Although mobile fitness training is common today, it wasn't when Machelle and I began our mobile fitness business back in 2001. Over the years we have been asked many times why we chose to do mobile fitness training vs. opening a small personal training studio. To be completely transparent, our initial intention was to open a small fitness studio, however, after putting together a business plan and reviewing the finances, we were mildly overwhelmed with the overhead required to get started. Keep in mind, back in 2001, we both had full-time jobs and were knee-deep in planning our wedding while at the same time purchasing our first home. The last thing we needed was to take on more debt and stress. During that period, we were also reading industry reports from IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association - IHRSA.org) to review statistics on personal training and on gym participation rates. At that time personal training as a fast-growing field and nearly 80% of all personal training was taking place within gyms and health clubs. The most interesting statistic I read, however, was that only 15% of the U.S population belonged to a gym or fitness center (that percentage has edged up a little today, but it's still under 20% as of this post). When I saw that statistic, I was shocked at how low it was. It made me ask the next question – what’s up with the 85% who do not belong to a gym? What do they do for exercise? Perhaps they exercise outdoors? Perhaps they don’t like the gym environment? Perhaps they are just sedentary?
I started to review the literature on why people do not exercise. What I found was that lack of time was the primary reason given for why people do not exercise. The literature on this topic also showed that lack of instruction, family and work commitments, inaccessibility, cost and weather are other reasons cited for why people do not exercise regularly.
While reading all this, I recall flashing back to the last 1990’s when Machelle and I worked together managing the corporate fitness center at Hewlett Packard (where we met). Back then we had to provide our leadership team with our quarterly utilization report – showing the percentage of the employee population that belonged to our corporate fitness center. I recall submitting our first report that showed that 30% of the employee population were members. Being new in the corporate fitness industry, neither of us knew if 30% was good or bad. Surprisingly, it was considered very good. I recall looking a Machelle and asking, “How do we attract the 70% who aren’t members?” Machelle and I took it upon ourselves to offer a variety of new classes and programs along with incentive games and lectures in hopes of attracting new participants and improving our utilization numbers. At the same time, we also offered a few services outside our fitness center in other areas of the large campus facility with the theory that if they enjoyed the remote classes and programs, they were likely to become members. Over many months we monitored our utilization numbers and were disappointed to see that our fitness center membership numbers were not changing. On the plus side, we did learn that our satisfaction statistics among our members were improving. What was interesting is that the remote classes and programs we offered in other parts of the campus (outside of the fitness facility) were very popular and well attended. Despite that popularity, very few ended up joining as members. We began to inquire with those participants as to why they didn’t join the corporate fitness center. In this endeavor, we learned two key things from the “remote” participants:
1. Many felt that they didn’t have the time to go to the gym. Although they would make the time to participate in the remote classes, they didn’t feel that they had time to walk across campus to attend the fitness center. Some mentioned that they liked the fact that some of the programs we offered didn’t require them to change to their clothes or shower – and that meant less time as well.
2. Many also mentioned that they simply didn’t like the gym environment. Recall that back in the late 1990’s, most gym environments tried to appeal to the masses, unlike the smaller niche or boutique fitness studios that we have today. Even though we offered the classes and programs they enjoyed, it wasn’t enough to entice them to join our fitness center.
As we thought about that experience at Hewlett Packard, we began to wonder if that limited population served as a microcosm for society-at-large. We were successful at Hewlett Packard by bringing fitness to the people. Perhaps this strategy would work with others too. Could we be successful by taking fitness training to people in their homes, offices or favorite outdoor locations? At the time, we didn’t know the answer, however, after many successful years in business, we can confidently answer that question with a big YES!
By offering mobile services, we have successfully mitigated the most common reasons for why people do not exercise regularly - lack of time and lack of instruction. Mobile training can also assist with cost issues because although clients pay for our fitness training services, they do not have to pay for a gym membership as well.
So, to make a long story, short – we gave mobile fitness a try – and 18 years later we still love it and are happy that we didn't open a studio. We are proud that we picked a different path and provided a service that meets the needs of those who would never join a gym. More importantly, we have enjoyed connecting with and helping hundreds of clients improve their health and well-being over the years. It’s such a joy to see how exercise can open the door for people to evolve into their best selves. When clients make small improvements in their fitness, they also experience an increase in self-confidence as well as a belief that they can make further improvements. We feel privileged to be a part of this on-going evolution.
We’ve also enjoyed learning about business over the years. Although we’ve made many mistakes along the way, it’s helped us refine our processes and our services. In fact, using our lessons-learned, we created a continuing education course to help aspiring trainers get started with mobile training so they could avoid the many pitfalls that we experienced early on. We have also presented on this topic at major fitness conferences and discovered that although trainers may be experts with fitness, they are often very “green” with business and not fully aware of the unique challenges that come with mobile training.
Moving forward, our hope is to use this blog as another vehicle to share many tips and strategies that are unique to mobile training, so we can continue to help “young” trainers navigate the many business decisions required to be successful. Stay tuned for more…