12 Business Lessons from Big Box Gyms

There are pivotal times in life when one decision alters your career path;. mine have been in 1994, 2000, 2007 and 2011. After twelve years of being involved with a larger multi-location fitness facility as an employee and vendor I moved my business to completely independent. Which oddly enough has opened more doors of opportunity.

In 2000, I thought that working as a Personal Trainer who specialized in rehabilitation, such as Fitness World for a few years would help launch my career.   

I became one of their top selling Personal Trainers and a Group Fitness Manager during seven years of employment before negotiating a strategic alliance that became Lifemoves. 

Before the merger Fitness World was a family run business with the original founder still very much involved. I am very grateful for the support I was given to open my own business within a business in 2007.  The idea was to test run a rehabilitation centre within a larger fitness centre with multiple locations however, this changed in December 2010.  Little did I know how long I would be involved with them or what I would learn. 

12 Lessons Learned While Working in a Big Box Gym

1. Large Companies Take Awhile to Get Simple Things Done

As a group fitness instructor it took me one year to get new equipment for our programs.  When there are multiple layers to go through, sometimes there are road blocks that occur. These road blocks prevent organizations from thriving or taking advantage of competitive opportunities.  As a company grows make sure that your employees have enough freedom with guidance to see their own initiatives completed.  Evaluate each project on its own merits, but don’t take so long that opportunities are missed.

2. Pay Attention to Your Numbers But Not So Much That You Lose Sight of People

We always had to know our daily numbers which lead to our projected figures and monthly revenues. Those without a business sense weren’t sure why it was important. If you don’t know what your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are or where they at for a particular time period you are unable to make necessary strategic adjustments.  Over the last few years I have figured that there are specific indicators of our performance that leads to revenue. Our income statement is merely a reflection of the actions we took to execute our strategies.

Part of what makes people want to work or participate in a great environment is the people. With the merger the energy of the gym shifted from something that was really friendly and family oriented to something more corporate.  I want  Lifemoves’ clients and staff to be part of a family whom feel as though we are all working together to get people moving for life. As a business owner I still have to manage our KPIs.

3. Managers are Not Always Leaders and Leaders are Not Always Managers

A manager has specific tasks to accomplish throughout the day and things to look after. Leaders take initiative, coach and guide people to become better at what they do. New Personal Trainers would approach me for guidance even though I was not their manager because I took the time to help them improve their teaching and business skills. With the merger there is now more coaching happening.

4. Freedom Manager Can Be Detrimental for Some While a Micromanager Can Be a Crazy Maker

There are two extremes of management – Freedom Manager and Micromanager Crazy Maker. As one manager told me “we are all adults, so we are capable of doing our jobs.” This is why we were all left to our own devices. Some people thrived while others who needed more coaching or guidelines eventually left. On the other side is the manager who is always taking over or always checking in without trusting that staff is actually doing their job properly.

Each employee requires their own level of management. I try to find their particular level that keeps them motivated, our clients happy and the business running smoothly. To survive as an employee I had to do my job, learn to let whatever the micro manger said slide off my shoulders and take initiative.

5. Listen to and Take Care of Your Clients and Staff

While we are unable to accommodate every client’s whim or whimsy clients want to know that they have at least been heard. Whether it is a complaint or commendation keep your eyes and ears open.  If there is action that can be taken to resolve an issue, don’t just brush them off. Take care of it.  If clients are paying for a premium service, such as Personal Training they want the extras like water.  Even in a down economy there are ways to cut costs without reducing the quality service you provide or how you take care of your staff.

6. Find Ways to Improve

If you want to thrive in a retracted economy, find ways to improve and add value. Now is the time to innovate and improve the quality of service so that clients remain clients, while they also sing your praises to their friends and family.  Taking away little perks from clients or staff only produces more grumbling.

