Thomas Plummer

The business of fitness

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Why Crossfit Matters .. And What it has to do to Stay Relevant in the Coming Years

crossfitCrossFit changed the rules of the modern fitness business. Love them or rage against them, the training gym game changed when Greg Glassman and his team of fitness insurgents reinvented the rules.

Greg Glassman created CrossFit in 2000, although it seems it has been around for decades longer. It would be hard to calculate just how many traditional training gurus railed against the concept of CrossFit when his idea was introduced back in the day. The sad part of the story is that Glassman was lost in the debate. His contribution to the industry as a creative genius and marketer, as well as a wild free thinker about training methodology, were often overshadowed by the negativity thrown at him by those challenged by his approach and take no prisoners demeanor.

There aren’t as many impact players in the history of fitness as you might imagine. Joe Gold created not only Gold’s, but World’s Gym as well. His legacy literally reinvented everything we did for 20 years as a business. Jack LaLanne made fitness popular and something everyone could do through his television show. Arthur Jones invented Nautilus and the commercial gym never looked the same again. Neal Spruce was a pioneer in nutrition and created not only the most successful commercial nutrition applications in the industry but NASM as well. Mike Grondahl almost went broke and in an act of desperation, and brilliant marketing, he created Planet Fitness and the low-priced business concept. And even Arnold turned the need to be big into a commercial proposition that drove people to the gyms in big waves.

Some of these people aren’t well known in the industry, but all of them have changed the way we do business, think about training, and relate to the public we serve.  The common denominator in this group is that everyone on this list was viewed as extremely controversial at the time and was debated by his peers as either the answer to everyone’s problem or thought to be the anti-Christ who would bring down humanity due to his idea of what fitness should be.

Greg Glassman belongs on this list. His genius is that he created a marketing company that reinvented modern fitness as we know it. Group training existed prior to CrossFit, but he made it the centerpiece in about 9000 gyms. No one had built a community in fitness prior to his arrival and no one debunked the idea of traditional circuit training like he did. He created a cult-like player in the industry, and as those on the list above, he was admired and hated at the same time for his work.

The hardest issue for a company such as CrossFit, and Glassman, is how do you stay relevant in an industry that eats micro gyms like a CrossFitter throwing down turkey legs at a Paleo buffet?

Most trends in the fitness industry, which we call micro trends, last for about 12-15 years. These trends have a long, slow build, followed by a quick rise to the top, a hot period, and then a fast fade. Aerobics, tanning, Curves and a number of other fitness phenomenons all lived and died by the trend line. Evolution is the constant and you either let your creation evolve or you watch it die because of failure to adapt and change to meet the current needs of the market.

Aerobics had a long slow build in the 1980s, followed by a quick rise and hot period in the late 80s and early 90s, and then it was gone around 1993 only to be reborn in about 1999 as group exercise driven by kickboxing and next generation group fitness. Even now group exercise has faded again and is slowly being replaced by group training in most gyms. The star can shine brightly, but eventually it does have to burnout.

Most evolution in the fitness industry is driven from the bottom up these days. This means that the gym owners, the trainers and the people in direct contact with the buying public modify their products as the market dictates. If your life and everything in it is put into your own training business, then you are forced to adapt and modify the model or the bills simply can’t be paid. Corporate people are often left out of this direct consumer contact making it difficult to feel and react to what the consumer is feeling today and what his needs will be tomorrow.

The exception to this rule is Starbucks. Howard Shultz came back into the company he created, went out into the stores and talked to the customers and returned the company into the profit zone. He didn’t do it by living in the past and trying to recreate or hang on to the glory days; he did it by reinventing the business around the original product, which is a strong cup of good coffee. He allowed the business to move forward in time and Starbucks now even has units that serve beer and wine.

On the other hand, in my opinion, Curves failed to evolve their original circuit product and the consumer simply moved on to newer and shinier toys. Many corporate people stumble because they know their product no longer works, but they have no idea where to go next. This seems to be the case with Gold’s and 24-Hour Fitness these days. How do you let those giant companies evolve and where should they be positioned to take advantage of the future? Evolution is constant and only the strongest and the ones willing to adapt become sustainable over time.

