What Kind Of Substitute Teacher is Your Fitness “Classroom” Prepared to Employ?

This image should spark a feeling of elation if you went to public school in the 80’s or 90’s.

Nothing screamed substitute teacher quite like seeing the television on wheels squared up at the front of your school classroom. Sure, a National Geographic documentary probably wouldn’t be your first choice if you were sitting at home on your couch, but you had to admit that it beat another day of algebra, right?

Now let’s take a trip to the other end of the emotional spectrum. I’m talking about the moment when you caught word in the hallway that Mrs. Smith was out sick and there would be a substitute in Algebra that day, followed by the dreaded warning: “but he’s actually taking us through chapter 6 in the textbook.”

As I remember things, there were two types of substitute teachers back in the day:

  1. Those who hit “play” and turned off the lights.
  2. And those who took us on a deep dive into the prescribed curriculum without missing a beat.

The former was a minor dream come true, while the latter was the swift kick in the nuts that no one like myself looked forward to. When we were younger, we always hoped to see that TV roll in to the classroom. In hindsight, it was in my best interest to work with the properly prepared substitute teachers. Similarly, it is in your business' best long-term interest to prepare your team to think like substitute teacher number two outlined above.

How does this apply to gym ownership?

I want you to imagine that you’ve been running a reasonably successful gym for 2+ years, managing a growing team and client roster, and generally following a desirable growth path. You’re in the middle of coaching a personal training client who happens to be an executive at a business just down the road that employs a couple hundred people, when he hits you with this:

“We’ve decided to take our corporate wellness initiatives up a notch in 2017 and will be outfitting a state-of-the-art gym in-house where we’ll subsidize top-notch fitness instruction for our team. All we need is the perfect coaches to come in and deliver this service, and I was thinking you and your team would be the right fit.”

He’d then go on to tell you that he’s not concerned with monetizing the relationship, so the space would come rent-free so long as you provide ample training time options for his employees at a fair market cost. All he is concerned with is improving the quality of life for his team, and the working environment he provides.

You’ve got to figure out a way to make this work…right? I mean, come on – free rent AND a list of leads sitting in their cubicles just upstairs?!?

This is a situation similar to that which my buddy Matt is experiencing as he operates his fitness business out in the Midwest. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

The reality of growth opportunities of this nature…

When an opportunity like this presents itself, it almost always comes with the caveat that you, the business owner, are being specifically targeted to deliver a service elsewhere. After all, this executive approached you about the gig, and not your employee or intern. He’s not excited about you outsourcing these coaching responsibilities. Instead, he wants you, and that means that something’s got to give at location number one.

It becomes time to ask yourself: Are my systems tight enough that I can step away from my current setup and know that the rest of the team will execute “the curriculum” without missing a beat?

By systems, I’m not talking about your assessment strategy and training philosophy. Assuming you’ve hammered those concepts home with your team during a typical hiring, onboarding, and training process, they will be the least of your worries when expansion discussions arise. What I am talking about is the nitty-gritty of running your business; the components of your day-to-day operation that are so ingrained in your entrepreneurial DNA that you execute them on auto-pilot.

Have you taken the time to document things like:

  • Your script for answering the phone?
  • How new clients are greeted at the door?
  • Proper articulation of your training model in layman’s terms?
  • A clear breakdown of your unnecessarily complex pricing structure?
  • What temperature the gym gets set at overnight and during operating hours?
  • Who gets called first if the person scheduled to open at 5:00am is out sick?
  • Contact information for the building repair guy, or your landlord?
  • Where the tools are kept in case a piece of equipment malfunctions?
  • The email address for your buying rep at the local fitness equipment wholesaler?
  • Who do you call if the credit card processor starts acting up?
  • What comes out of petty cash, as opposed to expenses that should hit the company credit card?
  • Employee management structure in your absence?

I could bang out 100+ similar bullet points by the end of this week if I wanted to, and I’d imagine that your internal to-do list is similarly extensive. If this is the case, you’ve got a long way to go before your gym is actually prepared to jump on the next expansion opportunity.

Unfortunately, these reminders aren’t only applicable to those who are fortunate enough to be blessed with growth opportunities. Imagine, God forbid, you suddenly learn that you’re seriously ill and need to step away from your business? Or, maybe you’re like me, and your wife unexpectedly delivers a child two full months early, causing you to miss extended periods of time managing the business.

Whatever your circumstance, it is important to remember that life is unpredictable. One thing you can count on is that rent is going to be due on the first of the month, and your employees are going to continue to expect that their paychecks will be delivered every other week. It’s time for you to systemize even the most basic of tasks related to being the boss to ensure that all of your commitments are met in your absence.

After all, rolling a television into the staff lounge and firing up the VCR isn’t going to cut it if you’re concerned with profits.