Back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was known more for his pecs than his politics, personal training was an expense undertaken primarily by people who wanted to reach peak muscle mass or perform at very high levels. But today, everyday Americans are seeking personal training to help them reach a wide range of fitness and health goals. Trainers have morphed from being just exercise gurus to daily motivators and health and nutrition advocates, whose knowledge of fitness can be used to stave off illness, inspire weight loss and foster a total turnaround toward healthier living.
In the midst of a recession—a time when members could be cutting expenses—many clubs report their personal trainers are as busy as ever. The truth is, personal training may be the biggest profit center at your club. That’s why owners and managers should make sure they are providing a safe, goal-oriented program led by professional trainers who can respond to the needs of a wide range of members. Once that is in place, maximizing profit is a matter of smart marketing and educating members to the value of your training services.
Benefits of Training
It’s no secret that the key to retaining health club members and getting them to refer your business to their friends and family is helping them get good health results. Good training should be an integral part of how you achieve that, suggests Kathy Stevens, educational director for the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), which offers certification programs for professionals in the fitness industry. “A trainer helps with customer satisfaction and program adherence by building strong relationships or rapport through one-on-one or group training sessions,” Stevens explains. “Bottom line, members who take advantage of these services are more likely to stick with a program, see measurable results and keep their memberships active.”
Training is one of the most effective ways to help clients meet his or her own personal health goals, agrees Josh Bowen, quality control director of Personal Training for Urban Active Fitness, which has 350 personal trainers working in 33 clubs across the globe. “When someone becomes involved with a personal trainer, they are 10 times more likely to achieve their goals versus going it alone.” Because trainers can make or break a member’s interaction with your club, it’s important for them to understand the role they play in helping members achieve success. They should know most people who pay for a trainer are looking for more than a good workout, advises Nick Osborne, owner and developer of Integrated Functional Coaching Systems, a company that trains clubs to increase the revenues they see from personal training. “Trainers are in the relationship, motivation, coaching and entertainment business,” Osborne adds. “Our clients hire us because other options have not worked, and the trainer is the next option on the list.”
One-on-one personal training is the predominant format practiced at most clubs, though some facilities offer semi-private sessions. At Shapes Total Fitness for Women clubs in Florida, sessions for eight members or less bring per-person costs to as low as $15 and include Stroller Babes, Hot Legs and marathon training, according to Fitness Director Ann Gilbert. “We introduced small group training years ago, knowing that working out in a group could be the only reason many would even join a club.” And so far it’s working—Shapes employs from seven to 20 trainers at each of its 13 locations.
The nature of personal training has changed over the years, turning trainers into motivators and customer service providers as well as fitness experts for the everyday exerciser. And still, some health club members may be hesitant to make the financial investment. That’s because some clubs and trainers still treat the training with a casual attitude instead of respecting it as a viable part of a club’s bottom line, says Rob Oshinskie, president and head trainer of Victory Sports Performance in Pennsylvania, where eight trainers, including him and his wife Jackie, put in more than 200 trainer hours each week. Club owners should combat negative stereotypes of casual, unfocused trainers via leading by example, insisting on professionalism at all times and demanding a high level of knowledge and experience from all staff members.
The first step to maximizing your training profits is treating your personal training program like a serious business, agrees Sean Greeley, CEO of Net Profit Explosion, a company that advises trainers how to maximize their profitability. “Invest in building a strong department that delivers great results and is effective at marketing membership to keep the pipeline full,” Greeley says.
Owners and managers should also create a solid sales system for getting members to try personal training. One way to get more people to use your training services is by offering small group sessions, where members team up and pay smaller fees but get a similar level of individualized instruction, Greeley suggests. Charging three to five members $30 each for training can bring in as much as $150 per session—much more than the one-on-one model. It also opens up the prime-time training slots to more people, leaving less people turned away during peak hours.
The best way to attract members who want to see results is by hiring trainers who are truly knowledgeable about health and fitness, suggests Jay Delvecchio, president and CEO of World Instructor Training Schools, a certification company. A staff of qualified, educated and/or certified trainers will increase members’ confidence in the quality of the services they’re being asked to pay for. Barry McGlumphy, program director of Exercise Science and Health Promotion at California University of Pennsylvania, agrees. “Clubs that employ personal trainers without certification and little education risk losing members due to a lack of trust,” he says. “An educated, certified personal training staff can equal significant increase in revenue.”
