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How to Launch a Successful Small-Group Training Program, Part One

by Ryan Halvorson on Nov 13, 2013

Small-Group Training

Learn some of the benefits and costs of adding small-group training to your services.

There’s no denying it: Small-group training is hot and getting hotter. According to the 2013 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Trends Report (June 2013 IDEA Fitness Journal), SGT is listed as one of the top 10 personal training trends.

The growth of SGT isn’t surprising. It offers an economical option for budget-conscious consumers who are looking to work with a personal trainer but want to do so without the high cost usually associated with one-on-one training. Fitness facilities and professionals benefit because they’re able to help more people—and bring in bigger bucks—per hour.

This article begins a five-part series that explores everything you need to know about integrating SGT into your current schedule of offerings—from initial assessments to a successful program launch.

Why SGT?

Facility Benefits

SGT—a service in which three to 10 individuals work together with a personal trainer—is an attractive offering. It allows the facility to bring in more people and money per hour. If an hourlong one-on-one session runs $75 at your facility, for SGT you might charge $20 or $25 per person; that’s revenue of $200–$250 for a 10-person hourlong session.

“I decided to explore small-group training after going to an IDEA convention and learning that it was going to be the next trend,” explains Becky Tucker, co-owner of Bell Fitness in Jackson, Wyoming. “It seemed consumers were wanting personal training but were limited [in their] ability to afford it. Small-group training seemed to fit the bill.”

Amy Boone Thompson, national director of personal training services at Wellbridge based in Denver, Colorado, felt that offering SGT was a no-brainer. “[We started a small-group program for] three simple reasons. One is increased revenue per member. Two is increased penetration rate of members involved in supervised, solution-based programs. And three, we retain more members who hold a higher level of accountability and are getting desired results.”

Tucker adds that her SGT program has attracted a previously untapped market to Bell Fitness. “A side benefit was that, after posting fliers around town on various billboards, we got interest from people who are not your normal gym-goers,” she recalls. “It brought in a community that we have not previously been able to attract. Many of them—even if they didn't continue long-term—bought 10-session punch cards or memberships. It seems that once they were comfortable in a small-group setting, they became more comfortable in the fitness center.”

Client Benefits

At Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, California, where I serve as director of group training, we structured the entire business around one-on-one training and SGT. Aside from the potential monetary benefits, the goal was to ensure that everyone walking through our doors received some sort of guidance. Our members appreciate that they always have access to a personal trainer who oversees the workout, provides motivation and ensures optimal form. SGT is a perfect solution for individuals who don’t need one-on-one attention. We call it “Personal Training Without the Price Tag.”

Another benefit is increased member retention. Our trainers focus on cuing quality form and executing effective workouts. They also work hard to facilitate interactions between members. Our members develop bonds with one another, which gives them even more reason to attend a session. There is an increased social component with SGT, which creates greater adherence, consistency and retention.

Is SGT Right for Your Facility?

On paper, SGT sounds like a viable option for any facility. But don’t let the potential benefits blind you to making sure it’s appropriate for your membership.

Here are the top factors to consider before moving forward with SGT:

Space. How much space you need depends on the number of participants you will allow per session. Bird Rock Fit devotes 1,200 feet of its space to small-group, which is just about maxed out at 10 people. From the client perspective, the space offers a more intimate, more private experience that makes participants feel they’re getting what they paid for. From a facility and trainer standpoint, it’s all about safety and injury prevention. You want to make sure participants are not competing with each other—or with other facility members—for space and equipment.

If you do not have access to a separate space, then you’ll want to try to schedule your SGT sessions during less busy times, or host them in low-traffic areas. You might also consider sectioning off a space in the facility just during SGT times. While everyone at your facility should be valued, keep in mind that SGT participants pay extra for specialized services.

Knowledgeable staff. SGT sessions can be difficult to oversee, because they require fitness professionals who can safely manage several moving parts at once. In some cases, you might be able to gear the sessions to people with similar goals and physical abilities, but this can quickly become a scheduling nightmare.

A small-group trainer should be able to offer a high-quality, effective workout to individuals of all levels and capacities. This can be quite challenging for someone who has worked predominantly in a one-on-one environment.

When looking to launch SGT at Bell Fitness, Tucker chose an instructor who had experience working with individuals and with groups. A hybrid trainer—someone who acts as both a personal trainer and a group-exercise instructor—is an optimal choice for SGT.

“We looked for trainers who were teaching the style of training or who worked with the population that program was attracting,” Thompson adds. “Each club needs a trainer who is passionate about the program and the structure we laid out. Structure, branding and consistency were the elements that were non-negotiable.”

At Wellbridge, the program structure and model are already laid out for the trainer; thus the need is for someone who is willing to follow a set plan. In the next part in this series, we will go into greater depth on the types of SGT programs available.

Equipment. While any great trainer can lead an appropriately challenging training session using bodyweight only, clients love to train with tools. And again, since these clients are paying extra, granting them access to specialized equipment enhances the value of the service.

Before launching your program, take stock of your training equipment to make sure you have enough to go around—for SGT clients and facility members. If equipment is limited, you’ll need to develop creative programming that supports this. Once the program takes off, you might use some of that extra revenue to purchase more equipment.

A Benefit to (Almost) Everyone

SGT is a great option for creating a boost in revenue and providing members with the extra benefit of working with a trainer.

“We have increased member penetration by over 3% in 1 year,” says Thompson. “We’ve grown total program revenue, and we are retaining our members by including them in results-based programs with a trainer.”

“The program has benefited Bell in many ways,” adds Tucker. “Obviously, we make money on it. In addition, it creates revenue for our trainers. It also allows participants to have more one-on-one attention than they might get in a group fitness class, at a [price point] they can afford.”

However, not everyone is a prime candidate for SGT. Potential participants need to understand that while they will receive more attention than in a group exercise class, for example, they will not have the trainer’s undivided focus. Members should be told up front that if they have special limitations, such as injuries or minimal experience, one-on-one training is likely a better solution for them. There is always the option of transitioning into SGT once both the trainer and the client feel that doing so is appropriate.

A Look Ahead

In this article you learned about many of the benefits of SGT—from increased revenue to greater exercise adherence. You also learned about a few primary issues to consider before moving forward with a program. Our next installment on this topic will delve deeper into the types of SGT program possibilities, as well as their benefits and downfalls.

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About the Author

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson IDEA Author/Presenter

Ryan Halvorson is the chief content officer for Fit Scribe Media (www.fitscribemedia.com); contributing editor for IDEA Health & Fitness Association; director of group training at Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, CA; a Master Instructor for Metabolic Effect and the creator of www.Fat2Fitin30.com, a lifestyle organization dedicated to finding ways to achieve improved fitness, nutrition and healthy living habits in 30 minutes or less. He is an internationally recognized speaker and has written for publications such as DETAILS and GQ.