7. Reward Current Clients and Staff

It took awhile, but I believe this is happening. Fitness World would have great promotions for new training clients, but not current ones. This created “a what about me?” attitude. Some of the promo packages now are fantastic. It took several years for Personal Trainers to be part of the bonus system, which we often complained about. Find ways to thank all your employees for their efforts and contributions.

8. Compete on Difference and Value Not Price

Lifemoves© is trying to figure out how we can best reward our clients without offering large discounts. You don’t hear of a Physiotherapist or Chiropractor offering to discount their services, so why should we? The concept is to give something extra instead. It has been our general policy not to discount.  Personal Trainers are paid on a percentage fee split – so with discounts they are paid less until the client renews. Clients who paid for packages with large discounts often had difficulty seeing the value of paying full rates.  This is why we pay employees a flat rate instead of percentage (it keeps payroll simple too) and don’t offer discounts or participate in GroupOn type services.

9.  During Times of Change People Will Often Look Out for Themselves

In times of change and turmoil some people end up protecting themselves. A merger takes a couple of years for the dust to settle and for others to adjust. Sales people are motivated by commissions. If there is the perception that their income is threatened they will sometimes be ruthless at protecting it.  If you are in a company going through a merger or big changes try to help each other out.

10. Communicate Clear Expectations

To avoid the above situation and others it is very important to make sure that everyone is communicating clearly during times of change. New staff in one department doesn’t always know what is happening on the other side and vice versa.  Keeping everyone involved in the loop will ease tension and prevent conflict from happening in the first place.

11. Have Checks and Balances but Keep Things Simple

It was clear during my tenure that there were multiple redundancies that had to be checked and balanced to ensure that everything was completed correctly. I still believe that this important, but how many steps are really needed is still questionable.   As my business grows it becomes increasingly complex, however I am conscientiously always trying to find ways to make it more efficient.  A system with redundant or unnecessary steps will cost you money.

12. Learn to Leverage Technology: Databases Are Great

In 2001 I developed an access database to track client sales and sessions; in 2006 I started to use a PDA for my calendar. It was in late 2007 when they were talking about moving to an electronic system.  How are you able to search client records in paper? Databases give you a lot of flexibility to manage a lot of information more easily.  When I found out about electronic management service providers in 2008, Lifemoves© made the leap.


There are many more lessons I learned throughout my twelve years, including that having systems is important to produce long-term results and  business growth.

I will miss Fitness World, as I have many fond memories and am thankful for everything that I have learned while there. 

I am looking forward to growing my company and continuing to Get People Moving for Life™

How to Motivate Yourself with a Yearly Life Review

Many people have difficulty appreciating themselves or being proud of what they have accomplished. Each birthday (today) I conduct a yearly review. It is important because it helps me take stock of where I was at the start of last year, get a good sense of what I achieved and set a new path for the year to come.

