Finding Group Fitness Pros to Facilitate Growth
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Sara Kooperman, JD
Health clubs are facing great challenges in staffing, especially in the group fitness arena. Group Fitness Instructors left their respective positions in droves during the pandemic. This is primarily because our group areas were forced to close, and virtual training is not something that comes naturally to all instructors. Also, this happened in large part because Group Fitness Instructors get paid the least amount of money for their time and efforts, and unfortunately, they are not respected by our industry as a whole. They usually appear as the last on the importance totem pole of our clubs. Our owners, CEOs, CFOs, Directors and Managers still look at group fitness as a non-revenue generating line in our chart of accounts. Yet, we all know that community connectors are in greater demand than ever.
Personal Trainers seem to have not suffered this similar fate. Personal Trainers are "personal." They have left clubs and have gone out on their own realizing that they don't need to be "part of something." They can simply, "have it all!" And frankly, they can get it. They can train their clients outdoors or in their homes. All they need to do is have equipment that will transport easily and set up quickly. Trainers can simply throw on a mask (if the client is still a bit skittish), and they are ready to go!
Yet, now that we are open for business again, more and more industry leaders see the value of the large group and small group influencers. We need our Group Fitness Instructors more than ever! So, how do we find them, upskill them and keep them around?
To find quality Group Fitness Instructors, it might be best to look where we left off. Who were your best instructors that retired or changed careers because of the pandemic? Call them, email them, text them, and more than anything, get them to come home to your club, bribing them if you must! Tell them how much their clients need them, miss them and want them. Provide a base salary that covers more than the bare minimum, and sweeten the deal by offering an extra $3.00 per head if they attract more than five people to their class.
Group Fitness Instructors are not stupid; they know their value. They realize that their people (Your Clients) will follow them, and they have strong enough egos to understand that being loved doesn't hurt! While a percentage or incentive is needed by some, it may not be required by all. Think about simply asking them what it would take to get them back. They may want to keep their own, personal virtual program going with the revenue staying in their own pocket. They may have switched careers and need the class to start at a different time. Be flexible. Be open. But, be persistent! They will come back if the offer suits them!
If you can't get your oldies and besties back, look forward. One of the best places to find quality group exercise instructors and talented personal trainers is to reach out to clients. Reach out to current clients and members who are leaders in our clubs. We know these people. They are the popular clients that people tend to gravitate to and be friends with. They are the individuals who move up to the head of the room and stand directly in front of the instructor. They are the people who talk about how much weight they have lost and the muscle they have gained by working out at your club. These are people who have a commitment and passion about health and wellness and a strong loyalty to your facility. These are the individuals who we must reach out to.
We will have to upskill our newcomers and possibly pay for their certifications and/or provide extra training, but they know and love us, will probably feel flattered to be asked and happy to join our teams. We can also work at recruiting experienced teachers and trainers by asking current staff for recommendations, but we must not stop there. It is a different world post-pandemic, and even getting applicants to show up for interviews has become a challenge.
We should reward those team members who recommend potential instructors. We should also provide another reward when the person they recommend shows up for the interview/tryout. And, we should reward them a third time when we hire that person AND they show up to work. We should also think about adding in a little something extra if the new staff stays six months. While this may cost us $50 - $100 each step of the way (totaling $300 or more), it may well be worth it! Plus, if we find a new staff member that has experience and a following, we will hopefully attract their followers to join our facility. This extra membership money certainly wouldn't hurt! Incentivizing the new staff to bring their following and get them to join (at $50 per head to the new staff member) would help everyone!
You might also try calling your local competitor to see if he might be willing to share instructors. This should be an equal exchange of support. You may have to offer up one of your staff to join their team, as well. Reciprocity builds relationships. However, this does not always work. One might try to call the competitor's front desk and ask who the best instructor is on their team. Often, the front desk will quickly respond, but if they don't, the best instructor usually is the person in the 9:30AM or 5:30PM time slot (it is pretty obvious who the favorites are). Check your competitor's schedule online, find out who this instructor is and then google them. You can then find their LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram pages, and you can message them to see if they would like to pick up an extra class.
Please remember that we are all still "In this together." Stealing someone's best instructors is not a recommended business practice. But, finding out if this person wants or needs to add another class to their schedule is fair game.
To attract instructors back and to find new teachers to join you, a club may need to provide certifications and education. This will make trainers and teachers want to work for you. Instructors need the latest in strategies, techniques and equipment. Not only does this help the individual instructor and trainer retain their loyalty to the facility that supplies them this valuable education, but this also helps the club retain a cutting edge, innovative and evolving image.
Clubs cannot simply retain a static persona. Health clubs and all sorts of wellness facilities must stay abreast of current trends. If a facility decides simply to do internal training, you end up with instructors and trainers cloning each other. This stagnates creativity and diminishes the quality of programming. Clients need and desire change and choices. Encouraging your trainers and group exercise instructors to attend outside events allows for and promotes personalization, creativity and diversity. Providing a monthly stipend or annual educational budget helps both your group fitness instructor and personal trainer as well as your facility in general.
Evaluating the change in the fitness industry post-COVID is possibly the most difficult task for an owner and manager. Directing this change requires flexibility and constant connection. Staying close to what's working and what's not means that change is eminent and rapid. Looking ahead, we can see that the philosophy of exercise as medicine has made a significant impact on the public. The medical profession is encouraging fitness more and more, which legitimizes our industry. Finding and/or developing great instructors is more important than ever. This is where providing continuing education to this group is essential! We must keep a find, retain and reward our teachers and trainers financially, emotionally and educationally.