Just the Facts

by Shannon Fable on Sep 18, 2008

If you want your manager to give you more money for equipment and programs, do your research first.

Let’s face it: not many of us went to college with the primary intention of becoming a group fitness manager (GFM). In fact, not many of us even knew the job existed until we donned our cute spandex outfits and put on a microphone. It’s no wonder that most of us have committed to the post with very little business and accounting knowledge, unable to speak the language of upper management to get what we want. As you may have discovered, this piece of the puzzle is very important.

We will be dedicating space to budgeting ideas over the next five issues of IDEA Fitness Manager. Our first stop: exploring the importance of group exercise in the grand scheme of a fitness facility. Collect the facts before you beg your general manager (GM) for new products or programs. This is where we begin.

Show Me the Money

Have you ever felt like a whiny 6-year-old, standing in the corner with your head thrown back, stomping your feet, trying to secure funds for the latest and greatest product? The problem is, that is exactly what most GMs think when they see the GFM heading their way. They also see a person who is very passionate about her corner of the club, but not armed with the business facts. Quite often we state our case based on what we’ve seen at a trade show or at another club that we’ve visited, and we lack the tools to present our argument in a way that the person controlling the money needs to hear it. Our first step is to bridge this gap. Gain the respect of your GM by speaking his language. The most crucial lesson is understanding the money.

A wise GM once explained to me (as I sat dumbfounded) that, as a GFM, my main responsibility was to understand that group exercise has a direct line to dues. Simply put—in order to gain his respect, I had to understand that it’s not about having the newest equipment, cutting-edge programming or high class numbers. I had to view the group exercise department as a crucial vehicle for increasing club membership, retaining current members and building a community within the facility. If you can remember this one key piece of information (I have it in big, bold print in my office) and make programming decisions based on this idea, you will be one gigantic step closer to speaking your GM’s language, thus getting what you want!

Where do you begin making programming or product purchasing decisions? We are pulled in so many different directions: what the members want, what the instructors want and what you want. Many times, our decisions end up based on passion versus proof. It is important to deliver facts, not fiction, to your GM. You must do the research.

Five main areas of investigation will enhance your decision making and bolster your argument:

1. Fitness trend reports

2. Tradeshows and conferences

3. Industry websites

4. Trade publications

5. Word of mouth

Fitness Trend Reports

Fitness trend reports offer the facts you need to get your GM’s ear. These reports, commissioned by fitness industry insiders, measure the pulse of fitness professionals. Group instructors, personal trainers and facility owners and managers are polled to distinguish between fads and trends. The responses indicate which products or programs are growing or declining, weak or strong, staples versus luxuries. Trend reports also shine a light on potential risks and possible gains. Organizations (including IDEA and some certification organizations) publish their findings during the second quarter of the year. Be on the lookout; print the reports as soon as they’re available, and cross-reference them. One of the best ways to convince your GM that you need a particular program or product is to cite its appearance in the top 10 (or 20) on each of these lists. Always archive the reports. If the GM says no this year, ask again next year. If a program or product has remained near the top of these lists for consecutive years, the facts become more compelling.

Trade Shows & Conferences

Ideally you should attend at least one conference per year for personal growth, but an equally important reason for attending is to research possible opportunities for your club. To ensure your conference costs are covered, create a proposal detailing how your attendance will benefit your program. Explain how the sessions you attend will provide research for new programming, education that you will bring back to staff, or fresh management techniques. Scout vendors who will be exhibiting, and give your GM an idea of those you will be visiting, based on your facility’s equipment or programming needs (vendors typically provide discounts at shows). Your ability to connect your conference experience with the growth of membership will show your attention to the bottom line.

