Subject: Nicki

Company: Reality

From Shakespeare to Shaping Up.
Many years ago Nicki Anderson, owner of Reality Fitness in Naperville,
Illinois, had planned to become a theater major. But a significant weight loss
helped her decide that her talents would best be used elsewhere. “I went to
work at a health club to help others drop bad habits and focus on a healthier
lifestyle.” Oddly enough, gym management found her personable approach and
ability to connect with members a
detriment to business. “I got fired because they said I spent too much time
with the members and not enough time selling (although I was the
highest-grossing salesperson there).”

Discouraged yet hopeful, Anderson realized that she had more to
offer than bringing in the dollars. “I swore that one day I would start my own
facility, spend more time with clients/members and not worry so much about
parting them from their money; if they believed in me and in the healthy living
process, I wouldn’t have to talk them into buying anything.”

Does It.
While Anderson was focused on opening an intimate
and relaxed studio, she was patient and decided to hone her skills as a
personal trainer before signing on any dotted lines. “I spent 1 year with five
prototypes and didn’t charge them a fee,” she says. “It was the best thing I
ever did; I learned so much. I learned what kind of client I could work with. I
learned about paperwork, equipment . . . everything.” Once she discovered her
niche and began to feel confident in her abilities, Anderson began working with
clients in their homes—a move that would eventually become crucial to setting
the theme for her studio.

As her success increased, Anderson was surprised to find that
working as a personal trainer came easily for her. “The people part and the
marketing part were very natural for me,” she enthuses. “I was surpised that
clients actually saw my passion and were willing to pay me to help them with
something that was natural for me.” Most important, she developed an innate
sense of whether prospective clients are ready to commit to a healthy
lifestyle. “If I don’t think people are ready, I don’t take their money.” Instead,
Anderson refers them to other professionals, such as registered dietitians or
therapists, to help them get started on the right foot. “They are disappointed
at first, but later call or write to thank me for pointing them in the right
direction and caring enough to send them where they truly need to be.”

Power of Privacy.
In 1997, when Anderson felt ready to apply
past experience and newfound knowledge toward creating a successful business,
she opened Reality Fitness. As a formerly obese teen­ager, she remembers
feeling intimidated upon entering a large club and she didn’t want her clients
to experience similar anxieties. “Being in the gym was mortifying,” she recalls.
“I felt like the only fat person there. It seemed that everyone looked right
through me because I didn’t fit in. Later, when I trained clients in their
homes, I noticed how much more they were willing to try challenging exercises.
The privacy made them comfortable, and conversation was vibrant.” To replicate
such comfort levels, she included in her studio several completely separate 15′
x 15′ rooms and equipped them with a Cybex multiplane unit and a variety of
smaller tools, such as resistance tubing and balance training devices. Each
room houses one trainer and one client at a time (partner and small-group
options are also available), providing them a chance to focus on exercise as
opposed to what others may be thinking of them.

Anderson finds her methods to be paramount to the success of her
business, yet she fears that current industry standards are flawed and are
driving away potential members. “Often, we turn away the exact people we want
to attract,” she says. “Health clubs can be intimidating, and that’s why I’ve
created an environment that is [welcoming] to all levels of fitness.”

SIDEBAR: Calling All Trainers

Do you own a business that breaks the
mold? If so, e-mail [email protected] and let us know why you think your
personal training business is unique.

Ryan Halvorson
is the associate editor for IDEA and a certified personal trainer.