11 Creative Ways to Get More Members

By Megan Senger
American Council on Exercise

Attracting new members and keeping the ones you have engaged are both essential to sustaining your business.

To achieve both of those goals and drive your bottom line, it’s important to meet prospective members wherever they are – both literally and when it comes to their journey to fitness. Here are 11 ideas for connecting with people and keeping your business moving forward.

Be Your Billboard
Everywhere you go you meet people—at the coffee shop, the bank, your child’s soccer game. Every encounter is a chance to (appropriately) share your message. Always have business cards on hand (preferably with a special offer with an expiration date on it, such as a 14-day free trial).
Another idea? Create branded shirts, with your logo and website clearly visible. "Wear those wherever you go,” says Karin Singleton, a training studio owner in Raleigh, N.C. You’d be surprised how many people will ask you about it.” She also recommends branded car decals or magnets, which can be ordered inexpensively online.

 Tap Into Holiday Themes
Turn a holiday into a reason to give prospective members the gift of health. For example, prior to Father's Day, give out 30-day gym or group-training passes for your current members to pass on to their fathers. Dads can then accompany their teenage and adult children to workouts, says industry consultant Thomas Plummer, a Cape Cod, Mass.-based founder of the National Fitness Business Alliance.

Collaborate With Like-Minded Companies

Think about local businesses that share your niche. Consider who else might have customers of the age and gender of your target members, who also want to look and feel better. Chiropractors? A particular spa or clothing store? Offer to provide the owner or a high-profile employee a free membership in exchange for spreading the word about your services or giving out your gift cards to their best clients as a concrete referral tool. This makes your relationship a win-win for both parties, says Rigsby.

 Ask for Referrals

Ask your members if they know of anyone who may be interested in joining your club. Follow up with an email that includes helpful health information your member can pass along, says Goodman.
The key to successful referrals is to reward people twice, says Rigsby, with a small incentive after they refer new customers to you, and with a larger one after he or she signs up for your services.

 Provide "Bring-A-Friend” Opportunities
"Twice a year, allow every member to bring guests for an entire month for free,” says Plummer. This will have minimal impact on your expenses, but will inexpensively expose your business to a lot of guest traffic, he notes.
Similarly, Sassani’s business offers a free community boot camp every Saturday to provide would-be customers a sampling of services with a low barrier of entry.

 Hold a Team-Based Contest
"One of our more successful promotions has been our ‘New Year, New You’ challenge in which members compete in teams of three for a cash prize,” says Josh Proch, co-owner of Defined Fitness in Wexford, Penn.
"All members pay an entrance fee and then the winning team splits the grand prize,” Proch explains. "The winning team is determined by the percentage change in team body fat. This helps to introduce new people to the club who then become members.” A powerful way to ensure this happens is to require all teams to have at least one non-member enter the contest.

Offer Transformation Programs
Short-term fitness or nutrition packages (such as a 3-week weight-loss program, or a 6-week lifestyle reboots) entice would-be members to try out your facility without the intimidation of a long-term commitment. Rerun the programs seasonally with a new message (for the new year, bikini season, back-to-school and so on) and you’ll get new leads each time, without having to reinvent the marketing wheel.

Sometimes, Exclude Exercise
Non-fitness-related social events help unfit would-be members feel less intimidated. Try out trivia nights, barbecues and healthy food cooking contests, suggests Steve Long, the owner of Complete Fitness Results, a training studio in St Louis, Mo., and the co-creator of branded exercise program Smart Group Training.
If your current members bring a friend, waive their attendance fee. And follow up with your new prospects with a great offer to try your services out, Long adds.

Speak to Groups
Offer to give talks at schools, rotary clubs, "or any group you can get in front of,” says Sassani. "Talk about different health subjects. The more active you are in the community the more you will position yourself as the local expert.”
Conclude your talk with a call to action, such as an invitation to join an upcoming transformation program at a special price. And don’t forget to get attendee email addresses to add to your newsletter mailing list.

Check Out Your Chamber
Join your local Chamber of Commerce and reach out to other business members with a special fitness offer (such as a half-price trial membership) for their employees, suggests Rigsby. Joining has other potential benefits, including networking opportunities, free local media promotions and a regularly updated list of new residents in your area.

Host a Benefit
"Periodically we will offer a workout to the public to raise money for a charity. This benefits a good cause and gets us in front on some new people who may like what we do and decide to join,” says Proch.
Cross promote via the charity’s social media channels and event updates. And ensure you reach out to local media for maximum exposure.

Final Thought: Building Long-term Value
Remember, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of generating new leads, says Rigsby.
"But you need to remember who’s signing your paycheck, and what they are really paying you for,” he says.
Balancing broad business skills and ongoing education for your team on exercise science is the key to a lucrative business. With these tools, says Rigsby, the possibilities for growth are endless.

Megan Senger is a writer, speaker and fitness sales consultant based in North Carolina.
Active in the exercise industry since 1995, she holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and English.
She can be reached at www.megansenger.com.

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NEHRSA Fall Conference & Trade Show is Almost Here!!

The NEHRSA / IHRSA Fall Conference & Trade Show is just around the corner
November 5th & 6th, 2014 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.

Don’t miss your chance to hear some top presenters from both within and outside the fitness industry, on topics covering all critical aspects of your business. This annual gathering of the region’s industry leaders continues to grow, but still provides an intimate feel that encourages idea sharing and thought-provoking interaction with some of the brightest people in the business. This is your chance to learn, network and make valuable connections with colleagues, speakers and vendors throughout the Northeast!

