NEWINGTON, NH -- Planet Fitness CEO Mike Grondahl does things—and says things—a little bit differently than the typical company CEO.
“The chief financial officer from Gulf Oil moving to Planet Fitness? Who’d a thunk it?” Grondahl said in the company statement.
The word “thunk” was not included in a letter Grondahl wrote to Planet Fitness owners last November. But a lot of other interesting verbiage was.
Grondahl informed his franchisees in the letter that Planet Fitness was ending personal training at all its clubs, beginning last month with its corporate-owned clubs. Planet Fitness franchisees will have the remainder of the first quarter of this year to phase out personal training.
Planet Fitness will still have on-staff trainers providing free training in small groups but they no longer will be allowed to conduct one-on-one training during non-shift hours. The company also will no longer allow non-staff trainers to pay a monthly fee to train clients at the club.
“The decision to end personal training has been long and arduous,” Grondahl wrote. “It goes right to the essence of our business model. We’ve always tried to keep personal training to a minimum at Planet Fitness. But the problems related to having trainers in our gyms have never completely gone away.”
That news definitely caught the industry’s attention, and some of Grondahl’s comments added fuel to the fire.
“Most of the people doing personal training are just renting friends,” Grondahl wrote. “For us to be selling personal training is a fraud and downright condescending to anyone who can breathe.”
Grondahl concluded the letter with this line: “A lot of people will say we are dead wrong with this historic move. But the world was flat once, and who the hell needs a friend for 50 bucks an hour?”
Christopher Columbus he isn’t, but Grondahl created a world of feedback with his remarks. He says that he’s been too busy to see any of the industry’s comments posted on Club Industry’s website.
“I’ve got bigger problems than what they’re saying about me on the Internet,” Grondahl says. “I’m sure I’m not the most popular guy in the industry.”
NEXT PAGE: RESPONSE TO GRONDAHL’S COMMENTS
Although the tone of his letter was intended only for Planet Fitness franchisees, Grondahl says he is not wavering on his decision, which, he adds, was not based on reducing costs.
“We had people complain about personal trainers coming up and soliciting them on the floor,” Grondahl says. “We’re an organization that’s priding ourselves on not having salesmen, yet we’re letting personal trainers go out on the floor and try and sell. It just doesn’t make sense in our model.”
Grondahl also says the growth of low-price competitors that have an element of personal training, such as the Crunch franchise clubs—run by Mark Mastrov’s New Evolution Ventures—and the new Blink clubs introduced by Equinox, played heavily in the decision.
“Had it not been for Mark Mastrov coming and Blink coming, I may not have made this decision,” Grondahl says. “It’s made me get more focused on what we have to do and stay true to our model. Competition is going to make us better.”
The decision by Planet Fitness has once again made personal training a hot-button topic in the industry. Specifically, the discussion centers on the value of a personal trainer and the requirements to attain certification.
Greg Justice, the founder and creator of the Corporate Boot Camp System and AYC Health & Fitness, Prairie Village, KS, supports Planet Fitness’ decision to end personal training. Justice says club operators, particularly at larger clubs, do not train their personal training staff properly, which gives the industry a bad reputation.
“I actually blame the big-box clubs and some of the certifying agencies more than the trainers, as they have set the bar so low that almost anyone qualifies as a trainer,” Justice says. “Some of the certifying agencies are nothing more than ‘puppy mills,’ pushing out as many trainers as they can, just to make a buck.”
Lance Smith, a partner in Live Fit, Augusta, GA, says Grondahl made the right decision for his business model. It’s the way Grondahl chose to explain his decision that does not sit well with Smith.
Smith says personal training is not a “fraud” as Grondahl called it in his letter. Many people who come into a club want or need some form of coaching, he adds.
“Imagine going to your doctor,” Smith says, “and having him or her tell you, ‘Go ahead and use my office all you want for a rock-bottom rate, but I won’t be able to help you. You can go through a one-hour group class on how to use my equipment, though.’”
Grondahl says personal training has its place, just not at Planet Fitness.
“I think that was the big misconception there,” he says. “It definitely has its place. Shoot, someday I’ll probably get a personal trainer, if I can ever get out of the office. I certainly do need one. But I sure as [heck] won’t have one at a Planet Fitness because we do a high-volume business. You don’t need somebody [doing] personal training on the floor.”