CrossFit had the long slow build. They had the quick rise. And now they are in the middle of the hot stage. The goal of any business owner is to stay there for as long as they can without succumbing to the quick plunge into fitness history. How can CrossFit stay relevant for another 14 years?

There are three things CrossFit could do to maintain their image as a dynamic force in worldwide fitness over the next decade:

1.     Support the training methodology with a business platform. CrossFit is a marketing company that sells licenses. Eventually, many of the people so passionate about CrossFit, and who want to make a living out of their box, will fail without business direction. Why let them fail? Why not embrace the fact that the coach who operates this box has evolved and wants to make a decent living out of owning and operating his own gym? The community may have all the answers to training questions, but most don’t have the answer when it comes to building a financially successful box that is sustainable over time. There are thousands of master trainers in the CrossFit system, and their next generation coaches are often some of the best in the world, but there aren’t many master level business people in the organization yet, but that will come ultimately and the more experienced box owners will figure out how to get the education and support they need to live their dream on their own terms.

There are a small number of CrossFits that make really good money, but most don’t. A typical 6,000 square foot training box can do over a million dollars a year these days, a number that isn’t really part of the CrossFit culture yet, but easily could be. Remember, Glassman was right in the first place. Group training is a good tool, but the coaches need other ways to charge and serve their clientele over time and if corporate doesn’t lead, it will happen anyway. Evolution occurs with or without leadership and do you want to be the person creating it or the person reacting to it?

2.     Help the younger, more inexperienced trainers keep their clients safer over time. There is probably no one more passionate about fitness and training than a coach with three months of fitness experience who just came home from his first CrossFit certification. This person is on fire and wants to share the newly acquired knowledge with everyone. The problem is that new coaches who just learned complex movement patterns might need some more seasoning themselves before he or she can supervise a room full of people doing a complex exercise, such as a power clean, whenever that group is tired and getting a little sloppy.

I would not change the community approach to posting workouts. It is fun and keeps the community banded together. It would be nice to see a recommend list of workouts for newer coaches focused on the skills they have today, not the ones they will have in the future. Injuries hurt everyone in the brand, even minor ones, and it is the perception of injuries that can ruin any good training gym, whether they are true or not. Control the perception. I don’t think CrossFit is any place as dangerous as the press sometimes fixates on, but it would help to control the perception instead of letting someone else control the conversation.

3.     Offer marketing support, such as a stronger national ad campaign, for a fee, to control the national image more. In marketing, you either control your own image, or the marketplace fills in the void and makes up its own stories.  Once you become a national brand, the marketplace can take over your image if you don’t work hard to control it. You can survive being the anti-gym, but in a small marketplace, such as the world of fitness where only 17% of the people in this country belong to gyms, your image, over time, dictates your place in this market. If you don’t play, the consumer makes up his own story about you and often that is bad. Greg Glassman has a compelling story to tell. Some of his first generation writings on the concept of CrossFit are some of the best marketing and most solid ideas of fitness I have ever seen in the industry, but why not let the story evolve and keep leading from the front?

What do all of these things mean taken together? Glassman created one of the most innovative fitness companies in the history of the industry. His distractors fight over the training methodology neglecting the fact that he changed the fitness world more than most of them combined ever will.

But this brilliant idea needs finished. It is important to all of us in the business that CrossFit grows and evolves to its true potential. No matter what success CrossFit corporate has had during their first 14 years, and it has been significant, they could even be more wildly successful if the boxes ever live up to their revenue potential. Owners that make money will stay in the organization longer and pay longer. These owners will spend a lot more money on education and even more on continued certification over time. Owners that make money stay loyal to the brand. Those that struggle look for other solutions and are willing to leave the brand for any solution that keeps them in business and living that dream of doing fitness for a living.

CrossFit matters to us all. Glassman was right and should be given so much more credit for his creation than he has been recognized for in the industry. It will be interesting to see how he lets it evolve into next generation of CrossFit and how the story will end.



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Breaking the Hourly Addiction

ImageGetting paid by the hour sounds so logical when you are a fitness professional. You show up to work, do your training thing, get paid for the time and go home. If you work for someone, this method of compensation makes sense. If you work for yourself, however, getting paid by the hour is the least effective thing you can do in business to generate revenue for yourself and for your team.

