Fitness Tourism - An Opportunity to Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

If you intend to open a gym some day, you should start your planning by visiting a series of established gyms to see how they operate in-person. If you do it right, you’ll walk away with a new appreciation for what works, what doesn’t, and how you can blend ideas to create the perfect business model for you.

Intelligent people learn from their own mistakes, but geniuses learn from the mistakes of others.

We have an open-door policy which allows for fitness professionals to visit either of our two facilities for the purpose of observing our business model, training environment, and unique gym culture.  We don’t offer this “service” because it makes our lives easier or our business more profitable.  We do it because there were a number of other fitness professionals who were kind enough to share their own insights free-of-charge both before and during the early stages of our business. 

In short, we feel an obligation to “pay it forward.” 

After years of hosting these types of guests, I’ve come to learn that there is definitely a right and a wrong way to take advantage of opportunities such as these. The worst thing you can do as an observational guest is to make yourself a part of the client training experience; instead, focus on being a fly on the wall.  On the flipside, there are plenty of ways to take away a boatload of valuable insights from this experience without overstepping.

Before I dig in to the best approach, let me save you from quickly wearing out your welcome with a few quick and easy things to avoid:

  • Requesting the opportunity to sit in on an assessment
  • Giving coaching cues to the athletes that aren’t paying for your instruction
  • Monopolizing the time of the coaches whose primary responsibility is to care for clients
  • Taking pictures and/or video without permission

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about three very important things to take away from an observational visit to an established fitness facility.

1. Observe the progression of the customer experience.

Any fitness facility that has managed to keep the doors open beyond the term of an initial lease (let’s say 3+ years) has to be doing something right, so pay close attention from the moment you walk through the door. There’s more to a successful fitness business than a good training environment; take note of how clients are greeted and how services are articulated at the “front end” of the business.

A truly efficient and profitable business will flow smoothly thanks to systems, standardized selling language, and a passion for customer service. Notice the pattern in the way they answer the phone, the way they close their initial assessments, and the way they upsell with integrity because they know that more supervised fitness instruction is in the best interest of their clients; not because they simply want to collect more dollars.

2. Take note of the training model.

Are you observing a successful personal training business? Maybe a gym packed with group training clients enjoying bootcamp-style classes? Or, maybe you’re here at Cressey Sports Performance trying to figure out how this semi-private training format that we’ve described as a “controlled chaos” works?

Wherever you are, there are lessons to be learned. There is no right or wrong training format or business model. Before you open your own gym you should attempt to see each of these types of training models first-hand and ask yourself which style is most complimentary to your skill set. 

Fascinated by the science of the assessment, program-design, and the integration of complex PRI concepts into training? Go spend a day with Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman at IFAST in Indianapolis.

Considering a model that allows for large group training for athletes with a performance enhancement focus? The guys at MBSC basically wrote the book on this one, and they’re just as willing to open their doors to fitness professionals as we are at CSP.

Maybe you’re planning on leveraging your big personality and a unique training environment to differentiate from local competition? You’d be doing yourself a disservice to not experience a class or two at Mark Fisher Fitness.

Unless you’ve conceptualized some sort of revolutionary training model that the world does not yet realize they need, there is definitely a business out there already thriving in a model similar to the one you have in mind. Identify the best and set aside the resources necessary to experience their magic in-person.

3. Pay close attention to the variety of on-the-floor coaching styles

The most innovative and cutting-edge fitness businesses employ teams featuring a broad spectrum of personalities and instruction styles. If you want to increase the profitability of your model, you need to be in a position to accommodate a wide range of people. In order to do this, you can’t employee an army of clone coaches; you probably need an “energy guy,” an authoritarian, a coach with good bedside manner, and more than one gender featured on your staff.

The closer you look, the more you’ll realize that different coaching styles tend to organically find their way to the athlete on the training floor who learns most effectively from that approach. Our team at CSP may seem surprisingly diverse as it relates to personality types and senses of humor, but it has been assembled this way by design.

Learn from our mistakes, and emulate our strengths…

Two of the fastest rising fitness facilities in the Boston area (AMP Fitness & Achieve Fitness) are owned by couples who spent multiple months training with us at CSP during the time leading up to launching their business. They were forthcoming with their intentions, and eager to experience our model in even more depth than you can as an observational guest.

Today, they operate hugely successful models that feature some components that they likely pulled from their time with us, and other entirely unique facets that I should be attempting to recreate myself. Most importantly, they took advantage of the opportunity to observe several successful facilities in action before making the biggest investment of their lives, and today they’re better because of it.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” - Isaac Newton