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Scott Poston, M.S.

Founder & President

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Can Private Clubs Learn from Commercial Fitness?

Private v. Commercial

Commercial fitness and private club fitness share many things in common: they both care about member engagement (though they define engagement differently), they both use fitness to entice users into the facility... and that may be it. The two industries are quite dissimilar otherwise.

Private clubs care more about club value and member engagement than top line revenue, revenue per square foot, and sales closing rates. As well they should. Members of private clubs prefer not to be sold to; they prefer their club to focus on service and quality.

But not every SOP in a commercial fitness operation is bad. In fact, there's plenty going on that private clubs could benefit from. Commercial facilities are quite good at competing for members interests, and make no mistake--those commercial facilities are targeting your members (and winning in many cases).

I, your humble author, have worked in some luxury commercial fitness spaces. Here are some commercial fitness do's and don'ts you can use in private clubs (some of the ideas may require repackaging to fit just right at your club, but you'll get the point):

Busy fitness center


1. Provide versatile, multi-purpose equipment. Not all equipment is equal--no matter what that budget friendly equipment vendor tells you. Strength machines, cardio machines, rigs, and racks can have bells and whistles that allow your operation to evolve over the years. Look for unique features that members won't be bored with in a year.

2. Leverage quality staff and programming. Commercial gyms, especially the bigger ones, have the person-power (and budget) to build large operations. And even if that operation is not so innovative, eventually they find a new program that wows members. Consider the sheer number of fitness operations near your club and you end up with enough fitness wows to really compete for your members attention. Be creative, don't be afraid to fail, and expect your fitness staff to innovate.

3. Set performance expectations. Private club fitness centers tend to shy away from setting performance expectations for their staff and fitness director. The reason usually centers around clubs not knowing what metrics (besides revenue and visits) to focus their attention. A focus on program visits will serve your operation well. A program visit occurs when a member works with a fitness pro (could be a personal training session or a group fitness class; could be for a fee or for free). Program visits are actually one of just two KPIs 1000 Hills Fitness installs at its clubs. It is a key driver of club value and member engagement.


1. Be everything for everyone (as in, don't try it). It's tempting though, I know. A member complains that there aren't enough evening high intensity classes. Another member suggests offering nutrition services. A third member says yoga is really popular and you should offer more classes. All of those members might be right, but you have just one fitness director. S/he has weaknesses (and strengths), and limited bandwidth. If your director tries to provide every service for every member then the quality will have to be lowered in order to check the box. Don't do it. It's a trap. Know your brand and stick to your guns. Your regulars will thank you!

2. Don't measure success with the bottomline. Here's why: you don't sell fitness center memberships. Commercial fitness centers make much of their money through membership sales. Planet fitness averages 6,500 members per gym, but can only accommodate about 300. They are relying on non-use to fund the business ( In a full-service operation, you can expect to lose about $100,000 per year on the fitness services before adding in the cost of receptionists and other overhead.

3. Don't hire super sales savvy personal trainers. I have tried it, and it just does not work at private clubs. These fitness pros can sell, but only because (in many cases) they are simply playing the numbers game. Commercial fitness centers are notorious for encouraging staff to simply ask for the sale. If their conversion rate is 10%, then they just need to ask more people. That flavor of sales is not very palatable at private clubs. There is another way. At 1000 Hills Fitness, we call it Service-Sales. Bottomline: service=sales. Give more service, get more sales... in a nutshell.

Hopefully after reading this you do not feel as though commercial fitness operations are the bad guys. They aren't. In fact, they can be treasure troves of lessons. The evolutionary rate at these clubs is incredibly high. There's gold in them there hills.

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