If personal trainers are not training a client when they are at the club, then the club is losing money. That is the conventional wisdom of some club operators. However, is it correct?
Traditionally, health club owners have treated personal trainers as if they are contractors, allowing them to make their own schedules and recruit their own clients. Some health club operators require personal trainers to work paid floor shifts outside of training sessions, contending that although trainers are less profitable when on the floor, floor time helps keep the sales channel full, allows for more networking with members and fosters a team atmosphere. Other club operators remain convinced that the best way to drive revenue is by keeping floor time voluntary and eliminating distractions of floor time while encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit.
Although a hands-off management style works for some clubs, John Atwood, senior partner of Atwood Consulting Group, advises club operators to require some floor time of all trainers and to pay them for it.
"No trainer can do no floor hours because then they are not part of the team," Atwood says. "They are just kind of mercenaries, and they are not beholden to the team."
Floor time should not dominate the schedule, and each trainer should have the opportunity to move into more training sessions and less floor time. Atwood suggests setting goals such as reducing floor time for new trainers after they convert five or six members into clients.
"I give people a conversion rate they have to make in the first three months or first six months, and if they don't hit that, they know that the writing is on the wall," Atwood says.
The Houstonian Club, Houston, employs personal trainers as full-time employees with benefits, but they are only paid for the hours that they are in training sessions. Bob Talamini, personal trainer and team leader for the Houstonian, says the setup makes trainers work harder to build the business.
"Our place is a little bit different than most," Talamini says. "We have a lot of freedom. This is the closest thing you are going to get to your own business. However, you are going to have to get off your butt and get some business."
The Houstonian Club has tried having personal trainers share in managerial duties, but trainers were less productive and less focused, Talamini says.
"You can save a little money on the managerial side, but if you can get a trainer out there that will hustle, they are going to make you more money training," Talamini says. "If you can get a trainer that is going to make you $20 to $30 an hour training, pay someone $8 to $9 an hour to do floor time."
Because trainers at the Houstonian Club are encouraged to find their own clients, they start out by spending many unpaid hours at the club. If they do not spend time at the club, they will not find clients or meet their goals, Talamini says.
The Houstonian sets minimum training goals for its personal trainers. If they do not meet full-time goals, the club takes a larger portion of the training fee, Talamini says.
The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, New York, requires floor time of new trainers who are working toward certification. During floor time, trainers at The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers keep the floor clean, answer questions for members, take note of equipment issues and help wherever needed, Fly says. The floor trainers are paid an hourly rate and can receive commissions after they have completed a set of club requirements.
"Each day is broken down into two shifts: a.m. and p.m.," says Josh Fly, director of personal training for The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers. "All new trainers on staff are put on two mandatory floor shifts and have a checklist of practice sessions to complete with other trainers and colleagues, a tutoring and mentoring program with our lead trainers, and a practical exam to pass after three coaching sessions."
Providing new trainers with support helps them succeed long-term. However, Atwood warns against only requiring floor time of new employees in training. If all of the best trainers are only working with clients, then all of the new member consultations will fall on inexperienced employees. These employees may not know how to convert members and sell packages, so the club runs the risk of a bottleneck to the whole system, Atwood says.
"You've got to mentor people into getting conversions, hold people accountable if they are not hitting goals or they clog up the system," Atwood says. "For any club that is a moderate- to high-service, managed-type concept, this model works great."
The Columbia Athletic Club, Kirkland, WA, follows a model similar to the one recommended by Atwood. The club requires that each personal trainer complete two four-hour shifts of floor time each week. Trainers are paid an hourly rate for floor time and a higher rate when they are actually training.
Trainers use the time to check up on members and provide first-aid resources as needed. They also complete new member consultations and try to sell personal training packages.
"The members know that we always have a knowledgeable staff member available, so if someone has a question or concern, we are always open for anything," says Brandi Ohlsen, fitness director at the Columbia Athletic Club. "Some of the other clubs I've visited don't even have someone on the floor to assist you if you do have a question or concern."
Ohlsen divides new member consultations among the trainers, so each trainer receives new clients on a regular basis. This takes some pressure off and gives them more time to focus on interacting with members.
Although trainers must complete the floor shifts, they are able to train as many hours as they wish outside of that time. The club employs part-time and full-time trainers whose training hours range from 15 to 40 hours per week in addition to floor shifts, Ohlsen says.