Are you maximising the prestige and revenue of your small group training product?

In the past couple of years, small group training (SGT) has had a big impact on the global fitness industry, with most clubs, studios and outdoor trainers now offering some form of this training model. Wearing my multiple hats of manager, PT and group fitness instructor, I’ve watched this industry development with much interest. While it would be unwise for fitness businesses to ignore this trend, I do wonder whether some are simply adopting SGT because they feel they should, without really maximising the prestige and revenue that the approach enables.

Many members and participants will be unclear what the difference is between regular ‘classes’ and small group training. They’re both exercise done in groups, so what’s the deal?

From a set-up perspective, SGT has some clear points of difference:

  • Lower fitness professional/participant ratio (fewer people)
  • Different training room, area, environment
  • Specialised equipment not available in group exercise
  • Style of training not available in group exercise or in one-on-one
  • Higher intensity, pushing participants to their limits
  • Within session challenges.

Many would argue that these differences are enough to separate SGT from group exercise and justify an additional fee, but what is the real difference? What is the difference in the experience for the member? Why should they pay for a session if, to them, it seems to be similar to group exercise, only with fewer people and in a new room?

As a club manager these are questions commonly heard among the rumblings of the client base. The answer may be in the language we use, the delivery (coaching rather than instructing), and in building prestige.

The 30-second article
  • The differences in physical set-up alone are not enough to differentiate SGT from group exercise classes
  • To build prestige and justify an additional cost for sessions, you need to focus on the difference in the experience for participants
  • Subtle differences in language used in relation to SGT willdifferentiate it from group exercise
  • The delivery of SGT must be more akin to personal training sessions, with more personalised interaction, attention to individual form and accountability.

The language

When implementing SGT in our club, much care was taken to deliberately use different language when referring to small group training. For many of us with years of group exercise instruction under our belts, the default word used when describing a scheduled exercise session with a group of participants is ‘class’. If we are to build prestige around SGT and separate it from group exercise, however, we should remove this word from our vocab. ‘Class’ implies teaching and instruction. At our club we prefer to say ‘session’ – a term that most in the industry would associate with personal training, which has an element of prestige attached to it. The difference is then more obvious when members ask us to explain the fee attached to the session as opposed to the class.

Similarly, referring to the session facilitator as an instructor, as opposed to a coach or trainer, also blurs the lines between SGT and group exercise. A group ex instructor’s role is to provide verbal and practical demonstration. It is unrealistic to expect one instructor to be able to address the individual needs of up to 50 people, whereas in SGT there is greater emphasis on coaching, motivating and drawing out the best performance from each participant. Referring to the facilitator as a coach or trainer, therefore, emphasises the prestige of SGT.

The delivery

Once we, as facilitators, can identify ourselves as coaches we must deliver on the expectation. The fitness industry currently has SGT trainers with a range of backgrounds and qualifications, from certificate IV personal trainers to certificate III fitness instructors and group exercise instructors. Transitioning from the default behaviours of the latter (on stage and demonstrating), to SGT coach is not always easy. To this end, I’ve found that some of the better SGT coaches have transitioned from personal training rather than group exercise, but that’s not to say that the behaviours cannot be learnt.

The difference is in the approach. The mindset. As group exercise instructors we view our participants as exactly that, participants. As coaches, however, we need to regard those taking part in sessions as clients. The flow-on effect of this is accountability and connection. Therefore, recruitment of the ‘right’ coach is imperative.

I work as both a group exercise instructor and an SGT coach, and approach both roles very differently. As a coach:

I’m not there to get a personal workout. I am a professional. I get paid to facilitate an individual experience, motivate and challenge clients. While I will demonstrate various exercises to ensure correct execution, I am not there to work up a sweat. I give personal attention to each client, getting ‘in their face’ and making sure their form is A1.

I know every person in my session. I have their phone number and email address. I build anticipation to the session. I monitor their progress and drive them toward success. We correspond between sessions. I also know who is booked in, and if I notice a regular is not signed up then I get on the phone to keep them accountable.

I actively recruit clients to my sessions. I don’t ask people to attend, I tell certain people ‘you should train with me’ or ‘you need to train with me’. Again, this builds prestige, noticing people that need extra attention or to take their training up a gear.

Selling the experience

As a manager I occasionally need to challenge our coaches when sessions are not performing to their full potential. I always ask the coach what they think would assist in maximising their sessions. The usual response refers to marketing: ‘Well maybe a poster or a flyer, and if the trainers could talk about it on the floor...’ Wrong answer! A good coach should be able to drive the session, keep clients accountable and actively recruit new clients through their interactions.

The fact is, SGT sessions should be an ‘easy sell’. The product is phenomenal: you are essentially offering personal training at a significantly reduced rate. Again, it is all in the approach. If we approach it with the mindset of an instructor we will have transient accountability. On the other hand, if we approach it as a coach, we will command prospective clients’ attention, drive motivation and maximise participation.

When members are presented with the range of organised exercise options available at a facility, it can be easy for them to erroneously believe that SGT is a group exercise class. This happens when the first option they are told about is the group exercise timetable. As such, the prospect sees a nice array of classes and then another timetable of ‘sessions’ that you pay for. Let’s flip that and first present personal training as their best training platform. You then talk about price and come to a financial objection. No problem, you can then provide small group training as a more cost-effective alternative that still features personalised attention. By presenting them in this order, the first option is perceived as an added cost (and for some, of course, this is still appealing), whereas the second option is perceived as offering a saving. Along with the language and delivery differentiations, this approach clearly separates SGT from group exercise.

The key to driving the success of SGT is to clearly establish its points of difference from group exercise. The set-up, language and delivery of the session are imperative to its success. If your coaches, sales team and instructors are not clear about these differences, the message will be diluted and the value of the ‘session’ lost, minimising your capacity to capitalise on an excellent product.

Tim Angel is the centre director of Macleod Recreation and Fitness Centre in Victoria. A health and wellness specialist with a passion for delivering outstanding personal training, small group and group fitness experiences, he prides himself on his team’s delivery of ‘on the ground’ services.