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We Fail in the Beginning
Originally Posted 02/11/11

The fitness business is too much talk and not enough action, especially when it comes to getting a new or potential member into the system. We are in the fitness business but if you think about it all we do when client inquires is give them a single workout on machines and them pitch them hard about a membership

The normal routine for most clubs is to get the potential member immediately in front of a salesperson, who then performs the rehearsed tour and also the final close. This encounter normally takes anywhere from about 20 minutes for a lousy sales person to about 30-45 for a more skilled person.

Even the training clubs have their own version of this process but it involves a mere walk around the facility and then begging for a credit card at the front desk. Most trainers are willing to give one workout but these workouts are seldom designed to inspire or sell. The problem with this method is that it is doomed from the beginning because the potential member/client is never engaged in the process. He in essence receives the workout instead of gaining insight or education.

We are in the fitness business, which I believe has a rulebook somewhere stating that to get action and results someone has to get sweaty somewhere in the process. A good fitness tour is like good sex: it you aren’t sweaty then you probably aren’t doing it right. This might be a strange analogy but how many of you are shaking your heads going, "I think he might be right about the sweaty thing. I can’t wait to go home and get sweaty tonight with the one I love.” I had a tee shirt once that said on the front, "Get naked and get sweaty” but I was much younger then and it made sense at the time. Now I would be a pathetic old man who would be better off with a pom pom hat and plaid pants.

The induction process is what the potential member should go through to get placed correctly into the club. If this is done efficiently, the club will have a higher sales close and also have members that are less likely to leave the club during the first 90 days. This is the step that should happen after the potential member meets the client but before he takes his first real workout. We leave out this step and we suffer accordingly because the client never had a chance to get grounded in our culture and system.

In other words, induction done correctly leads to more clients now and a higher retention rate later during the period when the new member is most likely to lose interest and fail. As we explore this concept keep in mind that we are seeking a overall closing rate of 60% or higher for a mainstream club and 70% or higher for a training club.

Here for example, are the steps a potential member should go through in a mainstream club:

• Meet the salesperson
• Become a member if a buddy referral (she is then given 30 days of unlimited training as part of her new membership)
• Become a trial member if not a buddy sale (she has 30 days of unlimited training as part of her trial)
• If she is a buddy sale, she is turned over to the second sales team consisting of a sales/trainer that can do the assessment tool
• If she is a trial, she starts with the sales/trainer to get her assessment and then placed into 30 days of unlimited training
• If she doesn’t buy early she is then placed in regular group workouts in the club. She will me more effective and have more fun in these because she had an hour worth of education prior to her first real workout

First of all, in a typical mainstream facility, you will end up with only about 60% of your potential members/new members who will go through an assessment. Here is the breakdown based upon 100 new members or potential members:

• 20 too stupid to change and will do the same weight routine they did in high school 25 years ago. The female equivalent is the one who is surprised that the club no longer offers the same classes it did when she lost those 20 pounds 20 years ago.
• 20 will go to the club’s group programming, matching your club’s total penetration rate into group. If you average 20% membership penetration into group, then allow for about 20% who will chose this at point of contact.
• This leaves about 60% who are lost souls and who will respond to the chance to have an assessment done as part of the induction process.

Trainer people only have one option and that is whether she will become a client or not. The failure rate is determined by how the first contact goes. Most trainers, and many club trainers, are too anal to work in public and have to understand the sales process at hand. The goal of the first encounter is not to dazzle the person with a mind-boggling workout but to build confidence in you and their ability to actually get into shape.

The goal of any assessment process designed to get the potential member properly inducted into the system has to be an experience created to encourage and motivate the person. This process is also designed to lead to a sale and should not be a one-hour trauma session illustrating how good a shape the trainer is in and how bad shape the client is in.

There are two tools that are guaranteed to kill a first sales encounter: body composition and any form of a movement screen that involves a test. Yes, I want you to do both of these later to establish baseline, and no one believes in a functional movement screen and Gray Cook more than I do, but use these tools as a baseline once the person is placed into the system and not as a tool to humble someone during the first assessment.

Mrs. Johnson comes to the club/studio looking for help. She is 20 pounds overweight and hasn’t worked out in about 10 years. She is nervous, embarrassed at her weight and intimidated by everyone in the club. She is only there because she finally, after waiting for over a year, raised the courage to step through that door and ask for help.

