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Personal trainers bring added revenue to your club

It’s all well and good to see your membership numbers increase month over month or year over year. That is what has always been driven into owners’ and managers’ heads as a sign of success. 

But just important to your bottom line are the non-dues revenues that can stabilize your gym when memberships are flat-lining, or, worse, dropping. 

According to the 2009 Profiles of Success, compiled by IHRSA, an average of 67.9% of total club revenue came from dues. Of the remaining 32.1%, 9.5% was generated from personal trainers. (124 IHRSA members representing 1,315 clubs responded to the survey) 

Cynthia Pena, general manager at Fit World in Cranston, R.I., said about a year ago, after attending a Thomas Plummer seminar, it hit her that her new club needed to change its mindset and implement more personal training for its members if it was to survive. 

She came away from that event wondering if she could take the boom of classes from a few years ago – like Spinning, Zumba, etc. – and parlay it into personal training. 

Next she found herself meeting with Bruce Mack of Thrive Competitive Fitness Systems, which partners with health clubs to create a balanced and profitable fitness department. She said, “a light went off in her head” during the encounter. 

“I was thinking of how we could set ourselves apart from everyone else. I wondered why can’t I translate the success of group classes into personal training,” said Pena, who came into the fitness industry from a business background. “I figured I wouldn’t want to work out by myself. I don’t need a therapist. That what I feel (1-on-1 training) is like.” 

Apparently she is not the only one in the greater Cranston area. Her club has seen $13,000 a month for the past 11 months in personal training revenue, compared to $2,000 in the months prior to that period. Group classes that used to have 5-6 members in them now see up to 18. 

“We were making nothing in personal training. We were just renting space,” said Pena, who has two full-time trainers and one part-timer. “It really opened our eyes.” 

A club on the opposite side of the country, Yakima Athletic Club in Yakima, Wash., is also toying with adding group training to its successful individual training. While it hasn’t worked out as well as it has at Fit World, Yakima General Manager Carrie Sattler is continuing with it because there is a part of her membership that prefers it to 1-on-1. 

“We are trying the theory of getting people to share the cost (of a trainer) and participate in a group setting,” said Sattler. “We’ve been doing it almost a year but it is not panning out to be very profitable. Working 1-on-1 brings in more profit for club … but we’re going to stick with it.” 

Sattler looked at working with the trainers as one area to make it more of a money-maker. She said her staff of three full-time trainers and seven on a part-time basis – haven’t been able to have both theories coexist. 

“Some trainers like the group atmosphere so much that they don’t want to do 1-on-1 (anymore). It decreases their production. I am trying to get them to grasp the concept of both.” 

Robby Denning, at Apple Athletic Club in Idaho Falls, Idaho, explained that once the department gained a personal trainer director – which happens to be him – the group got in line with the thinking and vision of the club. That turned around high turnover among trainers and brought continuity. He said that gym members see that. 

“If I experience a lot of turnover then I will have $9 an hour help in front our members. Consumers are now savvy. They want good, professional people (to work out with),” said Denning, whose club see 1,500 member visits a day. “I’d rather lose three members than one personal trainer. 

“I’ve seen clubs hire trainers but no one is in charge. They might answer to the general manager, but the general manager is trying to get cheaper toilet paper or for the custodians not to use too much soap.” 

Denning, who manages both personal training and Pilates, for a total of 24 employees, said he holds his staff to certain standards and in turn the product is a solid one. One of the criteria is the trainer needs to have a 4-year college degree in a health-related area of study or one of only four personal trainer certifications (he noted there are hundreds out there but they only recognize four). 

“If you have a professional standard then the customers benefit from that. The consumers begin to trust you,” he added. 

Denning said that he ropes in his Membership sales team, too. He gives them an incentive to sign up new members for personal training. He pointed out that it is not necessarily only a way to bring in more green to his club but it really is the way for a member to get the complete workout and the most for their money. 

“I’d estimate that 80% of those who go to the gym don’t have a great experience (without a trainer),” Denning said. “No one knows how to (work out) inherently.”

Pena said he small gym is like a family. Everyone gets a full fitness evaluation when they join. Even if they opt to not go with a trainer the staff at Fit World will show them what is optimal for them. Oftentimes they come around to the idea of working with someone or a group. 

“We’re in their business all of the time. We show them we care and we get them to feel comfortable enough to ask questions.” 

Mack, at Thrive, the company that helped turn Pena’s personal training business around, thinks gyms are changing. He works with locations all over the country and he feels a new breed of club is emerging. 

“The climate has changed. Where we had 3 to 4 years ago more budget clubs with $10 monthly membership fees, no longer can you be a client-driven club,” he said. “Clubs are becoming more of a specialists instead of generalists – more revenue per member instead of number of members.” 

He said “rock star” clubs a few years ago were considered those that did meet the 9.5% of its revenue from personal trainers – as seen in IHRSA’s 2009 Profiles of Success - now can match the revenue generated from trainers and membership. 

“Gyms want to have a system that if they have a bad membership month then they can rely on training, and vice versa. Clubs need to diversify.”


Reader Comments (4)

What a great article. To be able to systematize PT within a club seems to be a consistent and reliable form of revenue. How can more clubs get involved?
May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSean
@Sean- Here is the quick answer to your question: Systematizing your PT department is more than just creating a slick sales system (sales are important though). I believe the area most operators neglect is the product (the program) and only focus on sales.
Focus on developing the best programs and choosing a theme on how your organization will deliver these programs. Summary - make sure your product (product being PT) is ready to marketed before you drive production.
May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Mack
Bruce Mack is right on- get organized before you start selling PT. Nothing kills sales like a confused member.

Also, having a graduated pay scale to reward higher-performing trainers is a must. In two years, you want to be able to differentiate between performers and pay scale is the most effective way to do that.

Example: new trainers make 35% of session price below 10 sessions a week and 40% above 10 sessions per week. Give's them incentive to build business and not just call themselves a "trainer".
May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobby Denning
Great input Robby!
May 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Mack

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