Ask an Expert: Melissa Thomas
You have questions, we have answers. This month we spoke with Melissa Thomas, group fitness director at California Family Fitness, about operating a stellar Group X department.
You started out at California Family Fitness (CFF) teaching and worked your way up. Do you think that gives you good perspective as a leader?
MT: Yes, I’ve also worked for other companies in almost every position in the industry, so I feel like not only can I remember and relate to what the instructors want and need, but I also understand how group fitness fits into the whole picture. It’s important to remember in a health club setting that all of the departments play an important role in attracting new members and retaining the ones that we have worked so hard to get. When we all respect and support each other it fosters a great environment where each department understands and promotes the others.
What is one of the most popular group classes at CFF, and why do you think it’s so popular?
MT: Interestingly, our top three programs are very close to each other. Zumba, GST (Group Strength Training) and yoga are our three most popular programs. These classes really all serve a different segment of our member population, but just think of the great benefits you would get if you took one of each every week: fun, function and flexibility.
What new programs or trends are you keeping an eye on, or considering?
MT: This year we are really focusing on using the technology that is available to connect with our group fitness participants, rather than adding any specific new programs. In the past we have had no way of knowing where the members go once they check into the club and we had no way to effectively communicate with the members that were in our classes. Now we are able to communicate schedule changes, instructor changes and class changes in real time, through MotionVibe. We can also communicate other offers to the members that take group fitness and our instructors can send messages out to the members that have checked into their classes.
We also know that the active older adult population has typically not been well represented in the health club environment, so we are giving those members some special attention by adding more class options.
What advice can you give to other Group X directors?
MT: Don’t be held hostage by your talent. The biggest challenge we face as directors is hard-to-manage employees. Set clear expectations, treat everyone the same and don’t let one person ruin your team.
How do you attract top Group X talent?
MT: I have always made hosting trainings and certifications a priority. Many instructors have families and going away to learn something new isn’t feasible. Once we were consistently hosting multiple events throughout each year we were known as a place where new instructors could find trainings and where there were opportunities for continuing education for veteran instructors. We don’t allow instructors to teach for us just because they have big numbers. Because of that our instructors are a team and are great about recruiting new instructors, as well as referring veterans. And, our turnover rate runs about 13 percent year over year in the group fitness department, so we always have more talent applying than we have classes for.