I was amazed at what Lifemoves and I achieved in the last 2-3 years when I filled out the business profile for the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s 2010 Business Excellence Award Nominees. This profile didn’t even include my personal life’s accomplishments.
Achieving a goal is fleeting, however the journey is ongoing. Enjoying the journey and celebrating the victories is where happiness is found. While writing university papers, I learned to accept a level of completeness that received a decent grade when I hit deadlines before feeling “done” with the paper. When there was more time, I would continue to tweak and edit until I thought it would achieve the maximum mark.
One project, a periodized training program for a boxer, actually received 100%! Perfection is a moving target, rarely achieved and not profitable (Business Coaches -Fiona Walsh, FMWalsh; Steven P. Hill, Focused Management Solutions). To prevent a downward spiral back to depression, I focus on the progress I make, the lessons I learn while continuing to smile, laugh and enjoy the journey I am on.
Significant Accomplishments of 2009-2010
  1. Personal credit card debt significantly reduced – completed
  2. Business in a more sustainable financial situation – completed
  3. Being the fittest I have been in 5 years – completed
  4. Having enough cash flow that I am not living month to month – completed
  5. Personal best on Grouse Grind 39:56 2009 – completed today new PR 39:13, this puts me in the 90th percentile of Grouse Grinders!
  6. Business growth of 30% – not complete – we did grow by 15%
  7. Run the Seek the Peak Grouse Mountain – completed
  8. International professional recognition – completed
  9. Healthier nutrition habits – 1/4 of the way. I am more conscientious of my choices and aware of the choices I need to make. I have had weeks where my nutrition habits were excellent. progress
  10. Give back more to the community – hosted a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser, participated in Movember, contribute regularly to the Grouse Grind Facebook group. completed
  11. Write a book – I have several ideas which I am testing with the blog posts. This year I am looking forward to actually doing the research and putting something in writing. I have great ideas for multimedia books. progress
  12. Write at least twice per month for my blogs. – completed
  13. Volunteer at the 2010 Olympics – shared with my Father completed
  14. Participate in more outdoor activities on the North Shore – progress, I have the Garmin and I have completed the Grind twice per week since June 12th.
Goals for Sept 10, 2010 to be completed by Sept 10, 2011
  1. Complete Seek the Peak in under 2 hrs – benchmark is 2:24:00
  2. Complete Grouse Grind in sub-36 min – benchmark is 39:13
  3. Compete in two additional trail running races.
  4. Publish an e-resource that includes videos.
  5. Retire my personal credit card debt.
  6. Grow Lifemoves more organically, but again by 15%.
  7. Eat 70-90% of meals at home.
  8. Cross Country Ski again at least twice this winter.
  9. Snowshoe biweekly during the winter.
  10. Participate in or create more fund raising activities.
  11. Get at least 30 minutes more sleep per night.
  12. Strengthen and deepen personal relationships.
  13. More in depth implementation of Getting Things Done method (GTD)
I believe that my birthday is the start of my life’s next fiscal year. What have you accomplished in the last year? What will you accomplish next year? Please share. It will help you realize and acknowledge how amazing you are, help you visualize your next goals and make you more accountable.
Related Posts

4 Strategies to Jump Start Your Motivation

How to Stick to the Plan and Get Things Done:
Sometimes sticking to the plan is difficult on those days when you are not motivated. I woke up this morning not feeling very energized, but I already had an ascent of the Grouse Grind planned. Even though it took me a while to get myself organized and out the door, I did get up the mountain today.

What got me going, even if it was later than I planned? It was remembering the feeling of being on the mountain, the feeling I have once I crest over the top and how empowered I am after completing another goal.

I remember training for Biathlon and there were days when I woke up not feeling like training, but I went anyway because I knew how much I enjoyed being out on the snow, at shooting practice or in the summer, on my roller-skis.

During times when you are lacking motivation or feel that all the tasks or training sessions that you are doing are not worth it, here are four strategies to boost your motivation:

  • Evoke Positive Emotions: Take time to evoke any positive memories and emotions you have with what you are about to accomplish. I remembered how beautiful it is to be outside moving my body and how amazing the view is from the top of Grouse.
  • Ask Why: Ask yourself why you are doing it. Maybe it is what is on the other side. Today for me the answer was, “I am training for the Grouse Mountain Run in September.”
  • Think of the Accomplishment: Sometimes just the feeling of accomplishment is enough. Just knowing how you feel after your training is done adds a little charge. I looked forward to the endorphins.
  • Change Your Voice: Change what the voice inside your head says from “I can’t do it” or “I am too tired” to “I can do it” and “I have lots of energy.” You will be amazed how changing your internal mantra can uplift your spirit, enliven your motivation and help you tackle anything that you previously really didn’t want to do.
  • Get Started: Build momentum by getting started. Take the Action Step, as defined by David Allen of “Getting Things Done,” towards what you planned to do. This morning it was gathering everything I needed to go up the Grind. This included my pass, water and heart rate monitor. Taking the first action lead to another action of me leaving the house. I got over the original inertia and now had momentum to get me to my destination.

