How your business can keep people like me.
note: this is an unedited blog post, I just spent 3 hours writing it and I wanted to go up right away. So apologies in advance.
“It would be cool to help people lose weight, just like I did” It’s what motivated him to try and apply for a position as a personal trainer at the local 24 hour fitness, in Fairfield, California. It was the beginning of October 2001. There was a weird feeling that everyone had because of what happened less than 30 days earlier and a year before that the dot com bubble burst, needless to say, the economy was on shaky ground.
At 18 years old, Ryan didn’t know any better. Fresh out of high school and looking for direction, he found gym to be a good place to start to try to make some money. Who knew that this personal trainer thing would turn into a real job.
After a rough 6 month start and slow upward climb, promotion after promotion followed. Trainer to “Lead” Trainer to “Active” Fitness Manager to Fitness Manager. All title changes meant higher expectations, bigger goals and of course, more money. After 8 years of loyal employment it, all ended.s a growing trend of personal trainers who are leaving big box clubs either for other professions
I figure if no one is going to write about me, I might as well write about myself.
I’m a real world personal trainer, in the trenches, making a living in a big box gym. I wanted to exercise my freedom of speech to share some of my insights. In the article Personal Trainers Making tough Decision about the future , the executive editor, Stuart Goldman discusses the trend that Personal trainers are leaving big box gyms either for other professions or to open their own studios.
I’ve managed trainers for 5 years and it does happen. In my last club I worked for at 24 hour fitness, the new club I was taking over had 3 trainers leave. One got promoted to a club manager and the other 2 became independent. Interestingly enough, after 6 months in the club manager role, he left the company to become an independent trainer.
Recently I’ve seen others do the same. As I read Goldman’s article, the one thing that came to mind was CrossFit. The CrossFit “craze” has taken the fitness industry by storm, with an affiliate popping up at every street corner like a starbucks. I don’t really think that trainers are leaving big box gyms to start their own CrossFit (I personally know someone that did though), but the trend of the fitness business small business owner is definitely gaining popularity.
With the economic downturn, people that have lost their high paying corporate jobs did turn back to do personal training. I also personally know one, but he found a director position within 2 months.
Now that that I’m writing it, it’s obviously a trend.
I wanted my own business. Back in 2003, I was considering opening a Fitness Together Franchise. My wife and I flew down to Colorado to meet with the CEO and learn about their company. It was an interesting experience. I was sure that was the direction I wanted to go with my career, owning my own studio. Then I got promoted and got sucked into climbing the corporate ladder at 24 hour fitness.
Jay Del Vecchio is accurate in saying, “selling is a dirty word to most trainers” as he mentions in Goldman’s article.
In my 10+ years of experience being a personal trainer, I can tell you, most of them are brats. They’re a difficult bunch to retain, train and manage. You almost have to “trick” trainers into selling. Especially the ones that are not interested in getting promoted. I’m being cynical, but hardest part about retaining your staff of personal trainers is…………
I wish I had the answer. Let’s just say everything is hard.
Higher ups know it’s all about leadership. Having a manager that cares about you is a big one in my book. Trust me when i say I speak from personal experience. But then comes the problem of hitting financial targets.
Personal Trainer turnover is no secret. It is a sales position and because of that it’s going to have a higher turnover than other positions. I will say that this is the single biggest reason why clus have trouble growing their financial targets in the personal training sales bucket. The longer a trainer stays, the more relationships and clients they will develop. This will not only lead to more sales, but it will also lead to consistent and predictable sales.
Frequently, upper management will want development of new trainers by doing workshops and classes. This is in hope of increasing education of rookie trainers to help them increase their client retention rate. It kinda works, it’s definitely better than doing nothing.
Compensation is also something that was mentioned. Let me start by saying that building a client case from complete scratch is pretty damn hard. It’s a lot of work, and lots of effort. Don’t get me wrong, some people are more skilled than others – but it’s still a big pain in the ass. Most personal trainers will not move companies because of a small pay bump. However, if that trainer is pissed off at their company, they will have a higher likelihood of quiting with or without a pay increase.
