I got into the private sector for many of those reasons - and overall I wanted to coach and coach my way.
BUT, little did I know the various facets of owning and operating a business take their toll. Not only that, if you have no experience with business (most of us studied exercise science or the like, NOT business classes) many of the facets of pricing, marketing/advertising, website design, accounting/book keeping, insurance/liability, taxes, payroll, etc can be daunting tasks.
So I asked some friends in the private sector to give some short answers on some of the above topics.
These are coaches who have made and run a successful facility for years and have been through the ringer when it comes to these business questions.
No doubt you'll learn from their answers and hopefully their guidance can help facilities maximize their efficiency and effectiveness of their programs.
Blue = Rich Schimenek - Trois Training
- Instagram - @CoachSchimenek
- Twitter - @CoachSchimenek
Red = Joseph Potts - TopSpeed Strength & Conditioning
- Instagram - @TopSpeedLLC
- Twitter - @TopSpeedLLC
Green = Drew Heisler
- Instagram - @HeislerTrainingSystems
- Twitter - @HeislerTraining
Orange = King
- Instagram - @King_Performance_Systems
Purple = Engineered Per4mance
- Instagram - @Engineered_Per4mance
- Twitter - @EngineeredPer4m
1. What ages do you work with? How do you break-up ages/grades, ie do you have a middle school group, high school group, college group, etc? Do you ever run into issues with a family that has a high school kid and middle school kid but don’t have the same training times/groups for them?
I work with athletes from 6th grade up. I only separate the high level high school and college athletes in their own group, every other session is a mix. The athlete schedules around here are really hard to work with, almost all of my athletes have some sort of “not required, but required” summer sessions with their fall sports teams. I will usually write the day’s session for the high school athletes and regress for the younger athletes, it’s what has worked the best so far.
In a perfect world I would love to break up by age group, but right now it would leave us with smaller groups that don’t maximize our time in the gym. Minnesota summers are weird like that, with the lakes around here there isn’t a ton of interest in training during the afternoon because every kid wants to be on a beach or a boat at that point.
As I general rule I only work with high school aged athletes or above. However, depending on the level of maturation we have had several 7 th graders join the program. We do have a youth class for athletes aged 5-12 that meets twice per week during non-peak hours.
I work with athletes from 6th grade and up. In an ideal world groups would be set up by sport and age. In the real world I have had to put groups together where middle school and high school kids have had to work together. I have had groups where some of my adults have had to work with some of my high school kids. It is not ideal but until I have such a demand that I have to hire more trainers, I have to make it work as best I can.
I work with mostly High school and College athletes. I do break it up that way, I have Youth, High School, College, and Pro groups. I have not ran into that problem yet.. But it is a good idea to find a solution for that before the program comes.
We have multiple groups starting with EP4Kids (3-6 year olds). We bring these little guys over from local daycare centers and travel to ones around the metro to do this class focusing on motor skill development and play. EP4Teens (mostly made up of 7-12 year olds but based on training experience. This class is focused on learning general exercise safety, technique, explosive moment and play/competition. Alpha Athlete is our sports performance program (mostly high school and collegiate athletes.) This is our general sports performance and athletic development class focused on creating general athleticism. During the summer currently we have a specific class for elite high school, top tier collegiate, and professional basketball players. After a growing interest we will have a separate collegiate and a separate professional basketball program this coming summer.
We have a few families that have kids in different groups which causes a problem with their scheduling. However, most seem very understanding of the need to separate the programs based on the needs analysis of the different ages and training history.
2. How do you structure payment - Pay per session? Monthly Packages? Set start and end blocks of training – August 1st – October 31st = $x? How did you come up with your pricing structure? How did you decide on price points? If you’re willing to share – can you share what your prices are for your packages – if not, I completely understand.
