also the extent that we increase our contributions to the seven ROI items listed above. However, if the “right” club employees manage this member integration process, they will also make money... if it is done right!
Which club employees in which departments have the most potential to positively impact the development of a club’s “core” business (i.e., members)?
Based on my experiences as a fitness industry consultant, I have found that the “uninformed” clubs believe that most personal trainers and group exercise instructors do not currently have the desire or the wherewithal to support the resolution of a club’s membership problem. Traditionally, the only focus of group exercise instructors has been about their “diva” image, their classes and their following! Personal trainers only tend to focus on their clients and how much money they are making from the club’s members as opposed to seeing themselves as part of an integrated solution that fixes the membership problem.
While I concur with this determination, I blame this reality on a management breakdown. I say this because these employees and/or independent contractors have never been effectively managed to support either the goals and objectives of the club or the value of the club’s brand. I would like each reader to “take a risk,” think outside the box and step outside of your comfort zone for a moment as you read the following list. Think about what would happen to your ability to make more money if you were able to successfully do the following:
- Group exercise instructors and personal trainers start to tie their individual successes to the success of the club and start to use “we” instead of “I” when they speak to their students and/or their clients.
- Group exercise instructors start to refer their students to the club’s personal training program for additional services because of weaknesses that the instructors saw in their students during their classes.
- Group exercise instructors start to do fee based small group training programs.
- Personal trainers start referring their clients to specific group exercise programs because those programs would supplement the client’s personal training program.
- Personal trainers start working with their group exercise counterparts to learn how to teach group exercise classes/programs, and some trainers may even learn how to count music!
- Personal trainers start learning how to apply the unique skill sets (item #5 in the first list above) that are needed to position, sell and deliver fee based small group training programs. For this skill set, personal trainers will make more money per training hour!
As this process evolves, what we will see is a breakdown of the artificial barriers that were created between personal trainers and group exercise instructors. In fact, we have identified the best skill sets of a group exercise instructor, without the negative “diva” mentality, and blended it with the best skill sets of a personal trainer, without the arrogance, to create the Hybrid Fitness Professional!
The following list summarizes the 25 DNA characteristics of the new Hybrid Fitness Professional.
- Entrepreneurial Mindset
- Selling Services for a Fee
- Setting and Sharing a Vision
- Focusing on Customers
- The Ability to Develop and Support Team and Group Building Dynamics
- Solving Problems and Making Decisions
- Leading People/Subordinates
- Leading Club Members
- Leading Personal Training Clients
- Have Professional Coaching Skill Sets
- Working with Management Peers and Senior Executives
- Managing Time, Resources and Projects
- Taking Initiative Beyond the Job Description
- Displaying Professional Ethics
- Managing Change
- Dealing with Individuals
- Sharing Information
- Managing Business Processes
- Displaying Technical Skills
- Have Group Training Technical Skill Sets
- Have Cuing, Communicating and Presenting Skill Sets
- Have Musical Interpretation Skill Sets
- Be Proficient in Emotional Intelligence
- Showing Compassion/Empathy
- Leading by Example
In order to optimize their ROI, clubs need a staff of Hybrid Fitness Professionals who can do the following: (1) the establish realistic member goals and objectives, (2) identify club programming options that will not only support diversified member goals but also support (3) the modification of programming options as member goals change and (4) deliver those club programming options in either fee based and/or non fee based manner. If this is done correctly, this will potentially enable clubs to “manage up” member wants, needs and interests. As this happens, the members will get their results! If they get their results, why would they leave?
Where Do We Go From Here?
In order for us to continue to evolve professionally, you must be ready to make the hard decisions based on this quote by Jack Welsch in his Financial Times Interview on July 25, 2008: “This is a good time for rigor, to look at what you want to come out with at the other end of the tunnel. This is not a time to skimp on resources but to focus them on your best businesses: ‘stop’ the weakest, ‘invest’ in the strongest.”
Those clubs who know better are actively recruiting for Hybrid Fitness Professionals. Will you be ready when they call?
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