It seems there is a small group training boutique on every corner. Indoor cycling, CrossFit, boot camp, barre, yoga, Orangetheory, rowing — and the list goes on and on. Small group training in all its iterations has been popular for years, and though the frequency of new boutiques and concepts may be slowing down, the concept is certainly here to stay. For many club operators, staying competitive in this market while remaining true to their core identity has been a challenge.
So many general managers, fitness managers and owners have scrambled to add dedicated studio space in order to emulate the small group training studios and hopefully retain the members who are interested in this workout. In some cases, this worked out beautifully, the members loved it and it has become a permanent and profitable fixture in the club. Others have floundered to find the right fit and struggled to keep participation up. Many clubs are now looking at their small group programs that have either stagnated or become unprofitable, and are considering what changes to make. What variables help one club succeed where another fails?
First and foremost, the basic draw of small group training must be understood — why do people love it? If done right, it satisfies several needs — a fun, effective workout in a small, unintimidating space with like-minded people. Simple enough. So build a few walls or convert a space and you’re ready to go, right?
We all know it isn’t that simple. It’s vitally important a club’s tone, theme and atmosphere be reflected in every aspect of a small group training program. If the majority of the members at your club are 50+, then a very intense, CrossFit-style workout might not be very popular. Conversely, if your club caters to Millennials and Gen Z, a brightly-lit space with quiet, slow music and workouts that incorporate many breaks won’t succeed either.
Your small group program should be a reflection of the club it’s in, the members it serves and most importantly, the quality and level of fitness service that is expected. Regardless of the type of small group training offered, each and every class should have the club’s stamp on it. Don’t simply adopt a popular small group concept — make it your own! What are you known for? Translate that into your small group classes. If you are known for world-class fitness experts, then each and every class should feel like it’s being taught by the best instructor possible. It should offer amazing amounts of information, expert programming that intelligently leads members through their workout, each workout geared toward a goal, and that goal should be achieved each and every class. Members should always finish class thinking, “There’s no way I could have done that on my own.”
If your club is super high energy, then invest in a top-notch lighting system, sound system, paint and decals in order to deliver a one-of-a-kind experience. Every instructor or coach should cheerlead and DJ the group through the workout. Like a party at the gym! Incorporating special events around the classes would amp up the excitement for participants.
Does your club need to maximize space and the amount of revenue generated by that space? One of the best models I’ve seen for small group training used a rotation system in a well-laid-out space. For example, Group A began at Station 1 at noon and used this area for 15 minutes, then moved on with their coach to Station 2. Next, Group B started at Station 1 at 12:15 p.m., used the area for 15 minutes then rotated to Station 2, while Group A moved to Station 3. And still a third group, Group C, began at Station 1 at 12:30 p.m. Three small group training sessions running simultaneously in the same space. Not only is the space and the revenue it generates maximized, the members are still receiving the personal instruction, fun workout and experience they want.
Lastly and most importantly, we must all remember that everything changes. The small group fad will eventually fade. Our members will demand whatever the newest fitness trend is. I firmly believe small group training will remain popular, however, it’s expression may change. When implementing or revamping a small group program, think, “What will I do with this program/space when my members’ preferences change?” Because they inevitably will. Can your space be repurposed? How expensive will it be to retro-fit? Can it be cross-purposed without major renovation? These are all important things to consider.
All too frequently, boutiques are considered the competition to large, all-inclusive clubs. That doesn’t have to be the case. By designing a small group experience that is unique, that can’t be replicated simply because no other facility has what you have, you are setting your club above the competition and reminding people that one-stop fitness shopping is not only possible, but the best option.
Vivian Griggs is the personal training coordinate at Club Greenwood.