In Mrs. Johnson’s case, do you really think that doing a full body fat comp and having her go through a screening process that will absolutely guarantee she will feel like a subhuman misfit effective? She already feels bad about herself; do we need to humble her even more by proving that her body is dysfunctional and she can’t move and do we need to make her take her shirt off and do a nine point body comp, done by a in-shape trainer, that proves what she already knows. She is there because she is fat and she does not need confirmation with cold calipers or a laughing trainer.

These are, of course, excellent base line tools and every club in America should have the FMS system as part of its core philosophy, but don’t use it before the person becomes a member. Remember, the assessment tool is designed to build confidence leading to two things: first of all, we are patient and experts and will spend time with you, and two, we will spend time teaching you how to workout so you gain confidence as a member of this club.

The induction process, again defined as the tool we use to convert a potential member into a paying member, is a system that allows us to make a professional recommendation as to where we place the client. Do not make weak suggestions; tell the person where she needs to be in your system to accomplish her goals.

We call this tool an assessment because we are telling the person that we are trying to properly place them into our system, but first we need to find out exactly where they are in their fitness journey. We are assessing confidence, ability to be coached, need, interest and base fitness level. We do this by using a tool that allows us to present ourselves as true professionals. We can’t help you Mrs. Johnson unless we first know where you are and where you are going.

Contrast this tool with a typical club that offers two workouts and then you have to solo. If you are not able or interested in being a one on one client, then you are given a card, put on a circuit and are now doomed to fail in about six weeks. This system dates back to the 80’s and is why our retention is poor and why most clubs have to beg on your bloody knees to get referrals. We rent equipment, we don’t help people and very few mainstream clubs have any systems in place that aren’t stupidly priced to help people get results. Keep in mind that what we do in this industry in the big box world was never designed to get results but to sell memberships.

Here is what the assessment looks like. It should take an hour to do or longer if you are a training club. The goal is to convert 60% of these assessments into a higher priced program. First of all, use this price example as the club’s membership model. Trainer people ignore the lowest price. I have also left out the membership fee for this example:

$39 a month for 12 months (this is the simple membership or simple access)

$69 a month for 12 months (this is group personal training/you can have a trainer every time you come into the club for only $30 more a month)

$99 a month for us to write you a program each month and you are on your own

$119 a month for small group training with 2-4 people

$240 a month for four 1/1 sessions and includes supplements and powders

$699 a month for unlimited 1/1 training including full support of supplements, powders, and bars.

This is obviously priced for a smaller market. Bigger city folks go higher and trainer people go higher yet.

Look at the model and adjust the price for your market.

Here is the assessment model as we have used for two years. We have validated this model. If you change it, still make every assessment person do it exactly the same way each time so you have a baseline to determine if your person delivers the system correctly instead of the problem actually being a system that changes with each and every client.

• 10 minute meet and greet. The goal here is to get to three questions. This is done sitting down with the client. You are trying to determine: their personal goal, their time line and their commitment as defined as how many days he or she can get to the club each week.

• Then go to 7-12 minutes of a set dynamic warm up. Use the same format each time but vary the length due to conditioning

• Then go to about 20 minutes of strength: Use the kettle bell swing, overhead pressing movement, goblet squat, pulling movement such as a kettle bell row, lunge and a dead lift movement. I like these because the person hasn’t seen them at most box gyms, they give the chance for the assessor to illustrate expertise and the person probably has seen these on television on any of the fat shows. The goal is to teach and educate, now give the person a workout but they should still end up sweaty.

• Do a big finish between 10 seconds and 3 minutes to illustrate the concept.

• Take the person back to the table, coach cardio, which they will have stupid ideas anyway in their head about walking endlessly on treads and then go over goal, time line and commitment again.

• Based upon gathered information, place the person into the program they need to be in.

• The key question to ask them is always this: Do you prefer to work with a personal coach or would you prefer to share the coast of the trainer with other people and work in a group situation.

• 60% of these folks need to buy a program that is $69 or higher in the model above.
Most clubs fail at the induction process. It really is the missing link between marketing and sales. The emphasis in most box clubs is always more on a simple sale instead of meeting the needs of the client and engaging her beyond just a membership and price.

The money, however, is in slowing the process down and engaging the client. Your total sales will be higher, and your average sale will be much higher, if you use a set induction system based upon need and coupled with sales. In the age of low priced guys willing to cut your throat for $9, it would be in your best interest to review your induction phase and see if this can be improved.

The assessment person should be a full time person who does nothing but place people into the system. They should be paid a high hourly base and high commissions. This person should not be training many clients if any at all.

