Fitness Lemons to Lemonade


This is  from a lengthy email I recently received from a very experienced and successful club owner.  I consulted this owner from time to time over the past 15 years. 


If you own a studio or club, I hope you find this as interesting as I find it gratifying.  —  Art


Dear Art,


In the last six months, I’ve gone full circle from being unbelievably depressed to incredibly motivated  — all because of an enlightening discovery.


I hope you will share my experience with other club owners through your blog because I know that many of them are are about to go through the exact same thing – and probably don’t know it.


It’s quite embarrassing so while I hope you’ll relay my message, I also request that you honor my confidentiality by withholding my name and the name of my club and the staff members involved as well as the other organizations I mention.


As you know, I’ve successfully owned and operated our co-ed 80,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose club since 1989.  We have a very active membership and unlike many “middle-tier” clubs ($39-79 mth) that have been affected by all the low price models, we seemed to have “dodged the bullet.” 


Our revenues have actually increased over the past five years. 


Besides luck, I think our professional staff,  non-stop promotions and multiple profit centers (some of them thanks to you) are the factors for success.


So, to the point.  I recently purchased from you the ONBOARD 101 with our logo and had our webmaster create lots of links to it from our website.


The management team and I were excited to present this as part of our Healthy Lifestyles Program (weight-loss, nutrition, training, groups) that we already operate as a separate program in our club.  It is already a successful and profitable program.


I was particularly excited to present the ONBOARD 101 WEBSITE to our training staff and decided to create a full-blown presentation with big screen projection to our Personal Trainers (27 full-time and part-time trainers).  I really wanted to create a sense of excitement about this new addition to our value-added services. 


I actually reserved a small conference room at the local Holiday Inn to get away from the club and all the distractions.  It would be a morning of total focus on the presentation followed by a brainstorming session on how we might promote and implement the site among our members, prospects and inactive members along with a host of other ideas.


Well, it worked.   Upper management and training staff were “on fire” with excitement.   The brainstorming session was incredible with ideas I never would have thought of. 


I must say that I got so caught up in the excitement that I pulled our “Chief Fitness Officer” (CFO) and Sales and Marketing Director aside and made it their #1 priority to get the staff up to speed on the site.  How to operate it.  How to sell it.  How to incorporate it into our training packages.


We agreed the fastest way to do this would be through mandatory meetings in our own conference room with all of the trainers at once.  We planned on four meetings over two weeks.


Here, it’s important to note our hiring policy.  We ONLY hire certified personal trainers from the most prestigious certification organizations including _______, _______, and _________.  And, our CFO earned her Bachelor’s Degree in exercise physiology from __________  and has been with us for 11 years.


We compensate our training staff well above the industry standard and offer incentives to earn even more through various recognition and achievement programs (not sales) including client successes, client validation notes, public service and non-profit charity participation, continued education and certifications, etc. 


We also compensate for BIG IDEAS that help our club continue to grow or service our members.  We take exceptional care of our staff.  Another big reason for our success and continued growth.


Here is where the heartbreak begins.


Before our very first meeting, I just wanted to make sure we are all on the “same page” with this type of information and how it is presented.  I had a hunch that there might be some weaknesses or holes in our “global knowledge” regarding these topics.  So, I downloaded and printed copies of the first 3 Chapter Quizzes from your QUIZ KIT PAGE on your website just to see where we were at. 


I know, Art, that you already see where this is headed.  But, for the sake of other owners, let me describe what happened next.


At the outset of our very first meeting with the training staff, we handed out the 3 quizzes and allowed 10 minutes for everyone to complete them.  There was immediate tension in the air followed by some nervous laughter, giggles and a few sighs.  


I had originally intended to review the responses with our CFO after the meeting.  But, the atmosphere in the room was so weird, that I started to look at them right away.


I was horrified!


While we’ve never experienced anything but great feedback about our personal training staff, here it was staring me in the face.  Despite the certifications and degrees, they didn’t know nearly as much as I thought they did. 


It was particularly evident in Chapter 2 Digestion Quiz where some of our top trainers were only correct half of the time.  A 50%.  And the results weren’t much better for the Chapter 3 Quiz, either.


Admittedly, I did not handle this revelation very well and dismissed the meeting right away.  But, in my own defense, I needed to process what I had just discovered.  My entire training staff had some huge holes in their knowledge base.  They knew exercise and movement. 


They knew very little about nutrition and its processes.  Wow!  What a shock.  I had always assumed they knew this stuff.


My next action was to contact a fellow club owner in another state who has almost the exact same set-up as our club.  I sent him copies of the 3 quizzes and asked him if he wouldn’t mind giving the quizzes to his personal training staff under the same settings that I did it.  Sort of unannounced and in a controlled room where no one could cheat or look up answers on their mobile devices, etc.


He called me back a week later.  “Holy crap!” were the first words out of his mouth.  He got similar results.


I don’t know if it’s because the certification organizations or the industry as a whole is neglecting the subject of nutrition and its processes within the human body or if its a case of club owners being naive about it.  But, it doesn’t really matter.  What mattered to me was getting our staff up to speed.


So, after discussing with my CFO, management team and others, we decided to turn lemons into lemonade.  This is where you’ll be glad to hear what we’ve done with ONBOARD 101.


I decided to reinstate our mandatory meetings.  The new agenda was to simply dive in as a group, pretend we were a client going through the ONBOARD 101 Website for the very first time.   As a group, including myself, the training staff and management team, we all went through the User Experience one session per week.


Without going into all the details, I can tell you this is the best thing we’ve done in a long time.  Besides bringing us altogether once a week, the staff was enthused and excited about learning.   


Most of them went way beyond the information in ONBOARD 101.


 and, on their own, dug deep into various resources to learn more about nutrition, physiology and other related topics.   Most importantly, ONBOARD 101 has kept us on track within a structured framework.


We’ve also made ONBOARD 101 a part of our hiring process and that has also proven beneficial.

So, my advice to any club owner who is suspect of their training staff and their level of  knowledge is to do what we did.  Download the quizzes and hand them out in a controlled environment.  The first 3 quizzes will tell you everything you need to know.

Then, if you discover the same thing we did, look into ONBOARD 101.  I considerate it one of the best returns on investment I’ve ever made as it has helped us both internally with staff and externally with members.


P.S.  I forgot to mention the lemonade part.  As a result of this discovery, problem, solution over the last 6 months, we are now selling more personal training, value-added memberships and, of course, Healthy Lifestyles Programs (HLP) that all incorporate ONBOARD 101 as part of those packages, than ever before.  So far, in just two months, our year-to-year comparison with just the HLP shows a jump over 32%.


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