Event Highlights

 •    One of the best networking opportunities for the industry in the Northeast with more
      than 150 industry professionals attending
•    26 educational sessions on four topic areas & hands-on personal training tracks.
•    A 2-day trade show featuring the latest PRODUCTS and SERVICES for your club or business
•    An opportunity to step back from your day-to-day operations in an exciting venue,
      Mohegan Sun with your friends and industry colleagues!

Thank you to our Sponsors!
Please join NEHRSA Board of Directors in extending a very special
"Thank You” to the following Conference Sponsors:

ABC Financial - Conference Bags
Cybex International - Conference Signs
Brown Web Solutions - Broadcast E-Mail
FitRewards - Opening Reception
•  Full Circle Padding -  Hotel Room Night
Gym Services -  Neck Wallets
Les Mills -  Les Mills Concurrent Session
Life Fitness  - Brochure

ReebokONE  -  Broadcast E-Mail

Star Trac - Broadcast E-Mail
Twin Oaks Software -   Opening Reception


Trade Show Details!  
Don’t miss your chance to see over 35 exhibitors from all over the country. You’ll be able to try out the latest commercial exercise equipment and see the hottest club products and services currently available.
    •    Held Wednesday & Thursday, November 5th & 6th , 2014
    •    Included in the registration fee for one-day or two-day registrations.  
    •    Trade Show ONLY passes available at a special rate of $20 for members and $30 for non-members

Exhibitors confirmed by October 17th, 2014 include: 
• ABC Financial • American Cancer Society – Pedal to End Cancer • AptusSoft • Brown Web Solutions
• Cardio Sport LLC • CSI Software • Cybex International • Fitness Brokers USA • FitRewards
• Full Circle Padding • Game Plan • Gym Services • H.T. Berry Paper Co. • Iron Grip Barbell Company
• Jonas Fitness Inc. • LesMills • Life Fitness • Matrix Fitness • MembersFirst • Motionsoft, Inc
• NEHRSA / IHRSA • New England • Fitness Distributors • P & G Personal Healthcare • Perform Better
• Precor • ReebokONE • Revolution Service Corp • Rubbermaid Commercial Products • Satin Wellness, Inc.
• Star Trac • Sun Capsule • Susan K. Bailey • Marketing & Design • Technogym • The Dittmar Agency
• ThinkLite USA • TRX • Twin Oaks Software • Visual Fitness Planner

Secure your future with Continuing Education Credits!  

Keep your Certifications up to date!  NEHRSA & IHRSA are recognized by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and will offer Continuing Education Credits for those attending the conference.  More details on the number of CEUs from each organization will be announced soon.   

Download the brochure

Register online

For additional information contact Casey Murphy, NEHRSA,
at  (617) 951-0055, or (800) 228-4772 Ext. 115 or e-mail cm@nehrsa.org.  

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Wanna Get Away?


Wanna get away for a while?  I think we all have had that urge at some point in our careers…our lives.  One airline who loves their customers was built on handing out peanuts and now has airfares less expensive if purchased with a no refund option, their "Wanna Get Away” air fare.  Like their famous commercials, which indicate the benefits of a respite…a retreat if you will, those moments of retreating can do wonders for your business, your relationships…dare I say YOURSELF.  

Benefits of a Retreat
The highs of a great quarter are difficult to sustain, members want more parking and competitors are nipping at your heals for market share.  Yet, the thought of adding one more thing to your plate…that is planning your club’s get away can be even more daunting…if done alone without a facilitator, a coach.  Some of the best organizations in the club business will be planning their own retreats with a facilitator in the 4th quarter.  Whether it be the Longfellow, Thoreau or Weymouth Clubs or Mount Auburn and Healthtrax, many understand that to win in this business, togetherness and planning…away from your clubs has an invaluable benefit to next year’s performance.

Many club operators find that an annual planning meeting gives their business a most significant and creative shot in the arm, build the team’s spirit and provide a head start on the beginning of the new year.  The Alaska Clubs (TAC), based in Anchorage has been successfully meeting out of their clubs for years.  Some even feel the steady growth to over 20 clubs and market share of nearly 15% of the entire state’s population can be partly attributed to their planning meetings while adding to staff cohesiveness and longevity too. They are currently led by Robert Brewster, President and current IHRSA Chairman. Colleagues and friends who were a part of legendary retreats have operated Crunch Fitness, Professional Fitness Management, Orange Theory, Rush Fitness, RDV Sportsplex and Bloom Health & Fitness to name a few.  Many would admit the truth to the adage if "you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.


A retreat must be purposeful, focused and facilitated by an outside, objective leader.  Too often the Owner or General Manager who lead such retreats can be tempted to drive their own agenda rather than listen, create alignment and buy in by the entire team. The meeting may become more like your weekly managers meeting…but just off site. The retreat ideally is off site to foster, introspection, creativity, team work, integration and planning for 2015 without the day-to-day operational interruptions.

It is always good to begin with a central theme too.  The theme provides the back drop and focus which are often converted to results.  It is not a stretch to believe that one of TAC’s theme of "Creating Uncontested Markets & Make the Competition Irrelevant” became a self fulfilling prophecy as evident by their market dominance.  The theme may even drive the location and staging (Disney’s term for environmental setting).  Certainly when a former company of mine had an annual meeting at the Disney Institute, the theme of "Exceeding Customer Expectations” fit nicely in Mickey’s house.  Other theme’s which have been used with success include:  "Getting To Great”, "It’s All Good”, "Arctic Ocean Success Strategies”, "Lunar Leadership”, "Open Loops & Fruit Loops”, "Unbreakable”, "Engage With Enthusiasm”, "Worthwhile Work” and "Unlock The Service Within”. For those with more austere budgets, a ˝ day meeting before or after NERSA’s Conference in November or a day at the Patriot Center in Foxboro could be your springboard to success in 2015.

