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The Value of Training New Fitness Managers

Help those who are new to management bridge the gap from adequate to outstanding.

In today’s health club environment, most organizations recognize their best personal trainers and group instructors by promoting them to be managers of their departments. However, in many instances, this move sets up these outstanding employees for failure.

That’s because no matter how good these rising stars are at training or instructing clients, they are usually not adequately trained and prepared for their new management roles and duties. Often, the job descriptions that club owners use to fill management positions are not consistent with the strategic and tactical operational needs of our industry.

How Lack of Training Affects Member Retention

Not training new managers can have a major effect on a club’s ability to maintain old members and recruit new clients. According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), there were 44.1 million club members in the United States as of January 2008. If you factor in a 26.7% attrition rate (the current industry average, according to IHRSA) and apply that figure to the 44.1 million current member base, the industry lost approximately 11.8 million patrons in 2007. Using a median per-member revenue of $741.80 per year (IHRSA’s most recent figure at press time) against these 11.8 million lost members, that equates to approximately $87.5 million in lost revenue—much of it due to customer dissatisfaction and club employee disconnection issues!

The Skill Sets Needed to Be a Successful Manager

So how do you as an owner and/or a senior club executive better prepare new managers to avoid or minimize customer service breakdowns?

At the very least, every manager must have certain inherent characteristics in order to succeed. These “DNA traits” are the very things that separate average managers from those who are exemplary and achieve the greatest success.

Here is a list of 22 DNA traits shared by the best managers:

 1. has an entrepreneurial mindset

 2. can sell fee-based services

 3. shares a vision

 4. focuses on customers

 5. supports team/group-building dynamics

 6. solves problems and makes educated decisions

 7. leads subordinates

 8. leads club members

 9. leads fee-based services for paying members

10. has professional coaching skills

11. works well with peers and senior executives

12. successfully manages time, resources and projects

13. takes initiative beyond the job description

14. exhibits professional ethics

15. makes and manages necessary changes

16. is able to deal with individuals

17. shares information

18. is familiar with business processes

19. displays technical skills

20. has emotional intelligence

21. shows compassion/empathy

22. leads by example

How to Determine Who Needs Training

Once you have considered the traits that mark a master manager, you need to determine the areas of training that each employee will need from you to come up to par. Ask your new managers to complete the following score card.

  • Do you have a current job description as a manager? m YES m NO
  • Do you have structure in place that can guarantee that your trainers can successfully build their businesses? 

m YES m NO

  • As a manager, did you actively participate in developing your income and expense budgets this year?  

m YES m NO

  • Were you formally trained as a manager before you accepted your new management position?  

m YES m NO

  • Since taking on your management job, have you received any formal training that would increase your skill sets?

m YES m NO

  • Do you have a staff training budget that you can use to enhance your trainers’ skill sets? m YES m NO
  • Have you been formally trained to simultaneously manage multiple businesses within your department? 

m YES m NO

  • Is your department involved in supporting your club’s membership retention program? 

m YES m NO

  • Is there a synergistic relationship between your personal trainers and your club’s group exercise program? 

m YES m NO

  • Is your department held accountable for the overall financial performance of the club? 

m YES m NO

Any new manager who answers no to 5 or more of these questions is a candidate for more training.

How to Bridge the Training Gap

Now that you know which of your new managers need more training, what is the best way to accomplish this? Here are four options to consider:

  • formal college business programs
  • informal and unstructured management development programs
  • professional-development mastermind groups
  • industry management development programs

Each one of these training options is suitable for a specific type of manager and offers a specific objective and a specific outcome.

Formal College Business Programs

A postgraduate degree or an MBA program is best suited for new managers who appreciate formal structure, direction and discipline. This type of program is best suited for employees seasoned in the machinations of the fitness industry, such as general managers or group fitness managers.

Informal and Unstructured Management Development Programs

These training programs are best suited for new managers who need some direction but not a lot of “handholding.” Such candidates tend to be ambitious and eager to learn once they’ve identified the areas of training they need to be successful. One example of an informal management development program would be the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program.

Professional-Development Mastermind Groups

This type of training is typically offered by supportive advisers or “masterminds” who offer career advice and direction to colleagues new to management positions. These career advisers have unique fitness industry experience and want to give back to the next generation of managers. The training is a form of networking and provides a sounding board for fledgling managers. Mastermind groups are suitable only for employees who enjoy being part of a team.

Industry Management Development Programs

In our industry this option is still in its infancy, but it is sorely needed. Programs of this kind are usually available only at fitness conferences and international leadership events, which are not an option for many cash-strapped clubs. One stellar example of this type of training is the Northwest Personal Training management program developed by Sherri and Alex McMillan, which is tailored for new personal training department managers. Another example is currently being developed as part of a joint venture between PTontheNET in the United States and FitPro in the United Kingdom; it is designed to train employees to manage all departments within a fitness facility.

How Management Training Benefits Business

A little training goes a long way toward improving your health club’s bottom line. Here are just some of the reasons why management training will benefit your facility:

  • more revenue per member
  • more nonmembership dues revenue
  • more membership referrals from satisfied members
  • higher utilization rate of group exercise studios
  • reinforced connection between club and members
  • higher membership retention rate
  • improved customer satisfaction

International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. 2007. The IHRSA Profiles of Success 2007: The Annual Industry Survey of the Health and Fitness Club Industry.

McCarthy, J. 2007. IHRSA’s 2007 Guide to Membership Retention: Industry Lessons on What and What Not to Do. IHRSA.

Bob Esquerre, MA

Bob Esquerre, MA, is a world-renowned fitness business planner, and a leading educator, personal trainer and indoor cycling instructor. He specializes in training managers and personal trainers and has enjoyed great success as a ÔÇ£turn-aroundÔÇØ business expert. Bob is an active participant in the national and international lecture circuits, and has been recognized by IHRSA as a subject-matter expert on personal training. Certifications: ACE, NASM and NSCA Education provider for: ACE, NASM and NSCA

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