When Mike Grondahl, CEO of Planet Fitness, announced last month that his company was doing away with personal training in its corporate and franchised facilities, he touched off quite a reaction. In fact, our online story about the announcement received more comments than any story we’ve ever posted.
Most of the commenters were aghast that any club operator would cease personal training, which is often the biggest source of non-dues revenue for clubs. However, Planet Fitness is different. People join Planet Fitness for one of two reasons: price had been their main barrier to joining a club or they are long-time exercisers who just want to use the equipment. What do these two groups have in common? They don’t want anyone bothering them to buy anything extra.
For those reasons, personal training was not a big source of revenue for Planet Fitness. In the past, each club had at least one staff trainer who provided free small group training and then could offer one-on-one training during non-shift hours. In some clubs, non-staff trainers paid Planet Fitness a fee to provide personal training in a club. Now, only group training will be offered.
Perhaps the most important part of offering personal training is ensuring that trainers are properly certified and trained. Undoubtedly, Planet Fitness had some qualified and good trainers. However, with monthly dues running between $10 and $15 and with a model built on low operating costs, could Planet Fitness corporate or its franchisees truly afford to keep qualified trainers for long or help them continue with trainer education? I don’t think so.
If you can’t consistently offer quality personal training, you are hurting the fitness industry, which is already struggling with personal trainer certification issues and possible licensure.
This move away from personal training helps Planet Fitness in several ways. Many people still see fitness facilities as places where they are pressured to buy memberships and services that they don’t want. By eliminating personal training, Planet Fitness can market itself as “no pressure” as well as “no judgments.” That type of marketing helps set Planet Fitness apart from the other low-price club companies, most of which do offer personal training. And differentiation from these other types of clubs is becoming more important as the low-price club market could soon become saturated.
Grondahl never suggested that personal training was wrong for all club models—just his. Not all clubs have to be alike, nor should they be alike.
I’d bet that many of the people who reacted negatively to Grondahl’s announcement did so out of fear that other club operators might follow suit and end personal training. After all, Planet Fitness did lead the way in the move to low-priced clubs. However, in the 1990s, Gary Heavin of Curves also led many in the industry to open women-only circuit facilities, and soon that market became so saturated that today, even many Curves franchisees are having difficulty surviving.
Don’t fear the end of personal training. Look forward to what the next club operator will do to differentiate his or her clubs from the rest. Perhaps that club operator will be you.
Pamela Kufahl is editor of Club Industry magazine. This is her First Word column from the January 2011 issue.