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Challenges in the fitness industry need to be overcome

The new year can be considered a fresh beginning, so with it comes different challenges. Every club has them, as does the industry as a whole. 

One of the most common and recurring “issues” is finding quality employees, especially personal trainers as that is one of the fastest growing sectors of the industry. Getting the right people to improve both the businesses as well as industry-wide in order to move health and fitness in the right directions is hard to come by.

Read on to see what IHRSA members feel are their biggest challenge in 2014, as well as issues concerning the industry.

Aaron Volbrecht, general manager of Mount Vernon Athletic Club in Alexandria, Va., is in a tough situation as a single club with two open positions – made more difficult because the defectees went to greener pastures to a nearby club that was able to offer more. He was a victim of being the underdog.

“The big thing I see right now … from my perspective, is staffing with high quality, competent, passionate fitness people,” Volbrecht said. “It’s tough to compete with others if you aren’t growing fast enough. The larger companies are growing faster (than us) and can offer more.”

One solution he has come up with is cross-training his current staff. Many departments are learning what their co-workers are doing and how to do it. This, he said, is making the more valuable and knowledgeable. The hope is that, in time, there are a couple candidates ready for promotion right under his nose.

“We’ve gotten creative with people spreading to other areas (in the club). I think this is helping people grow with new positions and responsibilities,” Volbrecht explained. “It keeps people integrated, interested and challenged.”

Some managers are lucky enough to have to find new employees due to growth. That is the fortunate problem for Faron McNeal , Personal Training director at Woodside Health and Tennis Club in Westwood, Kans. His department has seen an 89% growth in clients in the past two years, necessitating new trainers to be hired.

And, like anyone else who is hiring, finding the perfect fit is the challenge.

“We are trying to find the right talent who have the capacity of higher level of education but have the personality to hold people accountable,” said McNeal. “The biggest challenge is to get that top-notch talent who can deliver the product. Universities and professional schools need to be able to provide those people the skill set they need to perform at that level.”

Hiring the best personal trainer is a challenge.McNeal feels that the new breed of personal trainers in the industry need to realize they are more than clock-in, clock-out employees, going through the motions. They have to be devoted, get the members invested and working hard, and be seen as important cogs in the community.

And he said the time is now. He believes over the next five years could be the make-or-break period whether the majority of fitness club-goers take part in 1-on-1 and small group training in order to better their lifestyles.

“Times are tight – people won’t invest if it is not worth it. I think the integrity and quality of products we offer will have to increase in next five years. I think this year will determine how quickly that happens and who will lead the way,” McNeal explained. 

“For everyone you invest in, you are investing in members. If members don’t’ feel invested in, they will leave. Business-savvy club owners recognize that and invest on front end with fitness professionals.”

Karen Jashinsky is founder and chief fitness officer at O2 Max Fitness, which caters a program for each client, both online and offline, with in-person and live video training. She feels making exercise and fitness a part of everyone’s daily routine is a continuing issue that the fitness industry is saddled with.

“I think one of the biggest challenges continues to be helping people find ways to be consistent and make fitness a lifestyle, not a short-term solution,” Jashinsky said. “This needs to match people's schedules, goals and personality types.”

She said for her Southern California area she has been focusing on students and recent graduates/people new to the workforce. She has found this segment of the population have some of the most challenging schedules thus having difficulty fitting exercise in.

“It is important to understand that (schedules) can change and for a fitness program to be successful it needs to adapt as (schedules, personality and goals) change,” Jashinsky said.

Luke Carlson, owner of Discover Strength, a small group and 1-on-1 training business, said that everyone industry-wide will have to define themselves, with the advent of so many niche clubs and studios.

He feels that the big do-everything clubs that offer a most of what is out there could fall by the wayside if they don’t define what they offer, and do a good job at it. With niche clubs all the rage, many fitness enthusiasts head to places that only offer what they want during that specific workout.

He said it akin to a mall, where the anchor stores sell the general merchandise but when something specific is needed a customer will go elsewhere.

“Victoria’s Secret has a massive niche target market that will walk way from a Macy’s to other side of the mall to go to a Victoria’s Secret,” he explained.

He said the do-all clubs don’t want to lose their members and start offering what the niches down the street have, even if it isn’t the big club’s strength.

“A lot clubs feel external pressure to get into area they are not great at,” Carlson said. “They need to look inside and ask who they we, what is their core values, and what can they be best at?

“We (as an industry) start latching onto what everyone else doing and we create competitive homogeneity. Everyone becomes alike … and it confuses the market because everyone becomes more similar rather than dissimilar.”

What do you see as the big challenge for this year for your club or the industry? Let us know.



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