Wouldn’t it be great to have one program that offered solutions in member retention, lead generation, profit to the bottom line and staff development? Staff at Wheaton Sports Center, which has operated in Wheaton, IL, for more than 30 years, wanted to create such a program. And they did just that with their Waist Slimming Challenge, which is a fun, motivating vehicle that promotes healthy weight loss and gives members and their guests an opportunity to work in small groups with personal trainers.

This program has positively affected not only the numbers on the scale but also the membership and staff as a whole. After the first challenge began, people in the club were abuzz. People who were not enrolled in the program saw the setup for the workouts and the topics for the workshops and wanted to know more.

Here is how this program affected each of the following areas:

Member retention. Getting new members introduced to other members can be difficult, but members who participate in the challenge become connected to each other as well as the staff. “Getting to know each other by name, encouraging each other through tough workouts, even some friendly competition, make this program about more than weight loss,” says Jim Hughes, fitness director at Wheaton Sports Center. The Waist Slimming Challenge has the components that help make social connections among members seamless. One of the biggest complaints from busy members is that they do not have time to participate, but this program is scheduled 19 times within the week, so participants can look at their week and match their availability to the training schedule. No one is locked into a certain time. Participants can change training times every week if their schedule requires.

Lead generation. The program is set up so members can ask nonmembers to participate, which has been a great lead generator. The guests get to experience the club for the six weeks of the program and are invited to join the club during the program. The members who are challenge participants have membership incentives. Happy members refer their friends.

Profit to the bottom line. Offering great programs has never been a problem. Offering great programs that are revenue-generating typically has proved more difficult. Pricing the challenge in such a way that it is a value to participants and does not drain the profit margin is critical. The structure of the program maximizes the profitability. Wheaton Sports Center compensates staff with a salary rather than a per participant commission. The circuit training and healthy living seminars combine for a program that offers nutrition, lifestyle choices and physical fitness—all for one price. Prizes, workout and food diaries, and T-shirts all fall within 20 percent of the total revenue. Profit margins for the total program range from 40 percent to 60 percent, depending on the number of participants.

Staff development. This program has been an invaluable tool for staff development. The program allows staff to learn new skills in routines, cueing, proper form, new ideas, new circuits and new combinations. Every exercise must be modifiable from the beginner to the most advanced participants without making the beginner feel as though they cannot do the exercise and ensuring the advanced member is still challenged. This program also trains the trainers to overcome the fear of small group training, allowing for more income per training hour, and it improves personal training income overall. Often, the business side or sales side of personal training is the most difficult to develop in even the best personal trainers. The Waist Slimming Challenge has created a perfect springboard for crossover to our personal training department, boxing and Pilates. We train the staff to create an expectation of continuing with all the participants. The underlying concept is that this is the beginning of many varieties of fitness they can enjoy.

The mistake some clubs make with their weight-loss programs is that once the program is over, the member wants more direction but does not have support. This is a missed opportunity. We offer Waist Slimming Camps and healthy living seminars and workshops to fill in the gaps between the challenges. The camps are priced separately from the challenge. They allow members to continue small group training. The entire program has exceeded our expectations, and the energy in the club with both members and staff during challenges is contagious.

Karla Butler is membership and marketing director at Wheaton Sports Center. To learn more about how to set up a Waist Slimming Challenge in your club, please contact Jim Hughes, fitness director at Wheaton Sports Center, at jhughes@wheatonsportcenter.com.