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To Brand or Not to Brand

Wendy Jett earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in therapeutic recreation. She has been teaching group fitness classes for 19 years and holds various fitness-related certifications. She has served as the corporate group fitness director for Global Fitness Holdings/Gold’s Gym since 2000. She previously served as the group fitness director for Shapes Fitness Centers in Lexington, KY, for five years.

Many of us don’t remember the days before the McDonald’s hamburger, but there was a time when hamburgers and fries were served up only local-style across the United States.

At one time, the franchise burger joint was the new kid on the block, and many people questioned the reason behind creating a burger experience that was the same regardless of where you purchased the product. The thought that a Happy Meal in Atlanta as being the same as a Happy Meal in Toronto was a new concept. Fast forward a few years later, and the McDonald’s experience can be found around the world. Consistency in product regardless of location became the mantra for many companies.

There is definitely something to be said for the consumer having a good idea of what to expect before they hit the door. Over the past 15 years, this concept has even crept its way into the fitness industry with the introduction of branded classes and programs available to any club willing to pay an ongoing licensing fee. The intent behind these branded/pre-choreographed programs is that the quality of the product can be guaranteed regardless of who presents the product. The pre-choreographed class has become a part of muscle conditioning, dance, yoga, martial arts and even Baby Boomer classes. Many clubs are offering only branded pre-choreographed classes, while other clubs offer a mixture of both branded and in-house classes, while others have decided to keep all classes in-house.

For a group fitness director, this is yet another decision to make. Is the payoff for our program worth the monthly fee? Can we be competitive if we don’t offer branded programs? Will my instructors feel creatively boxed in? What is the right thing to do for our members? So many questions arise during the decision-making process. There are certainly good reasons to institute a licensed program, and there are good reasons to keep programming and training in-house.

Just what are some of the pros for offering branded programs? Perhaps the biggest and most appealing perk is that branded programs offer consistency. A set format with a set intensity level are built in—no more classes where everyone pays for the fact that the instructor is trying to work off the pizza she/he ate last night. Branded programs also offer quality music recording and current music offerings. Classes are guaranteed new, well-designed choreography on a regular basis—no more last-minute dashboard choreography by the instructor on the way to the club. Most companies that supply pre-choreographed programs also include marketing materials that appear professional and reflect a diverse population—no more posters made from construction paper and markers that advertise classes. Instructors can also purchase fitness apparel that reflects the branded program and helps to create the overall atmosphere of professionalism.

So, if branded programs offer consistency, professional marketing, new music and well- designed choreography, why are some clubs making the decision to keep all classes and programming in-house? The initial thought would be cost. Branded programs are not free. Clubs must pay a monthly licensing fee for use of the marketing materials, program name, music and choreography. Clubs must also pay for the initial training for all instructors prior to the initial launching of the program in the club. Trainings and certifications can cost from $200 to $500 per instructor. Many club owners feel that the group fitness director’s job responsibilities include training of instructors and think the additional fee for training in the branded program is a double whammy.

While branded programs offer new music and choreography on a regular basis, the cost for those items is usually not included in the licensing fee. It then becomes an additional cost that is transferred to the individual instructor, who may or may not have the funds to pay for each new release. Instructors for branded programs are usually required to purchase new releases as part of their individual agreement with the branded company. Therefore music and/or choreography cannot be offered to the instructor through an in-house library arrangement. Quality-continued education is offered through most of the branded companies, but the cost of the training is not included in the licensing fee and will need to be paid for by the instructor or the club owner. Lastly, many directors like having some control over what the final product is in their program. Pre-choreographed classes that arrive to the club with set moves, set music and a set format offer no opportunity to censor out music or choreography that may not be appropriate for the clientele at that specific club.

The decision to offer a branded program at a club is a multi-layered, major decision. It’s a decision that that the club owner, group fitness director and management team needs to discuss, research and agree upon. There are success stories on both sides of the debate. After all, let’s admit it, we’ve all eaten a Happy Meal, and we’ve all eaten a burger at our local “mom and pop shop” down the block. Perhaps there is room in the world for both.

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