At the upcoming Club Industry 2005 Conference, a panel discussion titled “Demystifying the Accreditation Certification Controversy” will focus on the ins and outs of the accreditation certification issue. The following buzz words will be discussed, defined and clarified: education, certification, continuing education, accreditation and licensure.

The consensus that will eventually be reached will have a profound effect on not only the fitness industry, but also on the health care industry.

As opposed to waiting for this viable issue to be resolved, however, some of the nation's most progressive clubs have already taken the bull by the horns by recognizing the value of credible, accredited personal trainer certification options and creating business and financial models that have demonstrated the return on investment (ROI). I encourage each reader to consider our newest triad: accreditation, credibility and profitability.

Starting with its commitment to service excellence, comprehensive programming depth and professional accountability, while still keeping its eye on ROI, Equinox Fitness Clubs set the tone in the 1990s with the Equinox Fitness Training Institute (EFTI). Some of the potential financial benefits of accredited certifications include increased revenue per member, increased member revenue per square foot and increased nonmembership dues revenue. Other advantages include increased membership referrals from existing members, increased use rate of group exercise studios, reinforcement of the connection between the club and regular users, membership retention rates of 70 percent or higher and improved customer satisfaction and lowered service and support costs. Certification can also position the club to sell a value-added experience rather than just a cheap price.

Variations of these results have been achieved by several clubs who have revised their business models by acknowledging the accreditation and continuing education process for their fitness teams. These clubs include Gainesville Health & Fitness Center, Gainesville, FL; Saw Mill Athletic Clubs, Mt. Kisco, NY; Shula's Athletic Club, Miami Lakes, FL; Genesis Health & Fitness Clubs, Wichita, KS; and Brick Bodies Fitness Clubs, Baltimore.

Now you may ask yourself the following reality check question: how can these clubs realize the upside of the previously mentioned benefits by just hiring accredited personal trainers? The issue goes beyond personal training and should also focus on what clubs have done with the accreditation concept. Quite simply, accreditation has been used to drive our core business — membership.

Take for example the CLAY club in New York. It is launching its new continuing education program. Unlike some clubs who focus just on personal training, Robin Brown, CLAY owner and visionary, has opted to focus on her entire fitness team, group exercise and Pilates instructors and personal trainers. The CLAY goal is simple, but complex — developing programming synergy between the various departments so that the club can attract new members, retain existing members, grow fee-based service offerings, increase group ex studio utilization rates, increase gross and net income and energize each member's club experience.

Compare the CLAY approach with the following IHRSA observations. IHRSA has consistently found that clubs with “unacceptably high” attrition rates tend to have a weak customer relationship management program. This means that the club does not have a cost-effective, member-centric focus or plan. As an enticement to close the sale, these clubs tend to over-promise and under-deliver. Once a new member walks through the front door, no formal mechanism prevents him or her from leaving through the back door. If anything, the club tends to respond only after it receives the membership cancellation notification.

Our industry is in the business of making a credible ROI. We define the ROI by analyzing the financial benchmarks and key ratios. As you analyze your club's financial profile, you should consider the potential upside of incorporating this new triad into your organization. If you look at these buzz words (education, certification, continuing education, accreditation and licensure) in a vacuum, you will miss the broader upside picture — profitability.

Join me and the rest of the distinguished panel of speakers at the Club Industry show in Chicago this November as we discuss the implications of accreditation from both narrow and broad-stroke perspectives.


Bob Esquerre, MA, MES, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT, ACE-CPT is a fitness consultant and owner of the Esquerre Fitness Group. He is a Reebok Master Trainer with certifications as a medical exercise specialist from AAHP and personal training from NSCA.