Small-Group Secrets: Make More Money per Member

Experts share top tips to maximize small-group training profits.

By Megan Senger
Aug 6, 2014

Without adding any more clients to your roster, could you generate more money from your small-group training program than you do today? If you add small-group-savvy profit centers to your business plan, the answer is: Absolutely!

That’s according to many of the experts interviewed for the IDEA Trainer Success ongoing series on SGT, a service in which three to 10 clients work with one trainer in a shared session.

Perhaps you have already mastered the business basics previously discussed in this series, and your SGT program is up and running successfully. If so, it’s time for the next level: Once you have maxed out your client slots, staff time, space and equipment, there are still ways to generate “bonus money” that can boost your bottom line.

Here are eight ways that top trainers keep their businesses financially fit by generating income above and beyond regular small-group fees.

1. Pair Products With Training

Go beyond basic SGT session fees, and offer a “total solution” package that includes retail products.

Instead of quoting a vague hourly price for your services, present your client with a 3-month-long, complete plan for only $549 per month. So says Thomas Plummer, a Cape Cod, Massachusetts–based fitness business consultant and author of How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry (Healthy Learning 2014).

The package, Plummer notes, should include services (eight to 12 SGT sessions per month, plus nutrition guidance) and products (such as a workout journal and a T-shirt). He advises, “What you charge and what you add is up to you, but the key point is that you make more money selling clients a total solution to their problems rather than trying to just sell sessions.”

2. Take It Offsite

If your business is bursting at the seams, rent space at a complementary site for more SGT possibilities.

“We recently partnered with a racquet club to put an SGT facility in one of their unused rooms,” says Dale Huff, co-owner of NutriFormance and Athletic Republic St. Louis (both located in St. Louis). “We offer these classes to their members as well as our own, to expose the businesses to each other’s memberships. We then offer the racquet club members a discount to join our club. The result has been a huge boost in service purchases.”

3. Bundle Complementary Services

Combining your small-group offerings with the services of a complementary professional colleague can boost sales for both of you. For example, consider charging a monthly fee for a package that includes four SGT sessions and two appointments with a massage therapist or a registered dietitian.

Why the bundle? “Customers are more likely to purchase multiple services when they are conveniently combined,” counsels Rick Mayo, owner of North Point Fitness in Atlanta and founder of Alloy Personal Training Solutions, a consulting business that specializes in SGT systems.

4. Add Heart Rate Monitoring

Take advantage of fitness-monitoring systems such as MyZone® and Polar® Cardio GX, which use a chest strap to measure a trainee’s heart rate, calorie expenditure and exercise time. These metrics can be displayed in real time and be digitally recorded, making them ideal for small-group.

“We use MyZone in our club. This allows members to track their workout intensities and see them projected on a screen in the gym as they exercise,” notes Josh Proch, co-owner of Defined Fitness in Wexford, Pennsylvania.

Depending on the system used, exercise entrepreneurs may make ancillary revenue by selling the monitoring belts and/or charging a nominal fee for clients to use the service during small-group sessions.

5. Offer Fixed-Term Challenges

“Short-term, themed small-group programming—such as a 30-day ‘New Year, New You’ challenge—allows you to generate more revenue from SGT clients who are already paying you a basic small-group membership fee,” says fitness business consultant and marketing expert Vito La Fata, who also owns Fitness Evolution studio in Laguna Hills, California.

“These types of programs are a fantastic way to build your business and allow would-be SGT customers to test-drive your services,” agrees Mayo. The programs should be long enough to produce results, but not so long that they intimidate busy customers. Mayo believes 4- to 6-week terms are ideal.

For more ideas, see the sidebar “Niche Programs for SGT.”

6. Add a Nutrition Program

Create a special “nutrition membership” that small-group clients can opt into for an additional monthly fee, encourages La Fata. The service might include nutrition tips and recipes sent via email, and a private Facebook page for extra support. If you already sell nutrition products (for example, you have a juice or smoothie bar), think about including a certain number of these items per month in the membership, and price it accordingly.

Another approach is to team up with qualified registered dietitians and physicians who can use their advanced expertise to help your clients select and purchase nutritional supplements and/or vitamins. For example, a nutrition membership could include regular check-in appointments with an RD-qualified colleague for individual purchase recommendations.

7. Mix in Mind-Body

Personalized coaching in sessions of three to 10 clients per trainer is nothing new for many Pilates businesses. So, to compete with dedicated studios, Huff’s facility includes traditional gym exercises (such as suspension moves, group cycling, and ballet barre–based exercises) in its Pilates classes. Sessions are limited to six clients per trainer.

“We do this to compete with local Pilates studios that offer small-group classes,” explains Huff. “[With the gym formats included,] our program gives more value to the members and offers more conditioning options.”

Hiring a yoga teacher to guide your small-group sessions can also pay off. At Fukumoto Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba, “SGT clients happily pay $60 each to participate in a 4-week yoga program, on top of their regular monthly group service fees,” reports owner Johnny Fukumoto.

8. Rethink the Hour

A 1-hour small-group workout can quickly add up to a 90-minute-plus time commitment for clients, once driving, showering and other practicalities are considered. If your customers are busy professionals, parents or other people in a rush, less may be more.

While a few of the sources interviewed for this series still offer hourlong SGT sessions, many cap the workouts at 45 minutes. And at West U Fitness in Houston, SGT sessions are just 30 minutes long.

“From a real-world perspective, 30 minutes is easier to fit into your day,” advises owner Brent Gallagher. “The 30-minute training model allows clients to fulfill their life’s purpose instead of spending an hour-plus hanging around the gym.” From an owner’s perspective, trainers can work with more clients per hour, boosting the bottom line without adding to the payroll.

Looking Beyond the Basics

If your SGT business basics are running smoothly, you can still make more money by providing your existing clients high-quality “bonus” programs, products and services.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. “One of my favorite lessons I’ve learned in business over the years is that there is no such thing as failure in business, just testing,” says La Fata.

“If SGT aligns with your values, pursue it with excellence,” agrees Gallagher. “Take small daily steps to make incremental improvements over time, and these will bring about stunning results.”

SIDEBAR: Niche Programs for SGT

Many fixed-term SGT programs (such as a weight loss or ÔÇ£Get Ready for SummerÔÇØ challenge) are designed to appeal to a broad clientele. A different revenue option is to offer short-term SGT programs designed for a specific niche.

For example, offering sports clinics to small groups is a great way to generate bonus dollars, says gym owner Dale Huff. The clinics could include high-speed interval sprints, agility and plyometric drills, and functional strength exercises, all done in an SGT setting.

HuffÔÇÖs most successful niche programs have been endurance-oriented small-group clinics that lead to a real race or athletic occasion. ÔÇ£We choose an event to prepare our clients to compete in, and we design a program that is 6–10 weeks long to get them ready through small-group trainings. Occasionally we partner with a local bike shop to cross-market each otherÔÇÖs products and services,ÔÇØ he explains.

The obstacle course and mud run conditioning camps at Fukumoto Fitness in Winnipeg, Manitoba, follow similar principles. Participants train in small groups, once a week for 6 weeks, and they pay a fee in addition to their cost for regular group training. Owner Johnny Fukumoto notes that such clinics provide a valuable extra-revenue center in his business.

Differentiate your SGT niche programs with a higher price, more specialized equipment and more personalized, complex exercise prescriptions than are seen in typical ÔÇ£boot campÔÇØ or large-group programs with similar themes.

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Megan Senger

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