Objectives are also very critical to the focus of a retreat as well.  Think of the theme as the sizzle and the objectives as the steak.  Both are needed to savor the experience.  I would be honored to assist in the planning of your team becoming a "Member Machine in 2015”,… including the peanuts…pretzels for those with any allergies.

Frank J. Ancharski, Chief Coaching Officer has been leading health and fitness organizations on how to be winners throughout the country and internationally for 30 years.   Frank is passionate about the ability and capabilities of people and clubs to overachieve and overcome challenges.  He can be reached at 724-759-1479, frank@clubcoachservices.  HYPERLINK "http://www.clubcoachservices.com" www.clubcoachservices.com on twitter @Club_Coach.

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Increase male group exercise participation as a means to improve retention

It’s widely known that group exercise/mind-body participants tend to be more satisfied with their club memberships, more likely to refer friends, and are much more likely to remain members longer. But when you look at the programming at your facility, you’ll likely see that the vast majority of your group exercise/mind-body participants are women. If you are not currently offering a program that your male members will find accessible, appealing, and rewarding, we recommend that you consider Broga® as it can have a positive impact on your overall retention of male members.

With classes running in 36 cities across 14 states, and partnerships with Crunch Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Reebok, and Spartan Race, Broga® Yoga is the world’s leading group exercise/mind-body program designed for men.

Broga classes are a unique blend of vinyasa-style yoga, body-weight based functional fitness movements, and high intensity interval training. This combination delivers significant results to the student that go well beyond the benefits of a typical yoga class (e.g. weight loss of >80lbs, eradication of back pain, significant improvements in core and upper body strength, etc.). The distinct spirit and rigor of the classes create high levels camaraderie and commitment between the students that can drive retention.

Though created with the intention of making yoga more accessible, enjoyable, and relevant to men’s daily lives (hence "bro” + "yoga” = "Broga”), the format has also been found to appeal to women. The typical Broga class comprises about 85% men, much higher than the averages in any other group fitness format.

How we work:
Broga trains and licenses instructors at no cost to your facility. Trainees pay $395pp for the course and license (though we offer several types of discounts). The course provides trainees with the knowledge and skills required to successfully offer 60-75min Broga I and Broga II classes.

We’ve seen three primary benefits to owners/operators when they introduce Broga classes:
    •    It’s a unique offering that helps differentiate clubs from others in a given area; a strong selling point for new members.
    •    Broga students form strong communities that build friendships, loyalty, consistency, and accountability; many of the ingredients that help improve member retention.
    •    Men and women alike are attracted to Broga classes.
There are two ways to bring Broga into your club:
    •    Recommended - Host a Broga instructor training course and launch Broga with our proven and recommended implementation plan.
    •    Hire a certified Broga instructor if there is one in your area.
To learn more about the value that Broga classes can bring to your members, please contact President & Co-Founder, Adam O’Neill via email at adam@brogayoga.com.

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Creating a Profitable Nutrition and Weight-loss Challenge

By Megan Senger

American Council on Exercise

A short-term weight-loss or nutrition program—such as a 10-week lifestyle reboot or a 4-week diet detox—can be a great way to expand your clientele and add an important revenue stream.
However, simply putting "nutrition and weight-loss coaching” on your usual list of services won’t get you customers, say industry experts. The trick to success is packaging these services into a one- or two-month program that allows you to easily engage clients and help them change their lives, all while enhancing your cash flow.

The Upside to Food-focused Programs
Being food-savvy is undeniably important for achieving results. But clients are unlikely to sign up for run-of-the-mill nutrition appointments, says longtime industry veteran Donna Krech—the Lima, Ohio–based founder and CEO of Thin and Healthy’s Total Solution.
For years her company offered an ongoing weight-loss membership at a premium price. "But several years ago, we added four-week [weight-loss] packages. The results in our club were like nothing we’d ever seen before!”
Krech correlates this with her experience as an industry consultant. "In every single instance where we’ve [consulted with a club that was] simply offering a dietitian or coach available for weight-loss or nutritional counseling [appointments], the program has failed to bring financial success to the club or personal success to the member.”
In contrast, short-term nutrition programs can offer significant revenue with minimal financial risk, say our experts. Here’s how to do it right.

Setting up a Successful System
A program should be short enough that the commitment is neither overwhelming to your busy clients nor too wearing on the instructor(s). However, it must be long enough to ensure profitability and for customers to see some results, with three to 10 weeks being typical in the industry.
Short-term programs typically include nutritional seminars, guided workouts, a structured support system (such as accountability meetings and/or a private Facebook page), weigh-ins, and program launch and/or wrap-up events (such as an end-of-challenge celebration dinner).
Some also include "homework” for participants, like a food journal or prescribed workouts to complete on non-gym days (daily 30-minute walks, for instance). Some challenges are structured as competitions—often based on who can lose the most weight—while others are centered solely on the personal goals of each participant.

