Bob and Jolyn Esquerre are business solutions consultants and co-owners of the Esquerre Fitness Group [EFG]. EFG—known for training trainers, training group exercise instructors and training managers—has consistently pushed the envelope of excellence in challenging the industry to provide exceptional service to members. Recognized as subject-matter experts in personal training, program development, club branding, management development, customer relationship management and membership retention, Bob and Jolyn’s total focus is to create customized business solutions for their customers.

The fitness industry has traditional group exercise classes, it has personal training services, and now it has group training, which is what we call the missing third piece of the club programming triad. If group training is done right, everybody wins—financially, professionally and personally.

We define group training as fee-based programming options that can be configured either as a small group with three to eight participants or configured as a large group with nine to 20 participants.

Whether it’s small group training (SGT) or large group training (LGT), this programming must be positioned as a distinctly specialized, branded experience that is delivered by highly trained fitness professionals. This definition is critical in order to distinguish fee-based group training programs from mainstream group exercise programs whose costs are included as part of the normal club membership fee structure. In fact, equipment that is used in fee-based programming should not be the same equipment that is already included in non-fee based group exercise programs.

Even though the definition of group training is clear and the return on investment shown in Table A below is obvious, why are so many clubs having such a hard time implementing and managing successful group training programs from both an operational and financial perspective?

Why Group Training Programs Fail
We have evaluated group training programs, both SGT and LGT, in various markets domestically and internationally. The most common denominator for failure is what we call the poor planning syndrome.

This basically means that no strategic business planning occurred before the group training program was launched. Without good planning, the program cannot be successfully managed. Without a successful management process, group training is destined to fail.

The second most common failure factor is not having the club’s group training program fully integrated into the club’s overall programming mix. This occurs because group training was positioned as an option that did not reflect the club’s branding message. Again, this occurred because of the poor planning syndrome.

The third most common failure factor was the skill sets of the service provider. In most instances, a technically proficient personal trainer was assigned the task of running the group training sessions. However, because the managers did not understand the dynamics of a group-focused teaching/learning environment and the skill sets needed to manage such a dynamic environment, the personal trainers were destined to fail despite their technical knowledge. Group training is about using dynamic coaching skill sets to motivate each individual to do their best for the common good of the entire group (see Table B). It is all about the dynamics of the group experience that makes group training unique.

Table C summarizes the failure matrix for group training programs. As you read this, you need to be honest about how your individual situation compares with this list.

Group training is a “must” option as we collectively examine how to reinvent and reposition the value proposition of our clubs in this economic environment.

Are you ready to make this happen given what we know today?

Table A: Group Training Benefits

  1. Additional fee-based programming options
  2. More fitness professionals with new skill sets, creating the hybrid fitness professional
  3. The creation of a stronger club branding message delivery system (group exercise programs, personal training programs and group training programs)
  4. Increase in gross income to the club
  5. Higher profit margin to the club (i.e. increase in net income)
  6. Lower club member attrition rate
  7. Higher club member retention rate
  8. Higher referral rates from satisfied clients
  9. Higher hourly income for fitness professionals
  10. Increase in club income per member
  11. Strengthening of the club’s brand (i.e. the club’s value proposition)
  12. Increase in percentage of non-dues revenue
  13. Reduction of employee overhead expenses
  14. Increase in synergy of all club programs
  15. Strengthening of the club’s competitive points of difference
  16. Reinforcement of the club’s customer relationship program
  17. Reduction in fitness professional turnover
  18. Higher success in recruiting highly qualified fitness professionals

Table B: The DNA of the Group Training Hybrid Fitness Professional
1. Entrepreneurial mindset
2. Ability to sell services for a fee
3. Ability to set and share a vision
4. Ability to focus on customers
5. Ability to develop and support team and group building dynamics
6. Ability to solve problems and make decisions
7. Ability to lead club members
8. Ability to lead personal training clients
9. Possession of professional coaching skill sets
10. Ability to manage time, resources and projects
11. Ability to take initiative beyond the job description
12. Ability to display professional ethics
13. Ability to manage change
14. Ability to deal with individuals as individuals
15. Ability to share information
16. Ability to manage business processes
17. Ability to display technical skills
18. Possession of group training technical skill

Table C: Why Group Training Programs Fail

  1. They are launched with inadequate planning.
  2. No “champion” was assigned to manage the programs.
  3. The programs were not positioned with a credible distinction from traditional group exercise programs.
  4. Personal trainers with no group exercise skill sets were assigned to develop and deliver the programs.
  5. The group training instructors were not positioned as subject-matter experts. These group training instructors should be called coaches.
  6. The service providers were not incentivized to grow the programs.
  7. The base compensation was too low to attract the best skilled professionals to participate in the programs.
  8. The programs were not positioned to support the club’s brand or value proposition.
  9. The club had a weak or non-existent value proposition.
  10. The programs did not create a valuable member experience.
  11. The programs had no specific goals and objectives.
  12. The programs did not support the club’s customer relationship program.