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

From pricing strategies to marketing—learn everything you need to know to launch and maintain a profitable program.

By Ryan Halvorson
Aug 28, 2014

Offering small-group training in a fitness facility is an attractive idea. Managers who have done it successfully report increased hourly income, greater client loyalty, enhanced trainer satisfaction and more. But without the systems to support it, an idea remains an idea.

In previous issues of IDEA Fitness Manager, we’ve discussed how to determine whether SGT is right for your facility and we’ve looked at popular program ideas, trainer development and ways to perfect the client experience. In the final article in the series, you’ll learn about the elements you need to launch and grow your SGT program.

Dollars and Sense

In How to Launch a Successful Small-Group Training Program, Part Three, featured in the May 2014 issue, we examined a variety of program options, from limited-term—those with a predetermined start and finish—to continuous/nonstop. Each option offers specific benefits for a facility and its clients. But what should you charge for these types of programs?

Short-Term Programs

Griffin Hughes Douglas, owner of Griffin Hughes Wellness in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, offers a 4-week program that includes both fitness education and nutrition education, as well as three half-hour workouts per week. Capping class size at 10 participants, she charges newcomers $400. “When I start a new program, I invite previous graduates to come back and work out as often as they like,” says Douglas.

Returnees participate only in the workouts—which cost about $15–$20 each—and everyone pays in advance.

“I don’t give them a refund if they miss a class; they can make it up at a later date,” she explains.

Ongoing Programs

At Wellbridge, which has 19 locations across the United States, SGT participants pay $20–$50 per hour. The rate varies by location.

“We give our lowest rate to those who commit to a 3-month program,” explains Denver-based Amy Boone Thompson, the company’s national director of personal training. “Drop-ins are $10 more per class, if space is available. In other words, for people who participate in the entire 3-month program, the rate per class is $25. If you drop in, you pay $35 [for the] class.”

SGT is a continuous program at Wellbridge, with no fixed beginning or endpoint.

“We charge $30 per person per class,” says Adam Wright, CSCS, referring to SGT at several Wellbridge facilities in Southern California. “The price evolved over time from a sliding scale to a set rate for dollars per minute.”

Market Research

Thompson suggests that before determining your cost per session or per member, you do some market research in your area. “See what similar [facilities] are charging, and then price yourself competitively.”

Payment Systems

Each facility offers members a variety of payment options. At Bird Rock Fit in La Jolla, California, where I run the SGT program, we allow participants to pay for memberships on a month-to-month basis or by autodebit. Since we’re located in an area that’s popular among tourists, we offer drop-ins and 10-session punch cards for temporary clients.

Wellbridge clients pay up front at the beginning of the month; the rate is based on a predetermined number of sessions the client plans to attend each week. Clients may be eligible for a reduced rate, depending on how many sessions per month they select.

“For example, if clients commit to the 3-month program for 3 sessions per week, they get the lowest rate of $20 per class and will pay $240 per month on the first of each month,” Thompson explains.

“Charging in advance for the program ensures your participants are committed and that they get desired results,” she adds.

Wright is flexible in how he charges his clients. “Clients pay for a month of sessions up front, with their choice of a credit card, cash or check,” he explains. “Most pay on a recurring credit card or debit card charge. We always leave it up to them to decide.”

He prefers the automatic monthly charge option: He doesn’t constantly have to ask clients for money, and it makes for easy bookkeeping.

At Bird Rock Fit, we’ve found that automatic monthly charges make it easier to plan and budget, since we can count on a base income each month.

Program Presentation

When Douglas was getting ready to launch her first 4-week program, she opted for an education-based, grass-roots approach.

“I had been doing monthly nutrition lectures at a local club,” she recalls. “The lectures were included in the gym membership, so it was a no-pressure thing [for members]. I’d pick a hot topic and have an open forum.”

Once Douglas had developed trust among lecture participants, she knew it was time to offer information on her SGT program. “One of the lectures was based on my program, and I invited people to learn about it,” she says.

To widen her reach, she also promoted the program through Facebook and her email list.

Wright suggests offering facility members and clients a try-it-before-you-buy-it SGT sample. Here are his suggestions for building program buzz:

  • Feature SGT for a month with no extra fee to current group or one-on-one clients.
  • Enroll current group or one-on-one clients who have similar goals, to show them the effectiveness of the model on a trial or temporary basis.
  • Target small social groups in the area, such as PTAs, church groups, athletic teams and charity board members. These target groups already have built-in accountability and familiarity. You, the fitness professional, simply pitch and/or present the program to them.

Bird Rock Fit offers a “2-Week Test Flight,” in which potential customers receive unlimited access to all SGT sessions for 2 weeks. The cost for the trial is $49, and there is no commitment to continue with the program if it’s not the right fit. As an incentive to join, we put that $49 toward the purchase of a new 1-month membership.

Nurture and Prosper

Once your program is up and running, there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure that it doesn’t fizzle. Wright believes that the surest way to secure future success is to focus on building a strong community.

“We encourage the SGT participants to exchange phone numbers and email addresses, become Facebook friends and connect on other social media outlets,” he explains. “We also encourage participation in our community events, such as open boot camps, fundraisers, new classes or hikes. We try to [encourage camaraderie] outside the sessions, so people’s bond is tight with each other and not simply within our facility.”

In addition to offering safe, effective and enjoyable workouts, at Bird Rock Fit we have always worked to facilitate relationship building. To do this, our performance specialists are encouraged to initiate conversations among group members before and after sessions. We also include partner drills or tasks during the workouts, and we ensure that participants pair up with someone they’re not familiar with. As a result, I’ve had the pleasure of watching friendships bloom among our membership.

As Wright asserts, the more bonds that are developed within the facility, the greater the long-term success of the program. “In my opinion, fitness has always been about community,” he insists. “Never stop asking yourself if there are ways to make it better.”

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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