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Winners vs. Warriors: Building a Group Exercise Dream Team

The secret to building a group exercise “dream team” is by turning the “winners” into “warriors.”

Group exercise, or group X, is an essential part of today’s health club programming mix, but creating a successful group X experience requires a dynamic team. To Dori Nugent, group fitness director at Club La Maison, that means hiring instructors who do far more than run a great class.

Nugent has 14 years of experience in building revenue-rich fitness programs both as a group director for brand-new clubs and for organizations where she inherited a team of trainers. In her experience, the secret to building a “dream team” is by separating the “winners” from the “warriors.”

Group Exercise Winners vs. Warriors

When distinguishing the difference, Nugent is quick to point out that being an instructor who’s a winner is obviously a good thing. “They’re good at what they do. They have packed classes, they’re dependable, and they love leading the group,” Nugent told attendees at IHRSA 2019.

While they excel as class instructors, however, these “winners” don’t do anything beyond their basic duties. These types of trainers have big egos, teach at other clubs, and don’t stick around to help at your club. They show up, run their class, then leave.

“As soon as you ask them to do something outside of the box, they won’t. They’re what I call ‘minimalists.’”

Warriors, on the other hand, do go the extra mile. “They're loyal, and they’re always willing to help,” said Nugent. “When I ask them to do something, they say, ‘You got it, no problem.’ They’re going to do what it takes to make the club better. That's who I want on my team.”

Make no mistake, Nugent said, warriors are also winners, but they’re a different breed. Like the traditional definition of a warrior, they go to battle for you.

Turning a Group Exercise Winner into a Warrior

Not every winner can become a warrior, but that’s OK, Nugent said. You’re always going to have instructors who are just not going to commit to a larger, more loyal role in your club. But in order to build a great fitness program, you need warriors, she says.

Fortunately, you can convert winners into warriors. Nugent told session attendees she once took over as fitness director of a long-established club that had a large staff of instructors. This presented a more difficult challenge than building her own team from the ground up.

“I thought, how am I going to get everything under control? How am I going to find a dream team within this staff of 77?” she remembered.

“Like the traditional definition of a warrior, they go to battle for you.”

She decided to make three lists: one for winners, one for warriors, and another for those who were on the border. After completing her lists, she found she had about 75% winners and 25% warriors. She needed to get to a ratio of 50:50, so she created a plan to convert some of the winners into warriors.

Nugent devised ways to reward her winners for warrior behavior. She bought a stack of $5 Starbucks gift cards and gave them out to instructors who substituted for others or who otherwise went above and beyond their regular duties. She also deployed hand-written inspirational thank-you notes to employees who performed as warriors. This Pavlovian conditioning paid off almost immediately.

“I'd go home and I'd open up Facebook and I’d see the note that I wrote earlier that day already on Facebook from my instructor,” she said. “And the Starbucks cards made a big impact.”

While everybody likes lattes, it seems, Nugent said you can find your own system of positive feedback that works for your staff. With the right incentives in place, you can start to develop a culture where people will go the extra mile because they feel appreciated and rewarded.

You need to check in on your instructors regularly, said Nugent, to really gauge their performance accurately. And, keep in mind, you’re never going to get to 100% warriors, but don’t worry. Winners are, well, winners and they’re an asset to your programming mix.

Generating New Revenue Streams with Group Exercise

Nugent said that today’s fitness directors are expected to be revenue generators for their clubs, and your odds of succeeding are helped immensely by a group of warriors. Once her dream team was in place, she found new revenue streams.

Her most successful initiative was creating fee-based one-day workshops and specialized courses in Pilates, Yoga, and other popular activities. She also created “101” basic introduction classes in disciplines like strength training, Tai Chi, etc.

Nugent found out that one of her trainers knew ballroom dancing, so she devised a four-week dancing course. She found that a good time to schedule these classes was on a Saturday or Sunday, which allowed her to draw not just club members but the general public as well.

For the classes, she charged $20 for members, $25 for non-members. She did a 50:50 split with her instructors, but gave her best trainers a better deal. “If I had a very good instructor, I would go 60:40.”

The formula worked. “Slowly, we began generating some money,” Nugent said. “In six months, we made $6,000 in extra revenue.”

“With the right incentives in place, you can start to develop a culture where people will go the extra mile because they feel appreciated and rewarded.”

To help incentivize her instructors to offer these extra classes, she would offer them one “freebie,” where they could bring a person into the class at no charge.

“The instructors loved that,” she said.

This is just one example of how a little creativity and a motivated dream team of fitness instructors can help you build a solid non-dues revenue stream that also helps increase membership and strengthen retention.

Nugent shared more of her ideas in a recent IHRSA webinar, Building a Strong Fitness Department for Health Clubs. This webinar—like all IHRSA webinars—is free to members.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org