Clubs need to make sure they communicate the added value of training to members at all fitness levels, says Kevin Betts, COO of Fitness Together Franchise Corporation, which has 2,000 trainers working in 490 international locations. “Our franchise network markets an individual guided approach to fitness and nutrition, which is a targeted message to a clientele that understands, desires and can afford our services,” Betts says. The company also works with franchises to use in-store promotions and direct mail campaigns to reach out to customers and recently re-designed its Web site to help boost awareness.
“The market still WANTS to look better, feel better, and they know that personal training is the way to accomplish that if they are serious about results,” Greeley says of an increasing shift toward personal training. “This economic transition is a great opportunity for every club owner to restructure their PT department for much greater profitability.” In addition, in this uncertain economy it helps to have a policy in place to protect members in case they become unemployed and can no longer afford the service, says Chris Gurtcheff, vice president of personal training at 24 Hour Fitness. “While the current condition of the global economy has clearly put pressure on discretionary spending, many members consider their health a necessity and will continue to invest in themselves,” he says. 24 Hour offers an Assurance Program that aligns the policies and interests of the company with those of members by providing relief in the case of sudden unemployment. “By respecting the clients’ needs in the short term, the company/member relationship stays intact,” adds Gurtcheff.
To increase enrollment through marketing, Shapes club owners encourage trainer demos, “ask-the-expert” columns in newsletters and have participated in local TV weight loss contests, radio shows and fitness-related charity events to get trainers out talking to the public. “The No. 1 way to increase the usage and retention is to increase the awareness of (your) services and increase the presence of trainers on the floor and within the community,” Gilbert says.
At Gainesville Health and Fitness Center locations, members are encouraged to take part in small group classes and to see training as a way to help them better meet their own goals, according to Christie Matkozich, physical therapist and director of Personal Training. Currently, 45 GHFC-employed trainers work with about 700 clients on a regular basis. All members are given two free training sessions to “test drive” the program, which shows them firsthand the benefits and leads to increased enrollment. “We have really buckled down to make sure we exceed clients’ expectations,” Matkozich says of GHFC’s approach to personal training. “Members say this is the last thing they would give up, financially, if it came down to it.” –CS
Certification – The Future of Personal Training?
Nationally recognized certification for personal trainers is becoming an industry standard, even in areas where certification is not legally required for practice. A health club that hires or contracts with trainers who hold certifications recognized by national accreditation groups, such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), can set itself apart from other clubs in the area by emphasizing high-quality training services that focus on getting members better, faster and longer-lasting results, according to Todd Galati, certification and exam development manager for the American Council on Exercise. ACE offers four different certificates for personal trainers and health and fitness professionals. “Certification is for the protection of the public. (It) determines whether or not a person can apply the knowledge they have to make a good faith decision to help clients do whatever they need to do,” Galati adds.
Here are some other ways that certification can help to improve your training services and add to your club’s overall profitability:
• Diversification – Trainers can specialize in certification related to weight loss, working with clients who have medical conditions or other special considerations, making your club’s training services available to a wider audience.
• Legitimacy – Certified trainers are more likely to build confidence among health care professionals, who may refer patients to clubs for therapy and physical training.
• Professionalism – Getting certified tells members you are dedicated to helping them meet fitness goals and can build your club’s profits, says Jay Delvecchio, president and CEO of World Instructor Training Schools. “A trusted trainer leads to word of mouth, which will transcend the boundaries of the club walls.”
• Reduced liability – Some insurance providers may offer clubs discounts if a certain percentage of trainers hold certifications and meet certain qualifications.
• Retention – Trainers who have undergone training and education are generally more knowledgeable of practices that will help maximize members’ results, increasing overall satisfaction and the likelihood that clients will continue their membership.
The Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) status is a good foundation for knowledge, says Angie Pattengale, director of Certification for the National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT). But certification is just the beginning of becoming a knowledgeable fitness professional. A trainer’s understanding of exercise science principles should be evaluated, Pattengale adds. “The success of this evaluation recognizes minimum competency and provides a level of confidence in the trainer.”
For more information on certification and licensure of trainers working in the health and fitness industry, including laws, education and guidelines, visit the resources listed at the end of this article!
American Council on Exercise
Aerobics & Fitness Association of America
California University of Pennsylvania
Integrated Functional Coaching System
National Federation of Professional Trainers
Net Profit Explosion
World Instructor Training Schools