Just last week, my social media feeds started pinging with friends and former colleagues announcing their ‘separation’ from their former employer. It appears that in each case, the notification was handled via ‘robocall’ rather than the personal touch. Shortly thereafter, the company in question filed BK. For some, it was a happy occasion. For others, it was so jarring that they couldn’t quite grasp the news. And for yet others, it was more even more disconcerting to be on the outside. “There just isn’t a Big Blue Gym without Larry managing there. He’s been there as long as I’ve been going there.”
The only unifying element to all these announcements? None of them were trainers. In fact, every trainer with whom I spoke had their position waiting for them when the club opened its doors.
And small wonder. The business of the corporate gym sees its trainers as profit centers. Most gyms pay their trainers minimum wage for a minimum/maximum number of floor (non-training) hours per month, and those hours are expected to be accounted for, in either new leads, new clients, or in classes taught. The corporate trainer learns very quickly to generate numbers, or to game the system by being in the gym without being on the clock. It’s easy to see how quickly that can go sideways for both employer and employee.
The most difficult thing for new trainers to understand, particularly when they are chronologically young, is that the fitness industry is one driven by sales. Of course, EVERY business is driven by sales, but the young are, well, young. And unable to grasp much of how the world works. No business lasts long without clients. And clients are acquired through the laborious process of sales. Nowhere is this more true than the big box gym setting.
Once the young have moved past the “it’s not fair, I’m a trainer, not a salesman” phase (granting that they actually do make it through that phase), they are then hit with an even more difficult truth. Which is that in the fitness industry, particularly the corporate box gym area of the fitness industry, trainers are responsible for the entire business process. From marketing and sourcing leads to generating work product to customer service to collections, accounts receivable, and often, accounts payable, to client retention, the trainer in the big box gym handles more roles than the lead in a one-man production of A Christmas Carol. It would be akin to asking the manufacturing line at the car company to take over advertising, floor sales, service, and financing.
For the new trainer, it can be overwhelming, and small wonder that so many burn out. Compound those factors with a pay structure that gives little incentive for a seasoned trainer to stay within the confines of the corporate gym, and there is an environment that breeds employee attrition.
When the recent outbreak created the conditions ripe for overreaction, places of public gathering were hardest hit. Restaurants, theaters, and gyms were all wrecked, and those that were teetering (which is: many) simply couldn’t maintain their existence.
Now, Gold’s Gym has filed for Chapter 11 protection, and 24 Hour Fitness has done the same, and others will be close behind.
Look for the boutique studios to seize the momentum and marketspace. Some will make the same mistakes of their forebears, aiming for growth resulting in larger physical footprints, rather than growth via increased offerings and closer client relationships, but many others will see where the big brands failed.
They will see that by approaching fitness through the eyes of their trainers (their boots on the ground), and by actually listening to the experiences of their clients, rather than relying on KPIs and analytics, they can build sustainable brands. And in the process, create better, more effective fitness professionals along the way.
For now, though, my hat’s off to those I know who have lost their incomes. Here’s to hoping that when they bounce back, it they will bounce back big.