Most jobs have performance benchmarks.

You’re wearing many hats, to be sure, but have you kept pace with the program trends that mean the most to your facility’s bottom line? Specifically, how well have you developed your personal fitness trainer (PFT) staff and programming?

Fitness managers often find that their performance is measured by profitability benchmarks, and personal training seems to be the new golden ticket in that arena. Based on data from the 2002 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey and the 2002 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey, tying performance to personal training profitability is a prudent business move for fitness facility owners (see “The Revenue Opportunity in Personal Training,” page 2). Personal training is clearly a top
moneymaker and a strong client retention tool.

If your facility sees the potential but hasn’t yet pumped up
personal training programs, it’s time to retool and get competitive. Make it a priority to learn or analyze how much your PFT department can mean to your facility’s financial success. You’ll be better prepared to rise
to the challenge of successfully developing and marketing these programs, and the results of your well-executed efforts will reflect favorably on your profile as a manager.

First, Look at the Basics

Trainers need help from the top to generate business. Managers interested in capitalizing on the potential of personal training for revenue and member retention must be eager to provide basic tools for the PFT staff to help drive their success.

Like McDonald’s, Pepsi, Nike and other successful brands, you must
create an identity consistent with the image and message you want to convey to your target customer. It’s essential
to develop an image for your personal training program that is distinct from, yet consistent with, the message of your club. This can be an especially powerful and relatively inexpensive way for small independent gyms to boost credibility.

As Jay Levinson, author of The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook, puts it, “In today’s society, where you often have only a few seconds to capture a customer’s attention, a logo can make the crucial difference.” Once defined, this image or “brand” should tie
together all your marketing efforts, including basic collateral materials such
as business cards, biographical displays and uniforms, and more sophisticated marketing devices such as seasonal seminar series and hands-on workshops.

PFT Business Tools

1. Business Cards. Any trainer who steps onto the gym floor without cards risks appearing unprofessional to the prospective client. In addition to using the logo in a creative but uncluttered fashion, cards should feature all essential contact information such as name, phone number(s), address, e-mail and Web site address.

David Umbreit, president of Inkwell Printing in Columbus, Ohio, sums it up well: “The function of a business card is to identify your organization to a prospective client as clearly and concisely as possible. It should utilize your logo in a unique way, but not at the expense of readability. Business cards are not meant to be a brochure. The prospective client should have already been given the pertinent information before the card is received.”

2. Biographical Displays. Many facilities post their trainers’ pictures and biographies on bulletin boards. These displays often consist of poorly lighted Polaroids and typed bios taped or pasted to construction paper that has been stapled to the bulletin board. While this is absolutely the right idea, the execution is not ideal. Consider
displaying attractive frames containing professionally designed photo and bio layouts that tastefully feature the facility logo.

At Westerville Athletic Club, the facility at which I manage personal training, we invested $750 for 15 frames. Photos and bios can easily be slipped
in Although it’s been 5 years since we installed these displays, they still look great and have an enormous impact on prospective members taking club tours. This idea has proven to be an elegant, affordable marketing tool that gives our program instant credibility.

3. Uniforms. Staff uniforms are essential because members can immediately identify trainers when they need help or have a question. “We purposefully chose red uniforms to identify our trainers,” says Michael Youssouf, manager of trainer education at the Sports Center at Chelsea Piers in New York. “All of our members and staff can easily recognize our trainers even during the busiest time of the day.” ‰

Uniforms convey a sense of team and should, if correctly chosen, elicit
a sense of pride among your PFT staff. That being said, uniforms always create a little controversy; not every trainer likes the uniform chosen by management. At our facility we have recently discovered a way to make both the facility and trainer happy while actually improving our image.

Trainer uniforms are distinct from the general staff’s in a couple of ways. First, we allow PFTs to choose the style of shorts or pants that fit them the best. The pants must be solid black and not be tight fitting. We have changed from the traditional collared “golf shirt,” which the female trainers found especially unflattering, to Under Armour LooseGear with our logo screened on the sleeve.