Fair compensation for personal trainers is 40-65% of the session rate. Although I’m a personal trainer myself, I realize that I can’t take the whole cake, or even 90% of it. Generally, 50% or lower for clients you don’t sell, and 55% or higher for clients you do sell. Without getting into too many crazy formulas, that’s my opinion.
People who have worked with me know that I’m very tedious about numbers. I always know exactly how much I’m getting paid before I get my check. Using % to pay personal trainers just confuses the hell out of them. Use flat rates, it’s just easier for most people to understand. In my experience, it seems that most trainers don’t really know their comp plan like I always do. So when this happens and a trainer gets bitter (for whatever reason) towards their company, they will think they’re getting ripped off on their paycheck. It’s usually accurate, most don’t tend to audit their paycheck.
Saving costs on cutting compensation plans is the worse idea to pinch pennies. It almost always cost a fitness business more in the long run. Just don’t do it. I understand if compensation plans need to restructured for costs, but it shouldn’t be done to negatively impact your top 33% of your personal trainers in your organization. If anything, give them a small pay increase, and give “part-timers” a decrease. Of course this takes more thought than what I just mentioned.
I’ve never had a “bird’s eye view” of Profit & Loss (like a VP would), but most gyms that W-2 their trainers should have the attitude of losing money on their top 5% of trainers, breaking even on the top 15% and profiting on the the bottom 80%. Make money on expired sessions (this is inevitable) and fight like hell to keep your best performers. I’ve worked in this business a long time and good trainers are really difficult to find. Gyms should view that top 20% of trainers as a correlation to EFT Dues tap. I know it’s hard to measure that correlation, but if you can see it, your attrition will be a lot less with a higher performing fitness department even though it might be lower margin.
Some companies get shaken up if EFT Dues attrition get out of control.
Coincidentally my hiring manager at 24 hour fitness, Josh Lyon is quote in the article. Lyons says he doesn’t see a trend of trainers leaving to start their own studios. His quote in the article is,
“There are countless stories like that across the organization,”
“There’s a ton of career potential to take on different roles and continue to grow with the organization.”
I agree with that there’s tons of career opportunities at 24 hour fitness but that’s if you don’t want to be a personal trainer. The career path is vague and . It’s one of the only jobs out of the 3 major departments where it’s okay to be a personal trainer as a means to pay bills and live as career.
In most gyms there are 3 major sections. Memberships sales, Front Desk and Personal Training. Under most circumstances, people don’t get a front desk job to stay at front desk. It tends to be a part time thing while they go to school. Membership sales reps typically go in to grow and move up. Under most circumstances, your goal is not to be a sales rep forever, you want to move up to assistant manager and sales manager.
Quite often you will hear a veteran trainer say, “I don’t want that job.” They’re referring to a fitness manager/director role.
I’ll digress.. I remember going to a meeting with all the top performing trainers many years ago. The meeting was in the employee break from of an old pleasanton club. As we were walking in, the trainer that was finishing her lunch said, “you couldn’t pay me enough.” At the time I was pretty ambitious to climb the top. I emailed an executive, named Eric Jenkins, “I want your job.”
He replied back with, “Don’t sing it, bring it.”
Once trainers figure out there is another world out there with better pay and bigger opportunity, they’re unlikely to stay. Ask any independent trainer, would they go back to working for a gym? The very best ones are unlikely to do so.
If personal trainers are shifting away from big box gyms it just means that the big boxes will have to be more competitive with their pay and comp plan. I work for a big box gym, and I like the energy of other trainers. My goals are different and climbing the corporate ladder or opening my own fitness business isn’t in the cards for me.
I love the fitness business. I like making business better from a systems standpoint. I enjoy improving a the experience of the employees. Some clubs will often be concern about how members are treated, when it comes down to it, it’s a reflection of how employees are treated. It trickles down.
That’s the end of my rant. Thanks for reading.