The problem with hourly pay is that there are a whole bunch of negatives that kill this method. Here are just a few to think about in your business:

·      There is always going to be a monetary perceived ceiling per hour you can charge; either in your mind or in the client’s head

·      The client always immediately finds an equivalent rate in his head comparing you to what he pays others in his life that provide anytime of service

·      You can only work so many hours per week; therefore, you can only earn so much before you top out your income over time.

·      Selling yourself by the hour always brings the discussion down to money instead of how you can help the client. Why is help in our world just limited to one hour at a time? Why is fitness sold per hour and not per solution to a problem? For example, a client asks for weight loss over time and we turn around and sell him an hour of our time. He asked for a solution to a long-term problem and we came back to him with an hourly fee.

Let’s say a trainer can charge $100 per hour in her market. In the trainer’s world, this amount is often a lot of money, especially since we all currently believe that the idea is to try and charge as much as you can per hour worked, which proves to be an ineffective way to charge anyone that we will discuss later. The trainer says, “I am going to push my rate up to $100 and go for it; it’s the most I have ever charged anyone.”

Since this is a lot of money to the trainer, his ability to ask for this money is always weak. It takes a mature money person to stand in someone’s face and ask for the most money you have ever earned and most trainers, especially the younger ones in the field, stumble here.

Understand that trainers usually get into the field because they are internally driven people who love helping others. It is a strange comparison, but trainers are often the social workers of the fitness industry. Social workers are often good people who dedicate their lives, often for extremely low pay, to helping others in need. Many trainers love helping and training so much that they too will help others for free if necessary. This intrinsic drive is admirable in a trainer, but it doesn’t feed the kids or pay the rent.

The client on the other hand, who often has either direct or indirect knowledge of what trainers in your area get paid, compares your rate to others in your field in that area. You should be the highest priced trainer in your area, but there are limits to how far you can push this concept. Money people that are our training clients understand better than you often do that the higher the rate someone charges, the higher perception of service and quality goes with it. This thought is a direct contradiction for trainers who often feel they have to continually make deals or charge the least in their market to work which is the hardest lesson to learn by any trainer in the business.

Where we fail, however, and where there is a serious disconnect, is that what we ask for doesn’t usually match the circumstances of the sale. For example, your client wants to hire an attorney. The $50 per hour attorney usually matches the rate he charges. Bad suit, small office, no assistant, poor location and little experience are all the signs of a $50 an hour attorney. On the other hand, the $250 hour attorney completely matches the rate. He or she has the big office, assistants, is often part of a bigger firm, offices that are in the best part of town and all the trappings, experience and poise it takes to charge the highest rate in town.

Our trainer, however, is trying to charge the highest rate he can or the market will bear, but is doing it in the same context that all the other cheap guys live in. Our hero wants the most money, but he is dressed the same, usually badly, works along side the low priced guys, doesn’t understand added value or building value for his client and simply tries to charge a little more, but does nothing else to support the context that he is worth more. Remember, it isn’t always what you know; it is how you deliver that knowledge that makes you money.

In the world of attorneys, the range between the lowest and the highest hourly rate can exist because the differentiation is so apparent. In our world, the gap between high and low that the client will accept is often much smaller because there is often no perceived differences between the players. Your price is based upon you learning that perception of quality is the real separator in the client’s head and in most business transactions.

Another problem with charging by the hour is that the client always immediately compares your rate to other professionals in his life and we often fare badly in that comparison. If you charge a $100 per hour, and the client’s chiropractor only charges $65 per visit, you are now being compared to a medical professional. In the client’s head, you are charging more than a medical professional on his team. We can survive this comparison, but our delivery system, which includes our support materials for the client, how we dress and professionalism, where we train the client, the support services we offer along with our training, such as nutrition, and all the other small details that make up our product along with the actual training, has to be so much more distinctive and offered at a much higher level than any other trainer we are competing against.

The need for having a life works against you charging hourly for your services. Yes, you can work six days a week. Yes, you can work splits so you can be there in the morning and come back in the evening for those later clients. And yes, you can train clients for 40 hours or more per week. The question is how long can you do this, and most importantly, how long can you do this well?