We do monthly payments during the school year and a package payment over the summer. We charge $150/month for 3 days of training and $120/month for 2 days during the school year. Summer sessions are around the same price, but for marketing reasons I do it as a training package. For example, this summer was $350 total, which was about $13.50 per session. Last summer was $450, but we had 3 more weeks of training than this summer. I base the summer packages off how many weeks we train and what I want for price per session.
My pricing was determined by my personal cost of living and what I know people will pay around this area. Also, being a small business I’ve found it’s easier to charge like this since I have to enter everything by hand. Packages mean fewer checks to enter and cards to swipe, but monthly over the school year allows me to track who’s paid and who hasn’t each month. I wouldn’t recommend it for a big facility, but it works for us.
We charge per session. To set my price I called around to local commercial gyms and found out how much they charged for personal training and prorated that out to allow for the semi-private versus private setting. Our sessions run $40-50 each depending on the package the athlete enrolls in.
I offer group rates of 180$ per month for 2x per week training and 240$ per month for 3x week training. I offer a daily group rate of 25$ per session and private sessions are 50 per hour. My rates have gone up a bit over the years, as my original pricing was fairly low. I have learned that charging a higher rate leads to more clients who respect you, your time and will work a little bit harder than those who want the world for less. I have also found that I am better able to provide high quality training when I am working with groups of 3 or 4 rather than 5 to 8. To keep the quality high and to attract the right clientele my rates will settle somewhere near charging 25$ per hour per person. This stuff is my least favorite part of owning.
This is what I am currently working on restructuring. We currently do Monthly packages. But are working on adding in blocks of training instead of just the monthly option (1month, 3months, 6months, 9 months, and 12 months). I try to keep the pricing as reasonable as possible, especially for the high school and youth athletes.
All of our sports performance programs are month-to-month memberships. Due to the fact that the athletes participate in a wide variety of sports they need the ability to leave during season or when training/school/life outside of here becomes too much. They are year round to tailor to all sports and not separated by training time blocks. We do offer specific “speed/conditioning” blocks over school breaks for athletes that are back in town.
All of our adult fitness classes, however, are based on contracts. The longer they commit the cheaper the price. This structure allows for stability within the business because I can count on that amount coming every month regardless and helps drive all business/ marketing decisions.
I came up with the structure by essentially reverse engineering what I needed to make to keep the business operable (utilities, rent, payroll, etc.) Our business plan was based on a three year building process where I would essentially not take a salary and always give anything extra back into the business, whether that be new equipment or employee, to keep pushing forward until we are where I need to be. I have many friends that started gyms across the country and many of them essentially just guessed what the market would pay and all of them are running into issues raising prices to match what they need. We have always believed our product is valuable and you must treat it that way. When I fist started doing market research I went to a big global box close to us that charges less than $20 a month. When I asked how they sustain that they said they have 2000 members. I then asked how they accommodate that many members and he told me “well maybe 10% show up”. These people are helping no one. If 10% of my athletes are showing up I have failed but I understand the business, that’s just not us. On the other hand, I have talked with a guy that lives in LA and he had to keep raising his prices over and over to force some accountability among his very wealthy clientele. Also I knew of one other facility that is in the sports performance world in the area and has been around with no competition for a very long time and they have gotten complacent in the programming/care of their athletes. I knew I wanted to be more expensive than them to prove to the athlete that we are more valuable. All of this to say I believe the price needs to be set at 1. what you need to make. 2. Enough to value your product/education/risk/ time. 3. Enough to force the members to value the product enough to show up and get results.
EP4Kids (1 day per week, 30 min sessions): $35/mo
EP4Teens (2 days per week, 1 hour sessions): $80/mo
Alpha Athlete (4 days per week, 1 hour sessions): $145/mo
All sport specific classes including elite/pro basketball (3-4 days per week): $145/mo Adult fitness (unlimited classes, 1 hour sessions)
12 month commitment: $135
6 month commitment: $145
3 month commitment: $160
3. Do your athletes schedule for specific days per week at specific times – 2-days per week on Tues/Thurs; 3-days per week Mon/Wed/Fri – or do they have unlimited sessions or can they come in on any day/time?
