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Why Do You Think It Is So Hard to Make Money in the Fitness Industry?

Originally Posted 01/17/09

No concept in the fitness business is deader than opening a new club with a giant room full of fixed equipment. The more is better concept is dead and the more educated member has a totally different expectation about he or she wants from their fitness center, even the deconditioned members who watch the women's shows and read the chick magazines.

Why do think it is so hard to make money in this business? Consider the fact the product we are selling isn't what the member wants. They read the magazines, get pumped for a new workout and body, and the local fitness center then straps the person into a time machine (read single joint fixed equipment here, such as ab piece, adductor/abductor or the classic leg extension) and takes the person back to the 80's. The client expects cool moves like television shows and internet workouts but ends up sitting on their ass wondering why this workout doesn't match what everything they just read.

The member, or potential member, is here because he just picked up Men's Health, the new source for the consumer by the way, reads about a workout involving plyo boxes, kettle bells, sand bags and other exciting toys and heads to the local club to get signed up. But 30 minutes into the tour, he realizes that the club doesn't have any of this stuff, or if it does it's a very poor selection stuck in a corner. My favorite is the club that has the traditional one rack of med balls that tops out at 12 pounds mostly covered in duct tape.

This guy will not join because you don't have what he wants. You might have an acre of equipment with two of everything or more but fixed equipment only sells memberships to a very limited group, mostly the gym rats that typically comprise about eight percent of a club's membership. That is how we used to do it. Big rooms, covered in equipment and we bragged that we had more than the other guy (big surprise here, a guy bragging that he has more, is bigger than the other guy, or does it better).

Watch the trainers in a good club and you'll see that the business has evolved. I was standing in a club that was about 20,000 square feet this month and there were six trainers in action. Every trainer was working with their clients in a corner or any open space they could find using bands, dumb bells, a few old medicine balls and whatever else they could scrounge. One trainer had a huge nylon bag he brought himself stuffed with his own toys for his clients. Take a hint here you club owners. What kind of message does that send to the clients when the trainer owns better stuff than the club does?

The fascinating part was that the trainers were completely avoiding the club's fixed equipment. Not one trainer in an hour put a single client on a piece of fixed equipment. The club did have some functional equipment (Human Sport by Star Trac and a FreeMotion piece) that the trainers worked into their workouts but the regular fixed was ignored.

Visit any of the gurus in training, such as Mike Boyle (http://www.bodybyboyle.com/), and you'll see every client, no matter what age, up and moving on the floor, throwing balls against a wall and doing agility work on the floor. And this is not restricted to just performance clients. Even the personal training clients do the same things the athletes do. Get results and you stay longer and pay longer, the new mantra for member retention.

People want results from their workouts. They don't want to keep going around a circle because the club has taken the easy way out, which is to become equipment dependent. Why learn how to train clients and build a system when it is so much easier to just let the equipment babysit the members? We need to change because the members have had enough of no results for $49 per month and want more from their club then being ignored.

The sad thing is that a club can cure this cheaply. About $4000 will give provide a complete trainer's toy fantasy including full sets of kettle bells, and if you throw in your first functional equipment, you're in for not much more compared to trying to throw six different leg machines at the members. Functional equipment is cheap and is a great investment because you can do so much per piece compared to a simple chest press limited to one exercise.

Members also want expertise and leadership, something a club that is equipment centric seldom provides. Trainers become rep counters and ruined in a equipment driven club because they are taught to let the equipment do the work. A perfect example here is the "three workouts with a trainer and then you are on your own” approach to fitness. If this is how your club works I can guarantee you have a lot of retention losses and it simply gets harder every year to replace the members you lose due to neglect.

The trainers and the workouts in the three and you're done environment suck because they know in five minutes if that person will buy personal training packages. If the new members aren't going to buy, how good do you think that workout is going to be? Teach them a circuit, get them out of the way, and they will be quickly forgotten by the club ultimately ending up as a retention failure is a few months.

There is a new generation of owners coming into the field, such as a young friend named JC Chlubna in California, that knows the difference between 1980's training and effective workouts, yet his club didn't match his personal philosophy. He does his own workouts powered by functional methods, yet his club is filled full of fixed stuff. It's hard businesswise for him to change because many of his members still are doing old body part splits and other Arnold era training methods but if you don't change your business won't grow and you become less competitive in the market each year.

The hard part is can you educate these members and keep them and still change the culture in the club and attract a newer breed of member. The key here is to remember that our clients read the magazines, watch movies such as The 300, and are more current on what's happening in training than most of our club owners.

If you want to make money, which is what this blog is really about, then toss a lot of your fixed stuff and start building a club culture based upon functional, results driven training. And yes, you will probably have to fire a whole bunch of your out-of-date trainers and send them off to Jurassic Park with the other dinosaurs but evolve or die in nature as in small business.

What I am reading this week: Skinny Bitch, perhaps the worst alleged fitness book ever written. A friend recommended it, or he is a friend at least for now. Don't read it, buy it or let your client's near it. I consider this one of the worst books I have ever read, and I have read pure garbage more than once.

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