Your ability to maintain this level of training over a long period of time is almost impossible. We find that the average trainer lasts less than eight years before he or she burns and crashes. Trying to maintain this type of schedule is the prime reason trainers fade away young.

There are several issues involved here. First of all, your ability to work past this hour limit will put a max on the money you can make. If you can only work 32 sessions per week, then your money ceiling is now 32 times your hourly rate minus your cost of servicing that client. Trainers who want to make more money simply keep trying to gain more clients and work more hours, but realistically, at some point you will have to take a nap, eat, see your kids, visit your soon to be ex-spouse or simply sit somewhere for a few hours with friends and decompress. Whether you admit it or not, there is always going to be a limit to the hours you can work, and therefore, the money you can make.

The second issue is that the more hours you train clients, the more ineffective you become. There will be those of you who read this who adamantly deny this and swear, probably at me, that every session you ever offer is the best you can do and every client gets your best every time you’re on the floor. The passion is appreciated, but sit quietly and ask yourself if that is indeed true? Are you really giving your best every session, every week, every month, year after year or are you giving it about 80 percent of what little energy and passion you have left after five years of split shifts, 2000 meals out of plastic bowls, clients in foul moods, late nights with friends and the fact that you just haven’t had five consecutive days off since summer vacation in grade school?

Training for a living, despite what your relatives and friends think, is extremely difficult with a full load of clients. You have to remember that every client is there to take a little of your energy home with them that day and no trainer, no matter how good, is capable of sustaining that level of commitment year after year without rest, decent food and a chance to stay fresh and excited.

The answer to all of this is to move from hourly to solution-based client sales and there are several ways to get this done.

First of all, you can switch from one-on-one training as your primary tool and start with small group training with up to four in a group. Your return per hour goes up, the clients get better results over time due to the group dynamic, and most importantly, you can work fewer hours each week and make more money. You gain the advantage of shifting the focus away from you and to the group making your job easier and more sustainable over time.

The key to getting started with this is to switch from per session charges to charging per month with a 12-month commitment (at least three months if you are nervous to try this). For example, instead of charging $60 per session, or 10@ $500, which would be a typical charging system for a trainer in the one-on-one world, you could switch to $259 a month for 12 months for five visits per month or $359 a month for 12 months for unlimited access defined as 12 sessions per month with guided workouts for the off days included (You write the workouts but the clients do them own on their on the off days).

You set times on a schedule and the client books the times best for him. The client does not have to bring a friend or fill the slots; he simply goes to your scheduler and books as needed. Remember that the average client will train about 9.6 times per month so you win by accumulating a large receivable base of client money owed to you and the client wins by being able to train when he wants in a group setting with motivated people along side.

If you don’t want to do it this way, you can simply sell a solution to a problem. For example, a client starts with you and wants to lose some weight and get healthier. It doesn’t make sense for this client to now buy a five pack of sessions, and it is worse if you discount your services to sell him more sessions at a lower rate.

Using the $50 rate from above based upon the session package, you could sell this client a three-month complete rebuilding program for only $549 per month for three months, which includes 8-12 sessions per month done in a group setting, full nutrition support and needed supplements, a workout journal and a tee shirt. This is just a model and what you charge and what you add is up to you, but the key point is you make more money selling the client a solution to his problem rather than trying to just sell hourly sessions and packages.

The goal is to net 40% on everything you do, but the long-term move is to build a system where you get paid for what you know, not just the hours you are willing to work each week. You’re already doing the work, you just aren’t getting paid for it well enough.

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It was Time for a Rewrite – Introducing How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry


The industry has changed dramatically since my first book, Making Money in the Fitness Business was first released in 1999. Since that era, the big box mainstream gym have faded and the trainer, and the training-centric business model, has risen to dominate the field. This new revision, titled How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry, represents our entire business system used by gyms in over 30 countries around the world.

The original book was a combination of a true labor of love and true arrogance. Everything I thought I knew was in that book and it represented to me a giant step forward from the past failures of the fitness industry toward a system where a dedicated owner could learn to make money ethically and professionally without hurting or failing the client. 