Summer: Set schedule of day/time every week. We see a lot more athletes over the summer and have to schedule accordingly to avoid chaos.
School Year: Suggested scheduling. I try to encourage the athletes to show up in a set schedule but allow flexibility to accommodate the things that come up during the school year. Got a big test? Don’t train that morning. Want to travel to a football game on Friday? Let’s train Mon/Wed/Thurs this week instead. We don’t see as many athletes during the school year so it’s easier to allow some flexibility in the schedule. Every athlete has my cell phone number and is encouraged to communicate as things happen.
They are allowed to book during any day/time that we’re open
In an ideal world I would set up my 3-day programs on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays and my 2-day programs on Tuesday-Thursday. I have some clients who are available on the same days each week and others who have to change their schedule a bit each week. If they purchase a package, I make sure they are able to train either 2 or 3 days per week.
The schedule is based off the program the athletes sign up for (Weight room, speed or unlimited) We do speed Tuesday & Thursday and weight room work Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
All of the sports performance programs are set schedules ranging from 1 to 4 days per week depending on the program. We have three Alpha Athlete classes (6:30am MTThF, 5:30pm MTWTh, 6:30pm MTWTh). This typically provides enough freedom to work around our athletes busy schedule and avoids Friday evening (which we found people just wouldn’t show up to). Our adult fitness classes are unlimited. Each day is a different focus so we work with the client to decide which days/times/classes to come to to best meet their goals but ultimately it is up to them when they come.
4.Do they schedule online, and if so what platform do you use? Are athletes limited on the # of times they can come in during a week?
We’ve tried scheduling online through a few programs and I’ve found it just works better in person. It forces the athletes to interact with me to set their weekly schedule and to take responsibility for the schedule they ask for.
They do schedule online, we use the Mindbody service. I recommend that they not train more than 4 times per week.
I don’t do online scheduling but creating an option for that is a feature I will have on my revamped website
All scheduling is based off the programs, or if they are personal training clients. For athletes we do a max 5 times a week.
We do online scheduling. We use Mind Body Online as the platform. Each athlete has a username and password to log into the app or website and reserve there spot in a class. The adult fitness classes are capped at 10 people so after 10 sign ups the class is closed. The Sports Performance program is sold out so we just don’t sell any more after a specific session is capped and we expect them to show up to that session each week. When the athletes get here they check in on an iPad at the front that tells the coach and our staff who is showing up etc.
5. What challenges have you found with your current system?
The only problem is when people try have flexible scheduling over the summer. We see about 100 athletes a day in the summer and it’s a huge problem if kids are jumping sessions or asking for special times.
Mindbody updated their app and it lost functionality in several areas. It’s been that way for a couple of months now. Kids also forget their password and end up making multiple accounts for themselves which is annoying.
I hate talking about money with my clients. I hate it so much that I have actually avoided telling clients they are due for payment and as a result I have allowed plenty of clients to train for free. Another big weakness of this industry is how much of our work is unpaid. I am sure you spend a large amount of time planning your athletes training and unless you have that time built into your rates, you aren’t paid for it. My fiancé is an attorney and she gets paid for sending an email. She gets reimbursed for driving to a settlement or a closing (she does real estate law). It makes me realize how much work I do for free. While I know it isn’t reasonable for us to get paid for all the time we spend working I would like to get paid for more of my time.
There hasn't been many challenges so far, luckily. A lot of people complain about having to register for a "program" rather than just having random sessions when ever they want, but that alone speaks for the commitment of those athletes. The athletes that buy into the "program" and are committed, love it.
We are constantly tweaking things so we are more than happy to admit a mistake and change the way something is being done. Currently we have athletes in all different sports/seasons/times of school/etc and these variables are causing some issue. Our coaches are great at regressing/progressing/lateralizing exercise and changing the volume for a specific athlete but I want more control over that.