Here are some successful examples of each:
Quick Kick-starts: "4Weeks2Fab” is a relatively strict nutrition program at SparkFit studio in Mechanicsville, Va., that is designed to help members and outside customers get a wellness jump-start or break a plateau, reports owner Julie Stubblefield.
Another SparkFit program is "6Weeks2Sexy,” a less-strict, introductory program that helps clients lose a pants size in six weeks. The focus is on fat loss, sustainable change and lifestyle enhancements.
Both of Stubblefield’s offerings include weekly information sessions, access to closed Facebook groups for ongoing support, recipes, meal plans and a food journal. Stubblefield is the only trainer, and programs typically run with 20 participants. The program fee ranges from $97 to $297, depending on the scope (program only or program-plus-training).

A Team Weight-loss Challenge: 
"Lose Dat” at Franco’s Gym in Mandeville, La., is a 10-week weight-loss program. Teams of up to 12 participants train twice per week with a trainer and three times per week in specialty group workouts. There are end-of-program prizes for winners, and for the top trainers.
"During weekly weigh-ins we discuss the week’s workouts, obstacles the client may have, workout alternatives, go over nutrition journals and generally help each other out with any of concerns or problems,” reports fitness director and ACE Certified Personal Trainer Emily Ruffino. The program currently costs $599 plus a registration fee of $35.
"The program is designed for weight loss, and includes nutrition seminars, grocery-store tours, one-on-one nutrition sessions, nutrition webinars, personal-training sessions and a variety of complimentary group-training classes,” says Ruffino. The "Lose Dat” program constitutes 40 percent of the gym’s personal-training revenues.

What About Scope of Practice?

Eating journals, nutrition tips and shopping advice are all helpful when coaching someone through a weight-loss focused program. But industry guidelines generally agree that a fitness professional’s scope of practice should only cover food basics, such as the information publicly available on MyPlate.

Can Your Program Enhance Your Membership?
A nutrition challenge can be a great way to recruit new members, say our experts. Include a non-member price for prospective clients who want to participate in your short-term program, but structure the challenge to provide them with an easy opportunity to become an ongoing client.

This simple step increases the likelihood that non-members will feel comfortable enough to join the gym after the program ends, says fitness director Emily Ruffino.
Only a physician or registered dietitian (RD) should offer complex recommendations such as detailed menu plans, dietary advice pertaining to disease management (medical nutrition therapy), or supplement recommendations.

There are two ways to work within the limits of your expertise, but still deliver weight-loss results. The first option is to stay within your scope. Structure your program around the type of general nonmedical food tips you can provide. Also consider furthering your own knowledge with a relevant certification.

Or, you can outsource for expertise. Network with an RD who can provide specific meal plans and grocery lists, and review client food journals in detail during your program. Referrals are especially important for clients who have pre-existing medical concerns, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. (A list of RDs in your area can be found at www.eatright.org.)

How Can You Get Clients to Sign Up?
To jump-start your first-ever challenge, use employees, family and friends as participants. This will create buzz, and provide you with before-and-after photos and testimonials to promote the next round of the program.
Next, create exclusivity by only offering the program a few times per year, says Stubblefield. This boosts interest and enrollment. "January/February, April/May and September/October are all prime times on the calendar for nutrition challenges,” she notes. Additionally, make sure members know that space is limited, Krech adds.

Finally, encourage clients to invite friends and family members to participate, says Stubblefied. "If enrollment is lagging, holding an information session about a topic (sustainable body change, hormonal imbalance or another point of pain for clients) to generate interest and the opportunity to sell the program face-to-face.”

Megan Senger
 is a writer, speaker and fitness sales consultant based in North Carolina. Active in the exercise industry since 1995, she holds a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and English. She can be reached at www.megansenger.com.

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The Ultimate Sales Engine

For the last 14 years Visual Fitness Planner has specialized in creating sales systems for health clubs to increase memberships and personal training revenues by motivating prospects and new members to get started on their fitness journey.

With 1200 customers in 14 countries we have proven that our systems for lead management, sales presentations, and personal training systems increase your appointment set, show and close rates and ultimately increase your revenue per member.

How we work:
When you invite one of our sales consultants into your organization we will roll up our sleeves and conduct an in-depth evaluation of all your sales systems including lead and member communication management, sales presentation strategies, and personal training business models.  After this comprehensive review of your sale systems, we recommend and assist you in choosing the right systems and technology for your organization.

Then our sales consultants will design custom technology that matches and mirrors your sales systems to ensure that your technology matches the goals and culture of selling for your organization.

Upon delivery of your new technology, your sales consultant will be inside your organization training your staff personally in order to leverage your new technology for maximum efficiency.  This training includes expertise on how to increase sales and revenue per member at every point in the lifecycle of a member.

But most importantly our sales consultants will monitor your sales system every day to ensure that your staff is executing your perfect play, delivering daily sales reports, industry trends and industry insight.

If your organization needs increased membership sales, increased personal training sales or a reproducible system that ensures that your staff is running the perfect play every time please contact one of our sales consultants at the VFP.US or call 877-1212 VFP.


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Be a Service Agent, Make the choice!

By Mark J. Miller
Vice President
Merritt Athletic Clubs


"Let’s Make a Difference” Part duex

Last month we discussed how we need to evolve ourselves and our business.  There is a saying that say Insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Isn’t this exactly what we do every day in how we behave with our clubs, our members and our business? 

 WHY?   Same reason as last time - We have been programmed to operate that way as an industry.  It’s a HABIT!  It’s our comfortable and feel good.  The problem is to see powerful change we have to be willing to leave the shore and search for the new lands.

