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Entries in Dr. James J. Annesi (1)

Monday
Nov142011

Group Exercise Acceleration

By Patricia Glynn

Justen MaronAccording to Dr. James J. Annesi, an exercise and sport psychologist, group fitness can definitely be a very rewarding proposition.

In his book, Enhancing Exercise Motivation: A Guide to Increasing Fitness Center Member Retention, he observes that, “While most new exercisers cite health and fitness gains as reasons for entering exercise programs, they usually cite social aspects as primary reasons for staying.” He goes on to point out that, “A lack of supervision while exercising leads to twice as much dropout, when compared to exercising in groups.”

But knowing this—and actually conducting a successful group fitness program that attracts new clients, leads to lower attrition, and increases profitability—well, those are two very different things.

Enter Justen Maron

Maron, the group fitness director for the Courthouse Athletic Clubs (CAC), a regional chain headquartered in Salem, Oregon, knows how to transform a lackluster group fitness department into an exemplary profit center. Over the past five years, CAC has more than doubled its group fitness attendance; participation has increased from 15% of all members at each site to more than 40%.

So how did CAC, which operates five full-service, well-appointed facilities, each between 45,000 and 55,000 square feet in size, produce such impressive results?

Last year, at the IHRSA convention in San Francisco, Maron shared some tips and strategies during a lecture titled “Build a World Class Group Exercise Program.” Here’s some of what he said:

Lesson 1: Offer Great Classes

One of the major reasons for the improvement, Maron explained, was the introduction of programming from Body Training Systems (BTS), the Marietta, Georgia-based provider of prepackaged turnkey classes such as Group Ride, a group cycling course; Group Centergy, a mind/body workout that marries yoga and Pilates; and Group Kick, a class that combines boxing and other martial arts.

“Bringing in BTS helped to ensure that all of the classes, at all of the clubs, were not only high quality, but also consistent,” he says. The partnership with BTS, he estimates, led to a doubling of participation—from approximately 20,000 to well over 40,000 per month. “Today,” he notes, “our studios are jam-packed on a regular basis.”

Other IHRSA associate members, including Les Mills International, based in Auckland, New Zealand, offer similar prechoreographed group exercise programs.

But CAC didn’t just buy into the BTS model and call it a day. They also invested in their team.

Lesson 2: Invest In Your Staff and Reward Them Appropriately

“We pay for our instructor’s education because we believe it’s a particularly worthwhile investment,” Maron reports. After all, he insists, it is an investment, as opposed to an expense. A great concept, he observes, is worth little if you don’t have great people to execute it.

Of course, while CAC recognizes the value of having an educated and skilled staff, it also understands that that, alone, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to fill your studios consistently. Compensation, therefore, is based on performance rather than the number of certifications accrued.

Maron explains the arrangement: “How much an instructor earns depends on how many people attend the class. If they attract more members to their class, they’re rewarded accordingly. We offer a base pay of $20, and they earn another $.50 for every participant who attends. All told, our average instructors earn from $27 to $29 per class.”

It’s a win-win situation: instructors who work hard and strive to offer excellent courses prosper, and the club watches as revenues increase and attrition rates fall. 

Lesson 3: Hire Men and More Men Will Come

Another switch that CAC instituted to boost its numbers involved men: it began to actively recruit males both as teachers and as students. “We began seeking out more male instructors, and, as a result, we’ve been able to attract more men to our classes. Now, 30%-40% of our group participants are male.”

Lesson 4: Learn From Your Mistakes

Despite all its success, CAC inevitably loses a client here and there, but, rather than bemoan the development, Maron regards it as an opportunity. “When people stop attending, we ask them to complete an evaluation to pinpoint why they’re leaving. Sometimes, the reasons are out of our control, but, often, we identify areas where, maybe, we simply weren’t up to par.”

Only by knowing what doesn’t work, Maron insists, can you determine what will