6. If you could change one thing about your current system, what would it be?
Auto payments or EFT would be really nice, we just haven’t found a system that works for us yet.
When the app was fully functional I had 0 complaints outside of the lack of a multi-client check in option.
I want to figure out a system of recurring monthly payments. I don’t want to handle money directly from my clients and I want to get rid of daily payments. As I mentioned above, I would like to set up a system where I am paid for more of the time I put into the business.
The one thing I am working on, is guaranteed monthly income, when doing the monthly payments, athletes can stop coming and there goes that income, with long term commitment or automatic payments it would save a lot of time and fix that problem.
Our solution to the above problem is I am currently developing an iPad app that each athlete checks in at the beginning of a workout. The app asks for basic information regarding readiness (sleep duration, if they ate recently, when was last competition, next competition, current injuries, mood, etc). This will then put the athletes into 3 different categories that ranges in volume, intensity, and recovery methods.
7. What advice would you give to new or even experienced performance gym owners on pricing?
Know how much you’re worth, find how much they’ll pay, and get those two numbers as close as possible. I realize private training isn’t for everyone, but you are a professional and have bills to pay.
Find out the cost for similar services within a 40-50 miles radius and be competitive with those, but also bear in mind your own experience and worth. I would laugh at an inexperienced/novice coach charging as much as one with years of experience.
Figure out your worth and charge accordingly. Do not undercut yourself. This is a great industry to be in but you might not want to train people all day for the rest of your life. Figure out what you need to charge in order to put some money away each month.
Don't be the cheapest facility just to get clients. Value your time. Provide the athletes more than what they are paying for.
I laid most of my advise out in the previous question. The thing I want to reiterate is you must value yourself. I had very hard time with that out of school as a chiropractor at first and then certainly as a coach. I listened to a podcast once with the advise to imagine a projector shooting out the back of your head that shows who ever you are talking to exactly what you are thinking. People pick up on what you really feel versus what you are saying. If you believe your product is valuable your athlete will too and everyone benefits.
8. How far do you pull athletes from ie 20mile radius? What is the size of your market/how big is the city you run your facility in?
St. Cloud has a population of about 50,000 and is surrounded by a few smaller towns that add about 20-30,000 more people. There’s 7 high schools within 20 miles of the gym that we draw from, with a few kids driving from farther than that. Almost all of our recruiting is from word-of-mouth and athletes bringing friends in. We do some marketing in the form of apparel, buying ad space in sport programs where our clients play, and giving gift packages to local fundraisers, but all of these account for about 5% of our marketing. I would say 95% of our clients are from referrals and “bring a friend” days from our athletes.
Social media is the king of marketing for me. My athletes beg to be on my Instagram and you’re a local celebrity at high school if you make it on there. I have no idea how this became a thing, but it’s been great for business and awareness with the kids in this area.
We will occasionally have athletes come from up to 70-100 miles away to train but routinely draw athletes from up to a 30-40 miles radius. The city we operate in has a population of 53k, with bordering cities at 130k. The population within a 50 mile radius is estimated at 2.4 million.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how far our clients travel in terms of miles. I would say most of my clients travel between 5 and 25 minutes to the gym. I opened my facility in a small town because the rent was low and I had very little money. I am looking to move the gym or open a second location in a much more heavily populated area.
In recent months we have had athletes (college and professional) commit to driving 2-6hours to come train at our facility. It isn't a HUGE market here, and new gyms seem to pop up every week now a days. Our city population is about 320,000.
We chose Ankeny because it has a massive sports market. The city itself has a population of 59,000 and is currently the third fastest growing city in the US. They value their sports performance here and always have. When I was growing up Ankeny athletes were always incredible and the parents and fans were great. I chased that to this community. The vast majority of our athletes are local and live within a 5-10 mile radius. We have a couple that come from Carlisle, Waukee, and West Des Moines (about 20 miles in any direction) and that seems to be the farthest people have traveled.