Although the popularity of small group training isn’t breaking news in the industry, it seems to have come full circle. 2011 has shaped up to be the year of fee-based small group training, which many people recognize as a “win-win-win” business model for clubs, trainers and members. In today’s economy, health club members are being enticed by small group programs that allow them to get individualized trainer attention to meet their fitness goals at the right price.

By minimizing the cost barrier that may prevent members from purchasing personal training, successful fee-based small group training programs have the potential to create an additional revenue stream and greater time efficiency for the facility and its staff.

Fitness facilities worldwide are getting on the small group training bandwagon. In fact, the largest increases in personal training offerings from 2007 to 2010 were for small group and partner sessions, according to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association. Trending small group programs include multi-client personal training, interval or circuit training and small group Pilates sessions.

Small group training is only as effective as the efforts to support and grow the program. Here are five proven strategies for implementing a profitable and sustainable small group training program:

Develop programs with a start and end date. This strategy creates a progressive program with continuity and allows for member camaraderie and socialization. Facilities benefit from a program that is easier to manage on a small group schedule and a simpler way to track and compensate trainers.

Maximize program capacity and profitability. The key here is full sessions, not more sessions. Start slowly with fewer sessions at a lower price to help build demand. This way, facilities can consistently evaluate their supply/demand ratio and focus on selling out a program before fully launching it. Secondly, identify a pricing structure that is affordable during the initial launch. If there are four to six participants, for example, charge half the cost of an individual personal training session. Try enticing new participants with a free trial session and a discount on their first small group training package.

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Implement sales and marketing initiatives. Stagger program start dates. This allows facilities to sell each week, quickly integrate new members and bring in a consistent revenue stream. Also, use a “sold out” marketing strategy to drive member interest and create urgency to buy now. In-club marketing and free passes can help drive awareness and participation.

Optimize the small group schedule and space. Create a small group training space on the floor or in a designated studio where people can see the training take place. Do not hold fee-based small group training classes in the main group exercise room where the mental mindset is “free” exercise. Choose equipment that is versatile, functional and that members will be successful using, such as incline bodyweight training, suspension training, heavy ropes, medicine balls or other functional training tools.

Position the training team for success. A small group training program not only sets up trainers for profitability, but the facility also will net more per program, and the cost to the member is less than individual personal training. Be sure the people you appoint to head up the program are trainers who are comfortable working with multiple clients at once or are group instructors who are also certified personal trainers. The bond that the trainers make with the group participants will only help with client retention.

When starting a small group program, beware of the no-shows. Facilities should develop clearly defined training policies that are shared with members at the start of the program, ensuring their commitment for a given time. Many facilities have found that four- to six-week small group training programs were most successful when it came to attracting and retaining members. The shorter duration decreased the number of potential schedule conflicts for members.

Space constraints can also inhibit a small group program. Make sure training is performed in an area that won’t encroach on other members’ space. Finally, to avoid empty classes, which can deter new class participants, invite employees to join small group classes. This way, empty spots are filled, and the staff gets a free workout.

BIO

Jesse Campanaro is vice president of sales for Total Gym. In this role, he has had first-hand experience coaching small group training. Since beginning his career in the fitness industry eight years ago, Campanaro has helped more than 500 commercial facilities around the world launch successful small group programs with the GravitySystem—Total Gym’s fitness program that generates more than 3 million workouts every month worldwide.