Looking for Mr Know-it-All

By staffing personal training studios and health clubs with people who are always willing to go the extra mile to learn everything they can about the service they are offering, fitness businesses can reap the benefits of the Know-it-All, says Derek Barton.

I miss ‘Mr. Know it All’. Not the annoying guy who thinks he knows it all – I’m talking about the guy who actually does know it all, the expert in his field, the one we used to like and respect for his comprehensive knowledge!

My first run-in with Mr Know-it-All was at our hometown Sears department store in Northern California. My dad used to take me there with him to buy appliances and tools. I remember my dad saying to me, ‘This guy knows it all!’

So, when Mr Know-it-All at Sears explained to us why this particular washing machine model was perfect for us, we believed him. Why wouldn’t we? He knew everything about everything in his department. He was so confident, knowledgeable and passionate that we felt the same way about his products, and became loyal customers and advocates. Sadly, today I can’t find a Mr Know-it-All at Sears, so I, along with many others, don’t go there anymore. And so the brand suffers.

On the main street in our hometown there was a Radio Shack electronics store. Every guy working in that store was a Mr Know-it-All. They all loved working there and it showed! They knew all the answers to all my questions. Radio Shack had geniuses before Apple had geniuses. They were the original ‘Geek Squad’. They knew all the gauges of speaker wire, all the right adaptors, connectors and batteries. They knew everything about every product in their store and we could count on their help. We became loyal customers and advocates. Sadly, today I can’t find a Mr Know-it-All at Radio Shack, so I, along with many others, don’t go there anymore. And so the brand suffers.

When I first entered the health club arena in 1985, I landed at the ‘Mecca of Bodybuilding’: Gold’s Gym Venice – a haven for Mr Know-it-Alls. I was blown away by the knowledge and passion of those trainers and bodybuilders. Forget the steroids, they knew how to get results from just working out! They knew what every machine did for every body part. They knew how many reps each muscle needed and the right amount of weight it would take to get the maximum results. They knew the right foods to eat, when to eat them, and when not to eat them. They were professional sculptors of the human body! This inspired me to create the first official tagline for all Gold’s Gyms worldwide, ‘Results for Every Body!’

We didn’t have weight scales at Gold’s Gym, so members didn’t have to ask ‘Is this scale right, I can’t weigh this much?’ Instead we had mirrors. Mirrors don’t lie. What you see is how you look – like it or not. We didn’t sell any fancy diet drinks or weight loss powders. We didn’t recommend the easy way out with stomach stapling or liposuction. We were honest with people and told them that there were no short cuts to a healthy and fit body. We flat out told them ‘You’re either serious about your fitness or you’re not’, which inspired me to create our second tagline, ‘Serious Fitness’. We recommended our expert trainers who knew how to get our members in shape, from good old-fashioned workout routines to good healthy eating. Our reputation depended on helping people reach their goals! From our members’ results, the world knew we were the experts in getting Every Body in shape! It’s no wonder our membership grew.

It was also no wonder that it was easy to get world-class athletes and people from the entertainment industry into our gyms. They became loyal members and advocates and proudly wore our logo in their films and TV shows. It was no wonder that companies like Nike, and movie studios and television shows, like Dr. Phil, partnered with us. We helped them, and they helped us. It was the best win-win! And because of that, the brand succeeded. We became the largest international co-ed gym chain, with over 600 locations in 43 states and 27 countries.

I look around now at the entire health club industry and, to my dismay, often see Mr Price replacing Mr Know-it-All. Not at every club though, thank goodness!

Steve Eden, along with his supremely knowledgeable and always friendly staff at City Fitness in Mackay, QLD, holds on to that desire and passion to really help members have the best experience possible. That has made City Fitness successful for decades. Similarly, across the Pacific, universally respected club owner Joe Cirulli of Gainesville Health & Fitness in Florida has as his core purpose not price, but improving the quality of people’s lives, which he has done with great success.

Joe also seeks out experts in their respective fields, like Arthur Jones, the inventor of the Nautilus exercise machines – a true pioneer Mr Know-it-All. Arthur shared his passion and knowledge with Joe over the years and they became good friends. Joe has taken what he learned from Arthur and other experts and, in turn, shares his passion and knowledge with other gym owners when he presents around the world and when they visit his three health clubs in Florida. Joe is also a member of REX, an international roundtable at which executive Mr and Ms Know-it-Alls share best practices, thus strengthening everyone’s brand.

The Mr and Ms Know-it-Alls of fitness first came to light in the ‘40s and ‘50s on Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California which was filled with experts like Jack LaLanne, Joe Gold and Steve Reeves, who all succeeded from sharing their passion and knowledge with each other.

You would think a nation that is now two-thirds overweight, with half that number obese, would be marching into our 30,000 plus gyms in the United States for help. Yet only about 16 per cent of our population train at health clubs. The majority of Americans obviously don’t feel health clubs have the Know-it-Alls with the passion to get their overweight bodies into shape. They also see gyms that don’t have anyone to help them.

Some gyms are eliminating any chance of having a Mr Know-it-All in their midst by removing staff entirely from the premises. These owners are the ones who love the do-it-yourself carwash, and think the unfit masses can do-it-themselves at the gym too, for one low price. These gyms give you a key to come and go as you please. I call that my home. I could throw some fitness equipment in my house or garage and come and go as I please, so why would I need to go anywhere else? Do-it-yourself car wash, or full service car wash? I want the best results, so I’ll take the full service car wash and gym every time!

If we don’t find Mr Know-it-All at Sears or Radio Shack, it’s not life or death. When it comes to personal training businesses and health clubs, it can be – both for your members and clients, and for your business. Even more reason to seek out and employ those people who are the Mr and Ms Know-it-Alls – those elite people who are always willing to go the extra mile to learn everything about their product and service; those people who are passionate about what they do because they live it every day and truly want to help others!

We also need to beware wannabe Know-it-Alls – the kind who, I maintain, kept me out of major league baseball! When I was playing baseball in high school in the late ‘60s, we weren’t allowed to lift weights because some wannabe Mr Know-it-All spread the word that working out was bad for our baseball muscles. For some reason, everyone believed him. Over time, a genuine Mr Know-it-All put an end to that myth. Now, as with other sports athletes, baseball players work out religiously and are bigger and stronger than we were in our playing days.

My friend, baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson, whom I first met when he came to Gold’s Gym Venice to work out, taught me how important it was to be physically fit for baseball. ‘Everything starts with your core’ he told me; ‘When you bat, when you run the bases, and when you’re playing defence. It all starts with the core.’ Reggie Jackson should know: he was one of the all time best Mr Know-it-Alls, which is why he is on the staff of the New York Yankees today.

I miss Mr Know-it-All. Do you or your staff do everything you can to be Know-it-Alls? Through continuing education, attending courses, workshops and conventions, and reading research articles and sharing ideas with fellow fitness professionals, you can wrest the term back from being an insult, and proudly wear it as a badge of honour.


Derek Barton
Derek is a marketing, advertising, branding and customer service expert. The former senior vice-president of marketing for Gold’s Gym, he helped build Gold’s into one of the industry’s most respected and recognised brands. During his tenure, Gold’s Gym received numerous awards for its innovative marketing, and was listed in America’s Greatest Brands book. Derek now runs his own marketing consulting and entertainment production company.