A successful fitness program hinges on having an educated and motivated staff.
(Third in a Five-Part Series)
With more club and resort properties investing millions of dollars into fitness facilities that offer group fitness classes and personal training, hiring effective employees can mean the difference between money well spent and money wasted.
For the third year in a row, hiring educated, certified fitness professionals topped the list of 2013 fitness trends issued by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), indicating a move toward higher standards through accredited organizations. Effective (and well-informed) staff increase fitness center use by motivating members and holding them accountable, while safely guiding them on their fitness journeys.
|In 2014, Club & Resort Business is presenting a special, five-part series to detail how properties can create and maintain attractive fitness centers that will appeal to the most fitness-minded of members, as well as those who might need a little push.
This third installment, on Staffing, focuses on in-house vs. managed operations, full-time vs. part-time and contract employees, and making the right matches between instructors and the overall membership.
Part One (“Blueprints for Wellness,” February 2014) focused on Fitness Center Layout, outlining the organizational and design elements that can be key to member engagement and distinguishing the club as a preferred destination, vs. a “big-box gym.”
Part Two (“Functional Fitness,” April 2014) focused on Equipment Purchasing, detailing the basic exercise equipment needed to build a fitness center that matches membership demographics to facility needs.
Part Four (October 2014), Operations, will consider appropriate fitness center hours, pricing, access during staffed and unstaffed periods, maintenance, and extra services.
Part Five (December 2014), Programming, will parse through fitness program options, from individual instruction to group classes. The final installment will also consider member involvement, coordinating with other departments, and adjusting to trends.
The Great Debate
For many properties, staffing starts with a decision of whether to have full-time employees in a fitness center, or rely primarily on independent contractors. A report by Weekes & Callaway, a Florida-based risk management firm, details this “Great Debate,” defining an independent contractor as “a person engaged by another to perform specific work according to his own methods and whose method(s) of performing work are not controlled by the person engaging him.”
The benefits of maintaining relationships with independent contractors include reduced overhead expenses and no health benefits, as well as on-demand schedule flexibility, so the trainer can show up when necessary and leave during slow periods. Of course, the “independent” part means club management has less control, and contractors’ rates can vary as they see fit.
“The fitness business can be very transient, especially with yoga instructors who float around,” says Nicole Mains, NSCA-CSCS, Fitness Director at Boulder (Colo.) Country Club and Director of Marketing & Membership for the Club Spa & Fitness Association (CSFA). “Boulder is very competitive, so finding and maintaining great trainers is absolutely critical—if they leave, they can take their clients with them.”
Full-time employees, on the other hand, often fulfill multiple roles as needed within a fitness center. According to the CSFA’s 2013 Trend Report & Survey Data, a Club Benchmarking report done in conjunction with the Club Managers Association of America, while club fitness centers typically see more members each day than a golf course, the centers usually operate with significantly fewer full-time employees (with clubs employing an average of 10 staffers for the golf course and three for the fitness center). As a result, hired employees learn more diverse skills on the job, and can easily fill in if another employee calls in sick.
“I only hire employees because we have year-round demand for fitness,” Mains says. “The challenge with that is you have extra expenses—benefits, payroll tax. The upside is you have people who want to stay here.”
Further, Mains adds, Boulder CC can keep the cost of personal training at 30% below market value, because the club makes up for it in volume. An independent contractor, who works on commission, would not benefit from such a system.
“If it’s a young club, the independent contracting route is appealing because it’s less expensive,” she says. “But it creates armies of one—you have trainers fighting over members, which I would never tolerate. That kind of back-biting competition should not be allowed in a country club. Our service has to be high-level and streamlined.”
Boulder CC currently has a staff of 35 in its fitness center, with the bulk being group fitness instructors who cover the club’s complimentary group classes (about 50 classes per week are available). In addition, there are three full-time personal trainers, three part-time personal trainers, two pilates instructors, and one physical therapist.
Let the Right One In
Hiring the right employee for a club’s fitness center is critical, as staff-member relationships can largely determine how often the facility is used.
Lydia Easterling, ACSM-CPT, CSCS, Health & Fitness Director at The Florida Yacht Club in Jacksonville, Fla., says that when she’s looking to hire an employee, she makes sure the candidate has a Bachelor of Science degree with a health and fitness focus, as well as multiple, current fitness certificates, specifically from the ACSM and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
“It’s important to find an employee who is punctual, multi-talented, and has a flexible schedule or established clients,” Easterling says. “Clients expect their personal trainer or group fitness instructors to be prepared and on time. As a director, I look for an employee who is well-rounded in the fitness industry and can be attentive to their clients while being able to teach group fitness and manage their billing.”
Mains advises employers to put prospective personal training employees through a working interview, during which the candidate designs a workout based on a health interview questionnaire. Through this process, the employer can evaluate the candidate’s instructional skills and challenge the candidate to come up with real-life solutions for common exercise roadblocks, such as a torn ACL.
Personal trainers serve a unique role within a fitness center. At its heart, Mains says, “our job is a sales job—you have to sell day after day.”
At Boulder CC, each member gets a complimentary training session, and if a member doesn’t know which trainer they want to work with, Mains interviews the member to determine which trainer would be the best fit. Mains then passes the lead onto the trainer and gives them 24 hours to follow up.
“We want to convert that person from comp sessions to a regular client,” Mains says, noting that many trainers do not understand the business end of the fitness industry. She advises her trainers to book 40 hours of training sessions per week, taking into account that there will be cancellations.
“I meet with trainers one-on-one, coaching them on how to get better sales skills and retention, and asking what they’re doing to follow up,” Mains says. “I evaluate what in their skill set is not allowing them to be successful. You can have all the talent in the world to teach group classes, but you need the ability to rebook. It’s a much different animal.
“At a certain point, if they’re not being coached up, they need to be coached out or reassigned,” Mains adds.
Beginning in the fall, she plans to implement a more aggressive member-retention program, with billing minimums and bonus structures to motivate trainers.
Having personal trainers who can appeal to certain demographics within the membership is important as well. Mains notes that she has an endurance athlete on staff who works best with other athletes, while a former football player on staff trains well with kids, dads, and moms.
“It takes a well-trained individual to work with seniors,” she adds. “You have to approach the program differently, because of restrictions and balance issues.” Making senior fitness classes free has drastically increased participation, she notes.