Marci Clark, education director for SPIN Pilates, a SPIN Fitness educational program, is an international presenter on fitness and wellness programming with more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry. Clark’s business and industry experience have made her a sought-after consultant. She is widely published in the areas of Pilates and fitness programming. She can be reached at marci@spinfitness.com.

Not long ago, fitness facilities considered the group exercise department a revenue loser, and leading fitness industry experts were advocating eliminating group ex altogether. We have since learned that this is not what our customers want or need. In fact, many fitness facility members seek out the group environment, and some members will only exercise in a group setting. In response, fitness facilities throughout the country changed their programming to accommodate more and varied group sessions. However, as choreography and offerings have grown, the way we do business in the group ex department of the facility has remained the same—and it’s in dire need of improvement. As an industry, we have not taken the steps necessary to increase revenue generation.

Currently, most facilities view group ex classes as a value-added benefit of a membership. But to create a revenue-generating program, group ex classes should be at an additional cost for members, which is an idea beginning to gain traction in newer facilities. Fee-based classes create perceived value for the program and generate a direct revenue stream. From a programming perspective, fee-based class sizes would be smaller, which merges the feeling of personalized training with a group dynamic. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle. A successful group ex department also requires proper management.

In many facilities, the group ex director is a part-time manager who oversees all instructors and personal trainers. He or she may even be a personal trainer, too. Wearing so many hats leaves the director with little time or energy for program growth and development. Most group ex directors spend the majority of their time simply managing vacations and substitutes to ensure that the schedule is covered each week.

It is widely known that instructors, who usually have contact with the largest number of members, influence their students. Why do we allow our part-time staff to have such influence over our customers? No other service-based industry has this type of business model. For example, a fine hotel would not want an employee who works one or two hours per week to be in charge of checking in customers because they want to ensure the customer’s experience is consistent with the company’s mission.

It is important that fitness facilities begin to develop their current staff and hire full-time employees who can work in more than one area of the fitness center. This will ensure that the message throughout the facility is consistent. Plus, the group ex director can spend less time managing schedules and more time developing programming to grow revenue.

I realize that at many facilities, fee-based classes and a full-time staff cannot possibly occur overnight. However, I do believe a gradual shift in this direction will ensure longevity of your programming and retention of fitness staff.