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5 Lessons We Can Learn From Good Training Centers
Originally Posted 08/13/10

My old friend Bobby Cappuccio called the other day to do an interview with me for the new version of PT on the Net. Bobby has been around the industry for a number of years and has been successful doing anything he tries, especially in the realm of training and education. Over the years, Bobby has moved toward motivation and inspiration and works hard to get young trainers to advance their careers through education and self-induced study.

Bobbyís question to me was, "What will the role of the trainer look like in the coming years?Ē I answered the question then for the interview, but I have been dwelling on it every since we chatted. My thinking on this question took a different path over the last several weeks, especially since I just finished the last Perform Better Summit of the year in Long Beach and spent time with some of the best minds in the training world.

My thoughts on the question have evolved and are now focused on what makes a successful training center work. I define a training center as anywhere from 1500 square feet to about 12,000 depending on the market and the concept. The approach we have taken in mainstream fitness is dying and is not sustainable in the future, as any reader of this blog or attendee in my workshops knows.

The era of the 1995 30,000 square box is dead. And remember, it is not the size but the business approach in the box. We simply canít keeping building outdated circuit based businesses and expect to make money in the next five years because the training centers are evolving and they are learning to make more profit, in smaller square footage and with about a 20th of the start up cost of a big box. We can, and should, learn from what these people are doing and infuse this information into any size fitness business.

The lessons to explore, of course, are why do these training centers get such good results with the clients, who then stay longer and pay longer, than we can do at the mainstream level? Why canít we steal their best practices, and therefore, emulate their successful business plans, by virtually picking up the entire training center and imbedding it as the foundation of our business plan in the box? We can, and we will have to if we want to survive against growing competition from this segment.

Here are five things I think we need to steal from the best of the best at that level:

ē Strength training rules: This is the contradiction that drives every owner crazy. Cardio attracts, and the number still floating around the industry is that about 73 percent of all members attending a club hit the cardio, but the results and retention comes from strength. In the book, Biomarkers, the 10 Keys to Prolonging Vitality, the authors stress that strength training is the number one priority someone should concentrate on to maintain a highly functioning active life as they age.

Most box clubs have pathetic strength (read too many lines of circuit training here) but adequate cardio. The clubs that will make money in the coming years, emulating the profitability of the better training clubs, will have good cardio but the entire approach to training and the needed equipment to support it will change.

Club cardio freaks reflect this already but we ignore it in the clubs. My mother, God bless her 90-pound soul, just moved. Her neighbor is a woman in her late 60ís who walks four miles a day and who is approaching 800 miles logged. She is somewhat thin but there isnít a muscle in her body. Her arms and shoulders are flabby and there is no visible tone anywhere. She is thin but still fat. Would she be better served doing some strength training twice a week with some serious cardio attached?

We have these folks in the clubs, illustrated by the woman who walks for an hour slowly on the treads for an hour a week, but the training facilities wouldnít tolerate her for an hour. In the training centers, she would be strength centric with controlled cardio to support her workouts or she would be gone.

ē Everyone gets results: The credo of a good training center is-"I will train you, I will guide your diet, and you will supplement to ensure you are seeking health.Ē Everyone gets results because that is part of their business plan. They donít build a giant machine to harvest memberships. These people build a 10,000 square foot box with the only purpose of getting results for their clients. They make business decisions on what it takes to get the best results from the most clients, instead of how to get the highest number of shear members and then figuring out a way to replace them once they fail and leave.

Ask any traditional owner this questions: "Show me anywhere in your business plan where you are totally focused on getting results for a high number of your targeted members?Ē They can show you high revenue projections based upon sales and internal profit centers but very few have a direct plan for obtaining sustainable results for their clients. Most will tell you they have a plan, but the plan is based upon throwing the largest amount of equipment they can at the membership. I have more equipment than the guy down the street, and then I can get more results for the members.

The successful client is the center of a training facility business plan but is never even mentioned in a box business plan. For example, I had a discussion last year with an owner in New Jersey who was building a 27,000 square foot club that would cost about $4,000,000 to complete in rental space. After looking at the plans, I mentioned that this club was exactly like the one he built in 1995 with even the same brands of equipment in the same lines. Sure, it was prettier and brighter, but it was still nothing more than a membership mill dedicated to attracting members and then replacing those once they were lost. This same owner is the guy who wonders why the $9 club is hurting him so badly. The answer is that our hero here is in the equipment rental business, not the results business, and the member realizes that if all I get from this club is a walk on a tread, I might as well do it at the club down the street that is cheaper.

Learn from the trainers. Build clubs designed to get results. Build systems that allow the most members to participate in some type of training. Stay away from renting equipment because the $9 guys do it better and cheaper.

ē Members want group dynamics: Everything is better in a pile (read what you want into this). Good training clubs, such as Boyle, Durkin, Cosgroveís, Mayo, Nash and all the others evolve into training centered on some type of group situation with very little if any done one-on-one. People want group experiences, enjoy group experiences, are motivated by group experiences and get better results training in groups.

In the mainstream world, though, we let the uniformed trainers rule the system so we use archaic systems based upon sessions and packages for just one person at a time. This is why you can have 3000 members and only do $8,000 a month in training, because there is no money, and not enough potential market, to drive higher revenue with the traditional training system used by all chains and most mainstream clubs.

Good training facilities use layered pricing, meaning you offer lower prices for clients who want to share the cost of the trainer/coach. This layered approach would allow a much greater penetration rate in the traditional club, which would result in greater results for more members.

ē Itís not the equipment, itís the coach: I have recently seen trainer kids with not even $5000 in equipment generating $20,000 a month in training revenue. Itís not the norm, but I have seen it enough to know it is not a fluke. The mainstream mindset is to throw more and more equipment at the members instead of customer service and instead of learning a new business approach for the business. Look at the guy in New Jersey again. His idea is that if you get the perfect blend of equipment the members will love you and you will have a competitive edge in the market.

This did work. It worked well in fact in 1995, but this concept is why even the biggest chains are pissing away members like a drunken owner at cheap beer night. Itís the system, fool, and not the equipment. Equipment, such as top of the line treads, will help retain members over time because they simply break less. Itís not the cardio thatís the issue. Itís how we use the cardio in the club. The issue is, however, the fixed equipment we choose, which is nothing more than a reflex order based on what worked 20 years ago. Functional rules and will only get stronger in the coming decade and your layout and equipment choices have to reflect that trend. Training clubs have space for people to move. They have training lanes. They have walls to smash balls against. They have stuff to climb and swing from. They have mastered suspension training. They have more than a pathetic rack of six kettle bells.

ē Higher return per client: Training people get more money per client than mainstream guys do. Yes, we will still have memberships, but why we canít have the best of both: strong memberships with deep penetration into the membership with training and the support systems. Build a strong training department and nutrition goes up, retention goes up and the average sale goes up.

ē One bonus point: Every good training club that I could find has a dedicated sales person, usually female, and usually one that was a client and got good results. This person is often in the process of becoming a trainer as well. You canít sell the Ferrari if you have never driven the Ferrari. Your sales people should be training fools and preferably certified trainers as well.

What did Bobbyís question really mean? Training, and therefore trainers, will rule the industry in the coming years. Your training department should generate more monthly income than your memberships. Your retention should climb above 65% and stay there. If you grasp training, you will have a huge competitive edge over the equipment-renting idiots down the street. Itís all about results and there is only one way to get that for the highest number of clients in your club. And I will give you a hint; itís not adding another piece of Hammer.

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