In good times, personal training is considered by many as a luxury. In more difficult economic times it is tough enough to get members to join a club let alone shell out $80 to $150 an hour for personal trainer.
But, as membership numbers are squeezed while costs rise, ancillary revenues are even more important for independent health club owners.
So, the question is: where are these revenues to come from?
For many the answer has been — while for others it will be — from small group training.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2013 report, “due to the economic times both trainer and client have needed to come up with different options for personalized training on a budget. This allows groups to have a discounted rate, while still giving the trainer a full schedule of clients.”
While small group training benefits the trainer and the client, there are also significant benefits to the independent club owner as well.
“More customers will choose small group training than one-to-one training simply because of lesser cost, but there is also the aspect of working out with others in a small group, which can help retention,” says Michael Scott Scudder, Founder and CEO at the Fitness Business Council. “According to my surveys, small group training revenues grew over 20 percent while one-to-one grew only about 5 percent.”
In addition to the financial rewards from the classes themselves, by helping members achieve their results and become more integrated in the club by being part of the group, independent club owners can see additional benefits and cost savings by integrating members more and reducing attrition.
“Small group training has to be supervised more to make sure our members are experiencing a team atmosphere, whereby it’s our clients who are supporting one another,” says Diane McAliney owner of VIVE Health & Fitness in Kingston, Penn. “That’s the difference from traditional group exercise classes; it’s a more social environment so the group grows together as the class progresses.”
So, if there are benefits to the trainer, the member and the club's bottom line, why aren't more independent health clubs running successful small group training programs?
“Small group training is still really in it's near-adolescence,” says Scudder. “In general, clubs are not very proficient in marketing it to members and are leaving it to instructors and trainers to spread the word, and that isn’t the way to do it.”
To help companies offset some of these start-up and marketing challenges, an increasing number of more traditional group exercise providers — along with other more specialized fitness players such as TRX and Beachbody — are entering the small group training market.
There are some definite benefits of going with an established company, including standardization, programs that change on a regular basis, national branding of "name" programs versus, at-best, only local branding of house-made programs,” says Scudder “Even with the associated costs of license fees, certification fees, upgrades, ongoing training, new launches, etc. it seems that the nationally-branded programs attract more participants and increase member retention.”
Steven Renata, Chief Energy Officer at Les Mills West Coast, which has built a successful group exercise classes and has recently launched a second concept, Les Mills GRIT Series, targeting the growing small group training market says that there are some major issues that anyone getting into small group training needs to consider.
“Club owners need to find the right business model for their small group training program,” he says “They need to ensure systems are in place for scheduling, registration, recruitment of coaches, initial training and ongoing education.”
Renata also says many clubs run into issues when it comes to space to hold the program.
“If possible we encourage clubs to not use the group ex area, which is normally associated with free services,” says Renata. “Many clubs don't have adequate space within their current gym floor layout and therefore need to redesign this space to accommodate a successful small group training program.”
VIVE Fitness, which opened less than five months ago, has emphasized small group training to get off to a booming start.
“Small group training has been successful for our members because it gives them variety and change,” says McAliney. “We feel it could potentially phase out personal training and the reason is because it’s invigorating, fun and social.
Mills' Renata believes that this is just the start for small group training and independent club owners that are early adopters will benefit for the long run.
“Small group training will continue to grow as a unique way of group training as the types of programming are endless,” says Renata “People get to experience working in a group with a qualified coach and appreciate how and why they can do more than on their own — they get the value.”