Many conferences exist throughout North America (and across the world!). Sign up to receive conference registration information, and begin a calendar. Make note of each conference’s focus (instructors, trainers, managers, owners, etc.). Decide which venue will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Can you learn about new programming ideas, enhance the staples on your schedule and check out the new bikes you’ve been hearing about—all at the same event? Also, look at location. Regional conferences might appear monetarily attractive; carefully weigh your decision after seeing the program’s brochure. Consider the sessions, presenters and exhibitors. One last consideration: Will the conference provide an opportunity to network? It’s always valuable to connect with fellow directors and have a chance to discuss your woes (and successes).

Websites & Trade Publications

If you can attend only one conference a year, some noteworthy program or product is bound to launch before or after the event. One way to keep on top of the ever-changing world of fitness is through industry websites and trade publications. Lots of fitness websites exist, and there are quite a few fitness magazines to read; make smart choices about what to pay attention to and what to glance over. First, check: Is it an industry website or a company website? Always start with industry websites for preliminary apolitical research. Use company websites for pricing, training and implementation information once you’ve begun your decision-making process. Second, learn to separate research from opinion. Base your initial research on statistics and science, and find support for these in testimonials and industry leaders’ opinions. Last, attempt to discern whether items you are reading are articles or advertorials. Many publications allow sponsors or advertisers space to write articles promoting products, programs or ideas. Both types of articles are good for gathering ideas; but it’s important to know the source, so you can separate fact from fiction.

Word of Mouth

When weighing your options on new programs and products, it is extremely important to enlist the help of others.

Members. Yes, it’s important to find out what members want, but you must do so strategically. Create meaningful surveys. Do your research first and get your head around what you need. Then publish surveys and make them accessible to members who currently participate in group exercise and also to those who don’t. Propose questions in a way that will help you determine whether your idea will fly (see the sidebar “Surveying Members”). Compile and summarize the findings, as they will support your case to upper management.

Instructors. Instructors have their own ideas. Tap into this valuable resource. Appoint lead instructors to be your eyes and ears with members and other instructors. What have they seen at conferences, at other clubs and on television? Devise a method for gathering this information, and act on the suggestions you receive.

Upper Management. The best way to get your way is to seek input from the GM, membership and personal training directors. What do they think is needed to bolster membership? What would they get behind and help promote? It’s especially important to query your GM. What demographic is missing from your membership, and how can you help? It’s hard for a GM to say no to an idea if she is already suggesting it.

Fellow GFMs. Build a database of GFMs across the country, stay in touch and share success stories. What programs have they implemented in the last 12 months? What did they cost? How difficult was it to launch them? What was the outcome? Professionals in the trenches provide the keenest insights.

Industry Professionals. Most established program and product companies retain industry professionals to create and deliver ideas to instructors and trainers. If a presenter says she is available to correspond, drop her a line and find out a little more about her involvement. Has she actually implemented the program? How is it growing, and where is it headed?

Now that you have your marching orders for researching and preplanning your programming and product needs, get to work! The next installment will focus on how to make your C.A.S.E. l

Surveying Members

Once you have an idea of a program or product you’d like to introduce (and for which you’ll need buy-in from management), survey members to see what their level of interest is. Construct closed-ended questions to help you develop statistics and support your case. Be specific with your query. Keep the survey short—six questions or fewer— and get responses from the entire membership (not just group exercise participants). For example:

  • If we added an athletic conditioning class that focused on cardio, strength and core, would you be interested in attending? Yes | No
  • Which of the following time slots would work best for you to attend the athletic conditioning class? 6:00 am | 9:00 am | 12:00 noon | 6:00 pm
  • If you would not be interested in the athletic conditioning class, do you know other members who would be interested? Yes | No
  • Do you know any nonmembers who would be interested in an athletic conditioning class? Yes | No
  • Have you used the BOSU™ Balance Trainer before? Yes | No
  • Are you interested in using the BOSU™ Balance Trainer in group exercise classes? Yes | No

Want more from Shannon Fable?

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 20, Issue 5

Find the Perfect Job

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© 2008 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Shannon Fable

Shannon Fable IDEA Author/Presenter

Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the Executive Vice President of Learning & Product Development for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.