The original book sold about 100,000 copies, which surpassed all my other books combined. It is, however, time to move ahead. The book simply had to be revised to represent the market today and how business is done today. The revised book, which will be published the first week of March by Healthy Learning and Jim Petersen and his dedicated staff, covers over 400 pages of how to get it done in today’s market. Very little of the original book exists and it is a revision only in theory. The first seven chapters are new with current information you can use to make money today in a tough and competitive fitness market.

The following is the introduction from the new book, which gives you a taste of what changed and why. The new version will be on sale through Healthy Learning, Amazon and through the National Fitness Business Alliance (  around March 10. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did writing it.

Introduction to How to Make More Money in the Fitness Industry

When this book was first written back in 1999, it represented everything I really knew about fitness at the time. When I first started in the industry, much of what we did was really all about the owner and little if anything to do with the client. Sales techniques were predatory, the equipment was worthless, few people working in the industry at the time really knew anything about fitness, getting results for clients and the national image of what we did was horrible. There were still pockets of knowledge out there that resided in the small physical physique gyms scattered around the country, but the few who understood fitness were buried beneath the hundreds that wanted to exploit the member for everything he owned.

I grew up in fitness in the era of high-pressured sales. We lived, breathed and failed by learning to sell. The national chains at the time were nothing but repositories of old sales guys who could slam down a dozen a day and then do it again tomorrow. No one thought about, or cared about, the client, who quickly failed in this system and left. Why care? In those days, the member was easily replaceable and the competition was light. Sell, sell and sell again.

This is a system that I learned to hate quickly. The clients then, as they do now, suffered from being overweight, out of shape and miserable in their personal lives and were looking for us to help them achieve a new level of success. We didn’t have the tools, but there were a few of us that tried anyway. Books were scarce and the ones you could find were based upon personal experience and ideas with no research or real information to back up the claims and techniques in the books or magazines.

The best thing about this old information was that it predated the bodybuilders. Almost everything you read in those days, which was the late 70s and early 80s, was based upon a holistic, full body approach to fitness. You lifted heavy a couple days a week and put a lot of heavy metal up over you head as often as you could. You lifted heavy, lifted often, worked your full body and amazingly it worked for our clients.

At about this same period of time fitness changed and changed for the worse. The 80s was a decade of fixed plane equipment and the first generation of workout people who chased isolation for the muscle. The emergence of the national chains and the end of anyone getting any help unless you paid a trainer to work you out six days a week. This was the advent of the bodybuilder, which for better and worse chartered a course for the industry that lasted until just the last few years. We went for show in those days and bigger the better, but we created a generation of false expectations and worthless training knowledge that still permeates the mindset even today.

My absolute distaste for the early fitness industry still burns my lips today. We lied to the client to get him into the gym and then failed him once he was there. We chased image over health and failed to do any research that would have advanced the industry by several decades. The industry was for all practical purposes saved at the turn of this new century by the rise of the functional training mindset and by solid research that pointed the way. Some of the early functional pioneers, such as Vern Gambetta, Gary Gray, Jim Petersen, Cedric Bryant, Mike Clark, Al Vermeil and a few others set the tone for a new generation of trainers and training information. This first wave led to the second and the gurus of change who set the world on fire, such as Mark Verstegen, Gray Cook, Mike Boyle, Dan John, and Carlos Santana then led again to today’s best, such as Alwyn and Rachael Cosgrove, Todd Durkin, Greg Rose and Pavel Tsatsouline, who have combined to create a new generation of educated professionals that are quickly changing every concept we ever thought to be true in the industry. For once, we had tools that worked and that were validated by educated people who could and would test all the nonsense we had carried for over five decades.

My mission then, as it still is today, was to change the fitness industry from an image of nasty sales techniques and failed information to one where the client got what he paid for and could trust the gym and the owner he chose to help him fulfill his goals. One workshop, one gym at a time, one owner until the consumer could look at what we did and trust us instead of fearing us as he did back in the day of the pressured sale in an office.

Writing this first book was a labor of love. It was my chance to spread the word that you could make money in this business and you could do it ethically and professionally and not at the expense of hurting the people who trusted you with their money. There were later books in this long series on the business of fitness, but each new title was only added after I felt I had something new to say and while I enjoyed the writing process in each and every one, this first one was always my baby that started it all.