How does this relate to promoting our training program? Not only are the trainers differentiated from our staff at large, their uniforms also subtly and professionally emphasize our logo, colors and brand image. Our trainers love the more athletic look and our clients respond to it.

4 Tips for
Integrating Members

Now that you’ve handled some marketing basics, it’s time to really boost your program’s exposure through an effective membership integration system and a partnership with your club’s membership sales department.

The ability to successfully integrate each new member into your facility is critical to membership retention. The best way to do this is to introduce members to your personal training program through as many channels as possible. At Westerville Athletic Club, we utilize an easy four-step integration program with our new members.

1. Offer Personal Training Purchase Option at the Point of Membership Sale. One challenge that all fitness managers face is finding good personal trainers who also excel at selling training packages. In my experience, these trainers are rare.

We recently shifted some of the sales burden off our trainers by implementing a program in which our membership sales team presents new members the option of purchasing personal training at the point of membership sale. Presently our sales team is commissioned on selling training packages.

The sales team identifies the best PFT for each new client and registers her for a fitness evaluation with that trainer. If the assigned trainer thinks another colleague would be a better fit, the member is referred to the appropriate trainer. Our trainers love it when they get a client handed to them on a
“silver platter.”

2. Register Clients in a New-Member Orientation. A regularly scheduled
new-member orientation is a fantastic method for increasing membership
retention and personal training sales.

First, all newcomers are encouraged to register for our new-member orientation, held once or twice a month. During the orientation, which is catered by our club’s restaurant, I touch briefly on the history and organization of Westerville Athletic Club. We discuss a few mundane club policies and procedures, along with nonfitness programming, such as racquetball and swimming lessons. Then the fun begins: I get to sell our personal training program!

I describe in detail how our fitness evaluation system, seminar series and personal training program work. I ask the new members who have already completed their evaluation or training sessions to share their experiences. By the end of the orientation, I have almost every participant registered for an evaluation and a seminar. Invariably at least a couple of members commit to ongoing personal training on the spot. Our new-member orientation, which is attended by as many as 35 new members each month, has an extraordinary return on investment.

3. Register New Members for a
Free Fitness Evaluation.
Regardless
of whether the new member purchased personal training the day he joined the club, he is registered for a complimentary fitness evaluation.

The benefits are two-fold. First, the member receives a free fitness evaluation and gets to know one of our PFTs. Getting involved in the club immediately after joining makes him more likely to retain his membership at year’s end. Second, the trainer has an opportunity to evaluate a potential client and sell herself.

Our Trainer on Duty (TOD) system gives that trainer up to 10 hours per week to actively build a client base
by performing fitness evaluations and equipment orientations. Although trainers earn less during a TOD shift, the opportunity to build clientele is
attractive. Don Lynch, senior trainer
at Westerville Athletic Club, explains, “I’m always Trainer on Duty Tuesday from 9:00 am to noon. Even though
I am happy with my client base, there are always more clients on deck if space opens on my schedule.”

4. Register Each New Member in
at Least One Seminar or Workshop.
The fourth step of our plan is to
encourage all new members to attend one of our regularly scheduled lectures or hands-on workshops that are part
of our seasonal seminar series. Inviting outside health and medical professionals to deliver free seminars at our club adds instant credibility to our program while allowing the facilitators
to share their expertise. We have had success with physical therapists, nutritionists, a podiatrist, a footwear specialist and others.

We also feature regularly scheduled lectures and hands-on workshops conducted by our trainers. Workshops, such as “LIFT” (Ladies in Free-Weight Training) and “Beyond the Crunch,” educate participants while demonstrating our trainers’ style and personality. The exposure gained through these opportunities has yielded happy members and new clientele.

Leverage Your Brand

Personal training should be your facility’s number one non-membership-dues revenue source and the key to your retention program. Your fitness department should be run like a “mini business” within your club.

Creating a unique and powerful identity and leveraging it effectively in all marketing and sales efforts should enable your personal training program to flourish. Even if they don’t buy personal training packages, your members are valuable referral sources. Make every connection count.