Spend some time looking at your existing system and try and look at it from the client’s viewpoint. She comes to the club looking for help and guidance and ends up with just a salesperson. Most clubs mangle this transition, therefore, cancelling out the effect of their marketing. Based upon just a sales encounter alone, most clubs will only close about 38% of their total leads in the club.

Even the box chains that claim more really don’t have a much higher average than this due to the fact that they just can’t connect with the client in any meaningful way in a 20 minute high pressure sales pounding.

Remember that the ultimate goal for any box club is to get to the point that 12 months from now your training monthly revenue exceeds your monthly membership income. Get there and you are hard to hurt

Original Comments:


I posted thought facebook but it did not make it here. Maybe it will take some time from facebook to down load. Weird!



Thanks for the great thoughts Thom. How do you implement this in a club with 4000 members and keep costs in line. Bottom lines are getting squeezed these days. I’m open to new ideas. When is the Chicago seminar?




Thomas Plummer-

Sorry I missed this Mark and hope you get back and check. I have been on the road and not checking back this far.

One person can generate about $25 k a month in paper and cash, which more than pays for this position. This person simply feeds the rest of the training staff. You are willing to feed a sales team, why not feed a sales team that can generate higher gross revenue than the regular sales people?

The question really is how can you not do this and move beyond just sales into literally doubling your revenue by developing this separate income stream.

With your number of members, you will need at least 2 full time people to get this done. Jeremy Klugerman, who I have mentioned in other blogs and who is the talented owner in Canada, uses one sales/trainer person and a team of others who do nothing but do the assessments/inductions. This might work better for you.

We will be in Chicago in May for our two-day, which is teaching this business system, and again in October for a 3-day where we work on implementing this. Jeremy will most likely be one of our instructors in October.

Thank you again for the question. Sorry I overlooked it for so long




Really great idea. How would you recommend paying the trainers in this model?


Thomas Plummer-

Hello John,

The group people should get a flat rate depending upon the market. Most would range between $25-40. The trainer is not paid per member since he didn’t fill the group. You should use the same program for 30 days written by your head trainer. You do not need to change these everyday. I like the Crossfit idea of doing something different everyday but for these groups I like progressions and consistency for the clients.

Small group, designed as 2-4 clients or members, would pay about $15 for the base and $5 for each paying client. The trainer would not get paid for the guests. I want the trainer involved in helping us get turning them into members and I need to keep costs down anyway. Small group does do well with the workout of the day done on a blackboard. This gives you the chance to ad new exercises and excitement to the small groups.

Pay the 1/1 people a flat rate, no splits, no percentages. Try and new about 40% after payroll and taxes.




I know this is a big question for the blog (and I plan on making it to a seminar for the in depth answer) but here it goes.

We are in escrow to get out of our small space to a 13K standalone building and we want to nail it when we launch this spring.


Thomas Plummer-

It would actually work well. Just drop the $39 to $19 and bring everything else accordingly. The goal is to sell at least one out of four at a higher price. If you show $19, but generate an average EFT payment of $40 or higher, you win. You state a low entry fee into the club but still have layers on top that drive up the average. The key is to also track the numbers separately. I have had a lot of offlilne questions on this blog. Yes, you can create a training income stream that is higher in one year than your membership stream if you create two sales teams and put the same effort into selling training as you do memberships.



I like the idea, especially if You had 1/2hr & 1hr packages for the unlimited training.


Thomas Plummer-

Hello John,

The ½ an hour is the worst thing a trainer can do in may ways. It sets a bad example of service, most trainers don’t stick with it anyway pissing off the next client and it is not cost effective. We only added those to show a lower rate anyway. Create a price that gets a strong return and don’t be afraid of the unlimited. The average person trains about 10 times per month (9.6) anyway. You want the person to come more often. If they come more than 8 times they will stay longer and pay longer. Also using the term "unlimited” is powerful when you are selling training. In this system, you can have a trainer every time you come to the club, shared by others, for only about $30 more per month than a regular membership. If you can’t sell that turn in your "I do t his for a living” badge and sit on the bench little dog.

Thanks for writing John. Rethink the ½ hour. It is not our best work in the industry.




About the first assement so go through a workout and then place them in the right program first. So that should be like the fundmentls class? After what time fram should you do the fms? I like setting them up with a follow up eval after 4 weeks so we can upsale them? I like the program for $99, I want to talk more about this when on Tuesday.

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