I once read or heard that we become what we give your attention to; so what are you focused on?Last month we reviewed the following three:

Happy Members
Neighborhood & Business Activities

This month let’s discuss:
Business Basics
Service Strategy

Business basics:

In the simplest terms our business is easy – recruit new member, engage them and get them results, they tell their family and friends and our business flourishes.  Simple yes – easy no!   You see exercise is something everyone may need and yet not everyone wants.  It is hard, not easy. What other business do you have to show up, sweat, push your muscles to a burning fatigue pain and say that is fun and I want to pay for it?  (Moment of silence) ok none.  Unless it’s a sports event or challenge.  

You see we have to change the perception of what we do and what we deliver.  Yes we are an outcome based business, providing solutions to our members’ pain, emotional pain (Hint sales jargon here) rather we need to be a service provider and experience where bonds are made and results come as part of being part of the activity.  Think amusement park, think Disney, Think tough mudder and other venues like this.  These are experience based activities – so how do we make our clubs more experience based?  How do we create a connection to our clubs?  How do we make them an extension of their life – like the third home – Home – Work and then Us!  

Here in lies the basic challenge of our business.  Imagine if our basic business was like Disney – where people were excited to come, had an unbelievable experience and shared it with everyone and most of all wanted to return.  This is the future – figure this out and watch your business soar.  The promise lies beyond thinking about the basics of how we do business.

Service Strategy

One of these basics is in how we provide service.  The health club business ranks up there with the other two most dread service providers – the cable company and airline industry.  Ouch that hurts.  With all the advance in technology and the fact that most business provide less and less human touch – we should be poised for success if we choose.  That is the key – it has to be a choice.  We have to choose to run our business as a Service driven business.  

What does you club stand for?  What are your core values? Your purpose as an Organization?  How does that get transformed into experience?  How are member made to feel?  What’s their experience?  Are you providing access to fitness or are your delivering the results?  How is service defined at your club?  What supports that statement?  What is the strategy you use to drive this?

We all measure it – through Retention or the now famous Net promoter score (NPS). And yet are we delivering it or simply measuring it?  Are our systems and structures designed to drive a service experience that creates Raving fans or simply satisfied members who one day will leave if something cheaper or more convenient comes along?

Service is fading away in the world today – and if you focus on it, drive it and live it; imagine how your club and business will stand out.  This could be the new Blue Ocean.  Get out there and serve our members, our communities.  Make a difference and watch your business grow.

Until next time – keep in mind this saying:

"You are responsible for exactly who, what and where you are in life and business.  That will be just as true this time next year” …. Unless you decide to do something different.

Go be the difference you want to see.  I know you can do it. 

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Can Personal Training Get Too Personal?

By Carrie Myers,
American Council on Exercise

Having the right "chemistry” between trainers and clients can be essential to establishing a good working relationship and helping clients achieve their goals. But what happens when the trainer-client relationship gets too personal? Is it important to be open to help establish trust or are your trainers and their clients better off keeping things purely professional? We asked our experts to weigh in on this often-challenging issue.

Considering the amount of time they spend with clients, it’s entirely natural for your employees to become more than just their clients’ "coach," says Jamie Walker, CEO and founder of SweatGuru out of San Francisco, Calif. "If they initiate a more personal relationship and you feel comfortable with them, I think it’s fine to be friends with your clients outside of work. In fact, I believe it is your job to connect with your clients. I believe knowing tidbits about your clients’ lives can help influence the kinds of training, programs and tips you offer them. Every client is different and understanding that is the key to being a great trainer.”


Walker feels sharing your life with your clients also helps establish trust within the trainer-client relationship. "Working out can be very personal and often even emotional for people, so I think establishing trust and connection is a key to success.”

Trish DaCosta, founder of Love Life Fit in San Diego, Calif., agrees. "It’s important to share something about yourself, to give the client something to connect to. By treating the client as a customer first and personal relationship second, trainers maintain the focus on the training session without compromising a great working relationship.”

However, she does set boundaries. "While I encourage my clients to share what is happening in their personal lives so I can get insight into what may be impacting their progress in the gym, I avoid sharing my opinion on personal matters, no matter how much they insist! I remind myself that I am their sounding board; my opinion regarding a personal matter crosses the line between personal and professional.”

"Boundaries are key in any relationship,” adds Sue Hitzmann, M.S., creator and author of The MELT Method. "I think you have to be mindful of what you share with people in general.”

Determining Appropriate Boundaries for Your Trainers and Their Clients

Joel Harper, a celebrity personal trainer in NYC, says he trusts his gut as far as how friendly to become with his clients, but feels that overall it’s best to keep it friendly and professional. "Some clients I can tell have boundary issues, so I am very strict with them. Others I can tell are trustworthy and I would be friends with them, so I am a little less rigid.”  

Harper believes that if you feel a client is trustworthy, it can help motivate the client if you share some of your life with them. "It creates a connection and you are not just a robot. People want to feel heard and connected. It is key to do both and be aware of their boundaries.” 

For some trainers, however, their own boundaries are set much tighter. "When it comes to working with my clients,” says Jen Jewell, celebrity trainer in Calif., "I try to keep it as professional as possible. If I’m having a bad day or my mood is somehow affected or I’m going through a hard time of sorts, they will never know about it. Aside from the basics and some small talk and generic conversation, I don’t believe in sharing personal information with your clients.”

