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Column Leadership

Are You Lagging or Are You Leading?


The U.S. fitness market is maturing, with 20% of the population now a member of a gym. The studio market is exploding. The online personal training business is blowing up. More and more low-cost competitors are moving into the market.

If you are a gym that’s sandwiched between the low-cost competitors and studios, you may be struggling to compete. Nobody wants to be in the middle. Most gym owners who are charging between $30 to $45 for a membership will have a hard time thriving in this competitive market, but they don’t have to as long as they:

  • Have a vision of how they want to serve the market they are in. This vision has to be more than just providing access to a facility and renting equipment. Remember, working out at home costs nothing and joining a $10-a-month gym is effortless. 
  • Recognize that the fitness business is more than just selling a membership. At the end of the day, what matters most to members and clients is that they are having fun and bottom line, progressing toward their fitness goals. This requires a membership-based facility to behave and operate a little more like a studio and a little less like a gym. Most gym owners didn’t enter the fitness business to have personal training clients. The market has changed, therefore why you are in business has to change as well.
  • An understanding that the current skillset in running a gym will have to be upgraded. You must grow. Robert Kiyosaki puts it perfectly in his book, “The Cash Flow Quadrant.” In his book, he states that when one moves from the “E” (employed) quadrant to the “S” (self-employed) quadrant, it requires a different skill set, a different mindset. We all know many people who have no business being self-employed. They just lack the skill set being self-employed requires. Same goes for thriving in this hyper-competitive market.

As long as the foundation above is established, following these five steps could be the difference between being profitable versus closing your doors.


Every gym must have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Most club owners are familiar with this term but couldn’t articulate their own USP to save their life because they don’t actually have one. USP is something you do that no one else does. It’s truly something unique/different or something that you do better than anyone else. USP must be positioned as a solution to a problem. It must be presented as a benefit, not a feature. In order for any of this to happen, here is what must be present:

A sales process that identifies your prospects’ hopes and expectations.

A sales process that helps you and the prospect identify the gap — the problem this prospect has had in the past that prevented them from getting to where they want to be.

Once the above is identified, then a proper solution can be discussed via USP to solve a very specific problem. For example, let’s suppose your prospect wants to feel better so he can have more energy to spend quality time with his kids. In the past, although this prospect has tried a ton of methods to help himself, none of it worked long term because the prospect got lazy and quit. He lost motivation and didn’t have any support nor guidance. Based on this scenario, this would be an appropriate USP:

Mr. Jones, we understand that in the past you’ve had a hard time sticking with it.  Our proprietary two-point plan was carefully designed and has been proven to work time and time again to help individuals just like you get started, stick with it, and finally achieve (insert goal). Tell me your thoughts on having this as your strategy this time around to make sure you finally stick with it?

Once the prospect agrees with you this is a good plan, you must show them a testimonial of someone in your facility applying this plan and being successful with it.


The tour of your facility must be different than what it was before or what it is now. Most facilities don’t even take you on the tour of their facility and if they do, it’s a museum tour where certain aspects of the gym are pointed to. This sort of a tour is precisely what’s wrong with MOST gyms and one of many reasons why most people won’t pay $40 for a membership when they can get one under $20. 

If you want to thrive in this market, consider taking your prospects on an experience rather than a tour. Here are a few characteristics of an experience:

  • Educational, meaning teach something. Although there are many ways to do this, one of the most affective lessons a prospect can learn is something to do with postural deviations. Most people are unaware of their muscular imbalances and don’t realize there are certain exercises they shouldn’t do because it will actually slow down the progress toward their fitness goals.
  • Fun. Get prospects on equipment, but not random equipment. Instead, put the prospect on equipment you know will help him achieve his fitness goals in the fastest, safest way possible. Most members won’t exercise more than twice a week. With that said, think about what the most efficient way to exercise is for someone who would only workout twice a week. Show that equipment.
  • Engage — meaning, introduce your prospects to other people. This could be other staff members or your diehards if they are working out at the gym. This doesn’t need to be more than a hello and a quick story about that individual. If that’s not possible, then you should have a wall dedicated to the success of your members and clients. This is a very convincing way to demonstrate your USP.
  • Most importantly, get feedback from your prospects when you are taking them on an experience of your gym. Dialoging about what is happening makes prospects buy into what is happening. This is one of the ways that a gym could be a little more like a studio and a little less like a gym.


Along with educating your prospect on your plan to help him stick with it (USP) and dialoging about whether or not this prospect can see himself accomplishing his fitness goals at your gym, sets up this client to purchase some sort of a short-term personal training program at point of sale of a membership. Most likely, based on the qualifying process and lack of an actual workout, you haven’t built enough value for your prospect to purchase a $1,500 program, but you certainly built enough value for your prospect to purchase a 21-day or a 30-day program at point of sale of a membership. Every studio sells some sort of a short-term program to introduce their clients to their personal training services. Most gyms don’t. This is another way your gym could be a little less like a gym and a little more like a studio. 


Although we all know we should be asking for referrals from our new members, most gyms either don’t or are very lousy at it. To this day, referrals are the number way most successful gyms and studios get the bulk of their leads. The problems with getting referrals are these:

  • Your staff has a bad attitude about it. They don’t believe people will actually give other people names and phone numbers. Nothing further could be from the truth. First of all, there has to be a mind shift — the staff need to be reminded on why your business exists — the vision that we talked about earlier. The staff also needs to believe the plan you guys are offering to help members stick with it is actually done and it works. Once that’s been accomplished, why wouldn’t the staff want to get as many people as possible on this plan?
  • As long as the belief above is communicated, we need to make sure the pitch to ask for buddy referrals is on point.
  • Last but not least, there needs to be awareness around this topic on a weekly basis. This needs to be measured. 


Most gym owners spend time, money and energy marketing memberships only.  No time, money and energy are spent on promoting and advertising personal training. In this hyper-competitive market, this must change. This is not to say that no efforts should be spent on generating membership leads. From a gym owner’s perspective, there needs to be at least equal efforts in advertising and generating personal training leads. Knowing your niche, who you do your best work with, and who you don’t do your best work with will help optimize the money spent and generate the most qualified buyers. Although all of this makes sense and most gym owners already know this, very few know exactly the client they would rather work with. 

Bottom line is this: The fitness business is all about community, relationships, accountability and results. Whether that’s why you entered the business to begin with is irrelevant. Ignoring this could be detrimental.

Mike Gelfgot is an Anytime Fitness franchisee.

Mike Gelfgot

Mike Gelfgot is the co-owner of Anytime Fitness in Piqua, Ohio.

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