At the time this book was written, it seemed so fresh and needed in the industry, but as with everything in the fitness world, time diminishes returns and what was once at the edge of the field and pushing beyond any accepted boundary at the time, became dated and no longer the source of vital information that could help an owner understand and master the business side of the fitness industry.

My entire life has been spent going forward. I like living in the “now” and as I have told thousands of clients, you can’t change your past and the mistakes you have made so let’s talk about today and what you are going to differently starting tomorrow. Looking backward has never been productive for me, and nor for you, and once something is done in my life I let it be and keep moving towards tomorrow.

Being an author, however, is a little like having your own personal time machine; just one call from my publisher, Jim Petersen, who said, “This book is getting dated. How about doing a revised edition?” led to me firing up the time machine and heading back to 1999. Once a book is finished there is no going back for me and I truthfully haven’t looked through the first edition of this book more than a handful of times in the 14 years since I wrote it.

Picking it up again left me with two impressions. First of all, the material was right for the decade it was written, but it is not very close to how an owner has to think or work to be successful in a market that has changed so dramatically in so few years. Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised that there were still some fundamental truths in the book that have endured over time. For instance, building a receivable base is still a fundamental rule that can’t be changed even today, short-term debt still can kill a business and customer service still is an essential.

The failings of the original book today, however, were glaring. When this book was first published, there were no low-priced gyms, no training gyms that mattered, trainers were at best clipboard cowboys, and the chains that ruled that era have since faded to almost oblivion. Most importantly, back in the day in 1999, competition in most markets was at best moderate, meaning that most gyms could safely operate with little or no competition and the tools of the years that preceded 1999 going back to the 1950s, the era when the gym business started to first rise, were still somewhat valid.

In 1999, gym owners were still pressuring sales in offices, still just selling access to equipment through an inexpensive membership, and still using price-driven marketing to get leads. All of these concepts, by the way, have totally failed in today’s market including the idea that you can be the lowest bidder in the market and simply rent equipment to a consumer who will be gone in a few months.

There is an important rule in the fitness business that no one recognizes, but most everyone is affected by at some time or another. This rule is the 10-year rule and it states that few concepts in fitness will be sustainable for a 10-year period. Every new idea in fitness has pretty much the same curve of growth, but you as the creator or eventual leader get to choose your own ending. For example, in the 1980s aerobics started a long, slow growth period, got hot and rose to the pinnacle of need, quickly declined in the early 90s and then completely disappeared for about a decade.

This pattern is true of most concepts in the fitness industry, and it is why you constantly need to look at what you own and what you’re doing and reinvent. This is why consultants who write books need to go back and question every concept in their older books and ask if that idea is still relevant and would it work today?

We see the this pattern of long, slow grow, followed by a hot, “must-have-it-now” pattern, the quick decline and then oblivion in everything we do and in the real world too. Starbucks stumbled until its founder stepped back in and reinvented the company. Apple stumbled until Steve Jobs came back and set it again on its original course and only the future knows if that company can continue to amaze after the death of Jobs.

Great companies in the industry, such as Gold’s Gym and World’s, were the rulers of their decades, yet the companies sold and somewhat faded from their once true glory. Gold’s Gym was probably the most recognizable fitness name on the planet for several decades, but again, it is a lot easier to get to be number one than stay number one over time. Can these great names be reinvented by their current management and follow the path of Starbucks or will they fade and become just another former success story in the history of the industry?

The difference between long-term sustainable success and oblivion is evolution. Howard Schultz let Starbucks evolve, but only by remaining true to its roots. This sounds contradictory, but under his second generation direction, the company changed to meet the needs of its continually evolving customer base while never forgetting that it was, and always will be, about the coffee and the experience.

In the fitness business, creators of new concepts tend to sit on the past and cling to original methods and ideas. This list is long, but how many chains and franchises have you seen rise, become hot, and then fade away over a decade or so because the consumer and market simply grew past the original concept. Curves was a brilliant idea at the time, but a decade or two later and the concept became archaic and a hard sell in the market as the total number of units they operated continued to decline for a number of years. Their method of training, based upon a simple circuit concept, was right at the time when it was founded, but compared to the advent of functional training and how the proven methods of training, even for the older woman, has evolved can this business model be sustained into the future? Everything has to evolve or it dies and businesses, even wildly successful ones such as the original Curves franchise model, eventually reach a stage where you grow or fade.