You Are Personally Invited…

It’s one thing to be friends with clients inside the gym, but what about invitations to parties, dinner and other events outside the gym? 

"Trainers should feel welcome to accept invitations from clients, [as long as] the trainer is comfortable and there’s a solid working relationship that’s been established,” explains DaCosta. "Sharing a drink or engaging in social behavior with a client can help build that relationship and establish a foundation of trust between the two. It also invites the trainer into the client’s lifestyle and habits, which provides greater insight for the work done in the gym together.”

However, she doesn’t feel accepting invitations from new clients is acceptable. "Accepting invitations from a brand new client, however, could do more harm than good to the trainer-client dynamic and I advise against it in the beginning.”

Hitzmann, however, has a different perspective on socializing with clients and feels it can create a very tenuous situation, essentially taking advantage of the client-trainer relationship. "They then feel they’re your friend and when they cancel they think they don’t have to pay, think they can show up late, etc.”

"Socializing with clients is a big ‘no’ in my book, because it changes the dynamic of the relationship,” explains Hargrave. "Especially important is to not go drinking or partying with clients. A trainer should model fitness and well-being. Maintain your clients’ respect by respecting them and providing an unbiased example of trustworthiness, dedication and fitness expertise.”

"I think it’s very important to support my clients outside of their training sessions,” challenges Harper.

"Once a week I go to a client’s play, exhibit or runway show. They are supporting me and I think, energetically, it is very important to show up for them.” 

DaCosta turns social activities into professional marketing opportunities. "As a trainer, I’ve built great friendships with clients and turned them into brand ambassadors by engaging in social activities with them. This has never negatively impacted the work we do together when it’s time to exercise. Trainers can have a greater impact on their clients by allowing them to see our personalities outside the gym and vice versa.”

To Friend or Not to Friend?

Remember, there’s a reason they call it personal training. Clients who prefer an all-business approach to training will choose a trainer who takes that same approach. And those who prefer a more relaxed style will choose a trainer who fits their personality.  Both approaches are acceptable, whether you allow friendships to form or prefer to have set boundaries between employees and members. But, regardless of your decision, it is a policy note you will want to communicate when recruiting and hiring new personal trainers.

Carrie Myers has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and has been a freelance writer for more than 11 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Squeezing Your Size 14 Self into a Size 6 World: A Real Woman's Guide to Food, Fitness, and Self-Acceptance and presents, teaches and trains in N.H. and Vt.

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By Rick Caro

Many leaders in the club industry have put the recession behind them and are trying to figure out the new norms going forward. No one is expecting to see the 2007 values any times soon. For many, 2013 was a better year than the previous one. There were a few clubs that closed, fewer than in previous years. But, the number of new builds continued to escalate in all segments. Generally, the club industry was still hopeful for an overall improvement in the U.S. economy and a consistently upward trend in consumer confidence, but that has not occurred.

2013 Headlines

Once again, the trendline for key club metrics was upward but only slightly. IHRSA’s Index showed that same club sales were up slightly as well as overall net membership totals. The real disappointment was with ancillary revenue categories, which has been regularly growing in recent years. In 2013, they were flat compared to the previous year. The challenge still has been the lack of predictability of new club membership sales which still does not follow a consistent pattern. Attrition levels now seem to be under control for most clubs.

EBITDA margins are increasing slightly over 2009-2011 levels but are not reaching the 2006-2007 margins. The number of total club members for the overall industry grew slightly over the last year along with an increase in the number of total clubs nationwide. The club industry has already had an ease of entry, so the ability to create even a small niche club has not been difficult.

A Continuing Saga

With the number of new builds growing, several segments saw substantial increases. The studio category, often featuring single-activity offerings including boot camps, barre classes, boxing/kickboxing, yoga, Pilates, group cycling and small-group training, grew substantially. Many of these are part of franchise companies. The proven franchise companies in other segments (high-volume/low-price and all-access) saw consistent growth in 2013. Landlords have recently wooed club operators with more attractive real estate deals, even for the small operator. For many, the cost of construction remained flat.

Debt financing exploded last year as existing clubs often re-financed given very low interest rates. The availability of cash-flow based lending soared and with a higher leverage opportunity than seen previously. For start-ups, there still were challenges in gaining local bank and SBA approvals and often with less attractive loan-to-value terms. Club leaders of existing clubs are returning to previous levels of capital re-investment again.

More Club Deals

For years the club industry has heard financial pundits talk of its highly fragmented nature and the need for consolidation. In 2011, the first signs of such activity occurred. It continued through 2012. In 2013, most of the club deals involved either financial entities buying club companies or buying out previous financial investors. Some of the most attractive stories involved franchised companies. Most involved club groups with significant numbers of existing clubs and a proven business model. A few club companies fully exited the industry.

The challenge is that independents still are hoping for values last seen in 2007 and are not committed to transactions at lower levels. There are few buyers willing to overpay, so overall there are fewer club transactions than expected at this point in time. Also, the independents have not been successful in marketing their story to outsiders who are currently not immersed in the club industry.

Club Corp had an IPO of 2013, so there are now three public companies (LifeTime Fitness and Town Sports International). No others are likely candidates in 2014. No major club owners from outside the U.S. have entered the market here. Only Equinox has ventured outside the U.S. into the United Kingdom with a club-owned business. Several franchisors have continued to grow overseas.

The market seems to be ripe for regional players to expand both by new builds and local acquisitions, especially with the availability of growth capital. The industry has yet to see any meaningful investment by strategic partners from analogous industries.