Use these strategies the next time you are lacking motivation to get you kick started. Let me know how they helped and share your own motivation tips in the comments section below.

Get More from Trail Running: Use a Heart Rate Monitor with GPS

Using a heart rate monitor with timing features enhances your training experience by giving you the ability to easily record your progress and adjust each training session. It will also beep at you when you are inside or outside of your targets. This is my video game that keeps me motivated while I’m outside trail running.
After only one week of using the Garmin Forerunner 305 with the heart rate monitor, I am figuring out how to analyze each trail run and training session. I use my knowledge of my current physiological conditioning to set-up training runs with specific goals, and then analyze my progress. I finish by planning the next training session. Today I achieved a seasonal best of 41:46 min on the Grouse Grind, 28 days earlier than the same time in 2009.
Garmin Connect and Garmin Training software enable me to compare and analyze different training days or training events. The best thing is that with a little thought, I can easily adjust my training to prevent over doing it.
Detecting Over-training: One method of detecting over-training is by recording your resting heart rate (RHR). Your RHR is taken with a minimum of 5 minutes of inactivity in a quiet place, preferably lying down. After 5 minutes of recording my RHR, I used the built-in software to scroll to the lowest heart rate. Today it is 49 bpm, previously it was 53 bpm. If you find your RHR going up, take a couple of rest days or very light activity days to recover.
Trail Run 1 – July 30th, 2010 Goal: Keep HR 170-175 bpm; laps at specific trail locations.
Note: I started at Cleveland Park which is about 12.5 min at 140 bpm. I also stopped for a total of 3 minutes to input the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 marks on my GPS.
Trail Run 2 – August 1st, 2010 Goal: Quick 1st lap to Baden Powell Turn-Off, 6 intervals of 4 minutes, 160-165 x 1 min at run speed for lactate tolerance; 170-175 bpm to Grind Timer.
Note: Most laps were time-based not marker-based.

July 30 Aug 1
Grouse Grind Timer 45:27 41:46
Adjusted for GPS Inputs 42:27 N/A
Average Heart Rates 162 bpm 172 bpm
1st Timer to Baden Powell Turn-Off 2:10 1:54
2nd Timer to Back of Chalet 1:57 1:45

Note: We are comparing two different training strategies, hence different workouts, but on the same course.

Am I getting faster at a lower heart rate? Yes at the start and at the end, but when I analyzed my pace in between, it was very similar. It feels great that the section from the second timer around to the back of the chalet is faster. I struggled with this during the 2009 BMO Grouse Mountain Run.
I need to complete both workouts again at least twice more to be able to view trends. Of course, the analysis is only as good as the data collected and the person doing the analysis.
You can see both runs in detail including my heart rates, elevation and speed by clicking on July 30 (The end part after Grind is a run from Highway 1 to Capilano and Marine Drive) and Aug 1. Either way, I hit the sub 42 minute mark 28 days earlier on in the season than last year.
5-10% Rule of Thumb: Achieving 5-10% improvement in performance and fitness level is a good rule of thumb to prevent over-training and injury. Nutrition, recovery, technique and strategy also play a role in seeing times decrease.
So, from a best of 39:56 minutes, I am setting my 10% goal at 36 minutes and 37:56 as my 5% goal for 2010. Anything faster than 36 minutes, I will be ecstatic; the top 3 in my age category are sub 34 minutes. I do this to challenge myself and to see how fit I can be. Currently I am on pace to achieve these targets.
Philosophy: “The only influence you have is on yourself, not others. Run your own race and smile as you pass others while continuing to encourage them.”
The Grind offers a challenge that is easily measurable, that I can access easily from home or work, and that so many other people do so we can share our mutual experiences.
Please leave your comments below to let me know why you do the Grind or if you are not in Vancouver, why and where do you trail run.
Click here for Grouse Grind information.