When this introduction was written there were a number of other companies that were nearing that vital period where either they evolved into next generation or begin the long slow march to obscurity. Once you reach that pinnacle position of being really hot after the long, slow build, how long can you truly stay hot?

There is another position between hot and the big fall and that is where you operate as a long-term dependable company that keeps its product fresh, service great and always is moving itself ahead. Starbucks is over 40 years old, but its stores and concepts seem fresh and as if it was a brand new company. Sears is in the fight now to remain relevant. Montgomery Wards disappeared. Almost all of the Curves imitators failed and disappeared. Reinvention is life and whether you grow or you die in the fitness world is driven by your response to  the rapid pace of increasing knowledge, better educated employees, such as the trainers and a much more sophisticated client who all are pushing the gym owner to grow and adapt or face being ignored and fail.

It will be interesting in the near future to see if companies such as CrossFit, Planet Fitness, Les Mills, Gold’s, LA Fitness and the rest of the current big names, or programming giants such as Zumba, will continue to evolve and stay relevant or become a victim of the 10-year rule and start that quick slide to where they are rarely discussed and are no longer relevant in the business world of fitness.

Obviously, the first edition of this book was a victim of the 10-year rule and needed reinvention to stay relevant for a next generation of fitness business owners. The business model I have advocated all these years, and that has been quite successful for thousands of owners, needed to be tweaked, a process we started almost a decade ago. This book now represents all that we know today about running a successful gym as well as validating some of the original concepts that were slightly ahead of the curve.

One of the basic tenets I have always believed in is that going for heavy volume, meaning chasing an endless supply of new clients each month to replace the ones you burned up was not sustainable over time. The concept was right, but it was wrong in that it was introduced too early in the market. Going after a higher-return-client-served was the right idea, but it was hard to sell in the industry when the volume guys were still writing the big sales. In other words, it was the right idea, but we didn’t have the tools we needed to get it done back in 1999. But that has changed, and now is the time to recognize this principle. And most importantly, owners are listening now because of all the things that have failed in the last 20 years, nothing is more earth shattering than the failure of the volume based business model.

The missing ingredient all these years was the training component of the business. It seems absurd now, but working people out for money has been a small part of the industry for over 60 years. We have done nothing since the inception of the industry over 65 years ago, no matter how this is argued, except sell a membership to a person who pays each month to a gym so he can access, or in other words rent, the gym’s equipment.

The statistic that validates this has been constant for several decades. In a typical, mainstream fitness center, whether independent or chain, only about 5 percent of the membership work with a trainer on a regular schedule on an annual basis. If you are math challenged, look at it this way; in this gym, 95 percent of the membership gets no help whatsoever and practice some form of do-it-yourself fitness usually regulated to going around a circuit of set equipment that has been proven a hundred different ways not to get the person into shape over time.

The evolutionary key, and the premise behind the revision of this book, is that the industry cannot last as a rental company for equipment, even at $10 per month. We have to move from a volume approach, where the member is expendable and irrelevant over time, to a training-centric business model where we have to chase the maximum results, for the maximum number of clients, in the shortest period of time, and keep our clients for as long as we can in a hyper-competitive market place.

This revision contains our complete business model to make this happen for you and your business and it doesn’t matter if you own a big box mainstream gym or small training gym on the corner. Everything you need to be financially successful for the coming decades is here, proven by thousands of clients over a 30-year period. We now have the tools, we now have the education, and for the first time, we now have the clients willing to support a system designed to help them succeed.

There is one thing you have to understand if you want to make the fitness business your life’s work. We exist to change lives. We exist to help people who struggle with health and fitness get better. We exist to make a difference in our communities and with the people who trust us with their money. We can do all of this and still make more than enough money to take care of our lives and our families. If you are in fitness because you want to make a difference, then this book is for you.

Chase your passion through fitness,

Thomas Plummer

March 2014

 To purchase Thom’s book > Click Here >


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If You Are A Hammer, Everything is a Nail



We often fail in sales because we end up attempting to sell something to the client that he really doesn’t care about buying. What we sell is what we do and how we do it; but what the client really wants to buy is a solution to a problem. This solution is defined as the expected outcome of doing business with you over time.