Other Related News

The club industry is always worried about the quick-fix solution to weight loss. But, commercial diet centers are still lacking long-term success without an exercise component. The proverbial diet pill has not been a serious threat, as several have gained FDA acceptance or have gone through various trial stages.

Many in the industry feel the threat of competition from the non-profit sector. But, during these recent years many of the components from that sector have seen little to no growth, including hospital wellness centers, local parks and recreation centers, JCCs and military base recreation centers. Few new YMCAs have been built but they have taken over the operation of other failing non-profits in certain local communities. The one category with meteoric growth is the advent of the on-campus university fitness centers. They often involve $60-$90 million facilities, which are overbuilt for today’s size of student population. The concern is whether they will then open them up to the local community at below-market rates.

The key question for the club industry is the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). All elements of the local community are trying to figure out the opportunities, including insurance companies, employers, medical practices and hospitals. The club industry may have a role, but it is not clear how it will benefit yet.

The legislative challenges for the club industry are continuing, especially at the state level. All clubs need to monitor pending legislation which may impact them negatively.

Key Conclusions From IHRSA Financial Panel

There were a wide range of insights from TSG Consumer Partners, Piper Jaffray, GE Antares Capital and TZP Capital Partners. TSG owns Planet Fitness, an HV/LP provider (high-volume, low-price). They now have over 750 clubs open and serve over 5 million members. With their existing regional franchises, they see growth of over 175 new clubs in 2014.

Piper Jaffray studied some of the macro trends. It focused on the 25-54 year old, which represents 67% of the memberships in the club industry. They noted that this demographic segment was growing less in employment than other sectors. However, disposable income was growing. Consumer confidence was lagging. Their own primary research indicated that those who did not belong to a club went elsewhere for cycling, yoga, swimming and group weight training on a more "pay as you go” basis. They highlighted the increasing trend toward wearable technology.

Piper Jaffray emphasized that strong cash flows, high margins on membership dues and the lack of need for working capital were all club strengths. However, they also noted the challenges involving high initial capital costs, high attrition rates and high ongoing maintenance capital needs.

GE Antares Capital saw the club industry as an attractive source of borrowing, as it currently lends to 7 of the larger club companies. It is impressed with the industry’s recurring revenue, strong free cash flow and positive EBITDA at mature locations. It accepts the fact that the industry is recession resistant. It highlighted the huge availability of funds and the need to deploy them. Multiples of EBITDA were rising, allowing for more debt availability for larger club companies.

TZP Capital Partners bought SNAP Fitness as well as three other brands (9 Round, Kosama and Steele). They saw a variety of advantages in investing in the club industry (e.g. growing market, investment in different sub-sectors, brand identification, free cash flow and capitalizing on the entrepreneurial spirit). Some of their issues involve the lack of consistency of product, an ever evolving industry, expansion via company-owned stores, need for an active social media presence and potential safety and liability concerns. They liked the amazing trends in small group training, flexible membership options and technological innovation.


Most financial experts see the club industry as likely to benefit from a slightly better 2014 than the recent past. However, until unemployment levels really decrease and until clubs find meaningful ways to take advantage of the Affordable Care Act, there are no likely home runs expected. Singles and doubles are more likely. There is optimism but no expectations that the industry as a whole will return to 2007 levels.

Rick Caro is President of Management Vision, Inc., a club consulting company with expertise in helping clubs with club financials, club valuations, market feasibility studies, expert witness testimony, member surveys and club sales/purchases. Management Vision, Inc. can be reached at (800)778-4411 or mgmtvision@gmail.com

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"Don't be a secret agent Be a Service Agent!"

By Mark J. Miller
Vice President
Merritt Athletic Clubs


"Let’s Go Make a Difference”

In the Health and Fitness business, all associates need to get out into the action, where the member are. We all need to stop "sitting" behind the desks, locked in the offices on the computers.  The real dollars are out there with the members in the clubs.  And yet we spend hours upon hours doing busy work or paper work.  Members as many of us have said are the life blood of any organization and yet we spend most of our time working to get new ones at an avg. acquisition cost of over $200 rather than focusing on our current ones and ensuring they become raving loyal fans.  Which by the way just happens to be 4 to 5 times cheaper to keep. 


Because we have been programmed to operate that way as an industry. 
It’s our HABIT!  Well it’s time to change. It’s time to Make a Difference.  Let’s discuss how:

Stephen Covey has a saying "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” Customer service/Experience is the most basic and important aspect in any business.  It is your life blood to success. 

Happy Members -

Happy members produce happy companies!  When members rave about us, post on Yelp, Google plus, referral friends and family members they do so out of Love.  They share what they love with others.   How do you create happy members well simple?

Create a Culture that drives this
Get Happy Team members
Create such an experience that people can’t get anywhere else.
Train and coach daily on it
Live it – Breath it – Be it

Neighborhood & Business Activities -

Our business is a part of our community, so why are we not active in it.  Think of your own home, your kids play little league, you pay school taxes; you are involved in the fund raisers, so why are you not involved as a business.  People are loyal to those businesses that are giving to and are a part of the community.

Think of all the community events you, your friends, co-workers, etc are involved in - PTA, church groups, neighborhood association, gymnastics, soccer…the list goes on.  Apply the three foot rule from above. Don't be obnoxious about it, but let everyone know that you are the one to see if they know of someone who needs to get fit, improve their health or take their performance to the next level.