For example, one of the oldest examples used in so many sales workshops is the drill. Very few people go to Lowes to buy a drill because they need a drill. You go to Lowes and buy a drill because you need a hole somewhere.  We have all heard this old story, but very few people take the time to understand what it really means and how the relationship between the buyer and seller can break down.

The sales guy is excited to talk about the features of the drill including the power, attachments, case, cord and battery. The buyer just wants to know if this is the right drill to hang 20 pictures in his house. The buyer and seller have a hard time connecting, and the sale might be lost, because each one has a different expectation in the encounter.

The same is true in the fitness world. We lose potential clients because what we attempt to sell is not what the client came into your gym to buy. Clients come to a gym for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to buy a solution to a problem.

My pants don’t fit I join a gym. I am getting divorced I join a gym. I am going to be in a wedding so I join a gym. In the first example, the problem is the pants and the solution he wants to buy is getting rid of a few pounds. In the divorced example, someone is now single and has to get back out in the dating world and needs the self-confidence to do it and in the wedding scenario, the problem is looking good for the woman in a sleeveless dress. They all have a problem and all are looking to you for the solution.

Do any of these people really care how you get this done? If I hire you to build custom cabinets in my house, do I care if you use a Black and Decker drill or a Makita or do I just really care about you being a master cabinetmaker that does good work for a fair price?

Inefficient salespeople, and the fitness industry is full of them, spend all their time in a sales encounter talking about the tools they will use to get you in shape. In the mainstream boxes, we talk about the number of classes, the number of trainers, the total amount of cardio and weight equipment we have. These sales people spend all their time telling you what the gym owns and very little time on how the gym will deliver results.

Training gyms are in many ways worse because the people doing sales there spend so much time talking about how they train, their training theories and belief systems, the initials they have collected behind their names and the latest certifications they have amassed. In other words, we talk about drills, doors and tools and very little about the expected outcome of the application of these tools, which are beautiful cabinets in my kitchen.

The worse offenders in the training world are the new weekend wonders that get those new certifications in one or two days and are now masters of their training methodology. Remember that when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail and after one weekend with good instructors and 60 other converts, everything come Monday is going to get nailed because you, and only you, now know the only right way to train.

Becoming a master coach is more about having a full toolbox (not referring to the many trainers who are considered by their friends and family as one tool short in their tool box) and being able to use the right tool to solve the problem at hand rather than forcing everyone to fit into your narrowly defined window of expertise.

If you want to sell effectively, which means nothing more than helping the people who came to see you get what they really want, then you have to change your mindset. We have to move from selling what we do and how we do it to selling what we can do for you.

Spend time really talking to your clients about these three points. This does, by the way, work in almost any business where there is a client and a salesperson trying to sell something to that client.

1) Where is the client today? What is his starting point? Why is he here? What is working for him and what isn’t working? Assess what he is doing and acknowledge that even walking the dog is more than most of America does on a daily basis.

2.  2) Where does he want to go and when does he want to get there? In other words, what is his expected outcome of working with you? Is it reasonable and is it something he can commit at least two days a week chasing. Purists, need to walk it back a little. Unless you are a professional fitness person, or in that hardcore group that represents such a small portion of the people in this country, you cannot expect someone to commit to a gym more than 2-3 days a week. Two times is a lot for someone who has family, a tough career and any type of life. Yes, I agree that fitness should be the centerpiece of his life, but maybe two times a week is just all he has and maybe all he will every have so live with it.

3.  3) Project him out for 30/60/90 days. Show him what he can achieve during these time frames and help him see that the effort he will put in can get him to these points. You don’t have to be crazy accurate, but at least build a plan showing where he is now, where he wants to be, how he is going to get there and the benchmarks along the way.

You have noticed that the tools we use just aren’t that important to him. What is important is that you have spent time with him, understood his goals, know what his expected outcome is and most importantly, have laid out a 90 plan of attack to get it done.

Be proud of what you have learned and be proud of whatever organization you support, but be aware that the client is less concerned where you spent last weekend getting down and dirty and cares much more about what you can do for him and if you are the one he can trust to help him reach his goal.