Are you active in your local community?  Remember people do business with people not just business.  We are in the people business, Serve your people

Is your team the right team?  Do you have the right players in the right seats?  Remember an engaged team that is passionate and live the purpose of your business creates the experience.  Simply put happy staff equals happy members.  How do you develop your team?  What do you do to drive them daily?  Are they the best of the best? 

It’s like a sports team you need to have the best talent and then they have to execute on it.

Now these may seem like minor issues when it comes to Retention.  We are use to discussing how we orient new members, how we get them to show and use the clubs.  How we upsell them to buy more because if they do research says they stay.  How do we measure and track retention, etc., etc.    Yes these are old items, today everything is about an experience.  Members have so many other choices – from competitors, to home exercise, to studios and micro gyms, to online portals and mobile Apps.  

I use this analogy when talking with Staff – why do people go to Star bucks and spend triple what they can for coffee at McDonalds or a Mini Mart?

Why does everyone brag about Chik Fila?  What is the difference between a motel 6, the holiday inn and the Ritz Carlton?  What does Disney do so well you overlook the $90 plus ticket cost?  Yes its simple – they all create an experience, a memory.  That takes cost out of the equation and in most cases even choice.  They position themselves as the only option. The Why would you not go there and stay with them.

It’s time we in this industry did the same.  This is the start of that. This article is just the tip of the ice berg.  Stay tuned for more.  In the meantime – go Make a difference. Go create that experience – and watch your numbers grow.

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Helping Program-Hopping Members Find Exercise Programs that Work

By Pete McCall, MS
American Council on Exercise

Do you have members who seem to follow every exercise trend? They switch from kickboxing to indoor cycling to yoga to Pilates to Zumba® classes to CrossFit® and back to indoor cycling.

"Program hoppers” are easily distracted, so they’re always looking for the newest, greatest fad that promises quick results. Despite numerous research studies that state exercise routines must be performed consistently over time to be effective, program hoppers don’t fit that mold.

How can a fitness professional help a program hopper find an exercise program that will keep him or her engaged long enough to experience results, and therefore, remain happy in your facility?

Exercise Programs for Results 

When working with a program hopper it’s important to explain the need for a specific training goal because exercising to "lose weight and tone up” is too vague and doesn’t provide much direction for a workout program. Once he or she defines a specific, measurable, attainable and realistic goal, the job of fitness professionals is to work backward to develop a program with a gradual progression of exercise intensity to achieve the goal. 

Science-based programs typically require six to 12 weeks of progressing intensity before they deliver results. Program hoppers typically have a hard time committing to a program for that length of time. When asked how he works with individuals who share a lack of commitment, ACE Certified Personal Trainer Jonathan Ross said he educates clients about the benefits of consistency. "If you bring enough consistency and the right intensity to the workout, almost any program can get results, especially for [individuals] with modest fitness goals,” he said.

Many people may believe constantly changing workouts will keep challenging their bodies (which it can), but frequent changes mean that the body does not have the opportunity to learn and improve upon existing movement skill. If you study Mandarin one semester and Farsi the next, you won’t be able to learn either well. Mastering the ability to speak a language requires constant learning and refinement of proper pronunciation, tonality and grammar skills, which doesn’t happen in a short period of time.  

The same is true when it comes to exercise programming. Maintaining consistency of exercise selection can help clients experience continuous improvement. This, in turn, helps them develop greater self-efficacy, which can lead to better long-term results. "When jumping around, you are not necessarily allowing yourself to fully adapt to any one modality,” said ACE Certified Personal Trainer Chris McGrath, ACE senior consultant for personal training and owner of New York City-based Movement First. "This makes mastering a single modality unlikely, which ultimately interferes with maximizing results.”

The Science and Art of Exercise Program Design

If there is a not a specific goal other than to be healthy and have fun, then changing programs frequently is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the changes should be applied in a way that is consistent with research about how the body adapts to exercise. That’s where the science of exercise program design should merge with the ability to help members find enjoyment in physical activity. 

One of the best options to engage program hoppers is to follow a model of non-linear, undulating periodization, in which workout intensity and volume change frequently, either from day-to-day or week-to-week. The body develops skills to execute the movements reflexively, but is constantly challenged with frequently changing intensity.


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33rd Annual NEHRSA Golf Tournament will take place Thursday, June 5th at White Cliffs Country Club in Plymouth, MA


Owners, professionals & sponsors reward your top staff, members & customers and give them a chance to play on a fabulous NEW course or simply enjoy the club’s wonderful amenities!

Not a golfer, don’t worry. This year’s property offers an array of activities that would be a great way to treat your staff or clients. Enjoy the club’s private beach, 4-season mineral pool, tennis courts, volleyball, yoga class, box lunch and dinner.

Golfers will once again have a chance to win a $10,000 Hole-in-One Prize as well as bonus
Hole-in-One Prizes on additional par 3’s! One lucky player will get a chance to Putt for $2,500!

Everyone staying for dinner can enter to win over 20 raffle prizes including two grand prizes and your chance to win 2 (two) Roundtrip Tickets on JetBlue Airways to anywhere they fly!

The individual rate of $139 per golfer includes EVERYTHING . . . greens fees, cart rental, welcome gifts, scoring and reception/dinner following tournament.

Foursome: $499 (includes greens fees, cart rental, welcome gifts, scoring and
reception/dinner following tournament)
Non-Golfer: $49 (includes box lunch, dinner, tennis, yoga and all of the club’s recreational activities)

Visit NEHRSA.org for more details and to register your foursome!


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