Top Tips for Operators from 9 Fitness Industry Experts

For Gym Operators

Top Tips for Operators from 9 Fitness Industry Experts

Nine health and wellness experts contributed their expertise to this guide, which covers everything from marketing and social media to programming and facilities cleanliness.

Read on to find out their top tips on how to run a successful fitness club.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2015 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speakers

Molly Kemmer is the Regional Director for MediFit Corporate Services. She is an experienced specialist in health club and spa management and serves as a Board Member at IHRSA.

Noah Hastay is the Fitness Director and Operations Manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness Center. He is also the creator of Fit for All, a fitness program designed specifically for children and adults with special needs and developmental disabilities.

Kristin Degenhardt is the Assistant General Manager and Marketing Director at King’s Court Health and Sports Club.

Jeff Griffith-Jones is the General Manager for the Almaden Valley Athletic Club.

Nick Jasilli is the Account Manager at ERC Wiping Products, Inc.

Tiffany Levine is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Greenwood Athletics and Tennis Club.

Mel Tempest is the Owner of Ballarat Body and Soul Health and Fitness Studio.

Samantha Miller is the Children’s Services Director at the Adirondack Club.

Jim Worthington is the President and Owner at Newtown Athletic Club.

Igniting New Ideas

A lot goes into running a fitness club: programming, membership options, staffing, marketing, facilities management, and equipment decisions. It's difficult for any one person to master each of these operational aspects, which is why every speaker in this presentation has their own particular field of expertise. They've shared some of their most innovative ideas and advice to help operators drive their clubs to greater success.

Brand Ambassadors – Molly Kemmer

A club's brand differentiates them from the crowd.

Your team, culture, and values are the building blocks of your brand promise.   To build a strong brand, having a brand ambassador is a critical part of the process. This person adopts your values and exemplifies them. They embody the essence of a company in terms of service and culture and act as a representative or promoter of the business's message. As a result, they can sometimes be the "face" of the company. A brand ambassador engages with your community with a certain degree of influence and can play a key role in building a community of fans and customers. It's important to choose your brand ambassador wisely to ensure that their influence aligns with the goals and values of your club.  

Fitness Programming for Those with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities - Noah Hastay

Noah Hastay’s Fit for All program encourages a community of inclusion by incorporating all members of the club, regardless of their developmental disabilities. This program is carefully tailored to meet the needs of clients with disabilities. It provides improved coordination by focusing on slow multi-step movements. Clients are helped with behavioral issues on a daily basis. The program has also demonstrated significant effects in reducing the client’s medication use.

Physical activity mixed with meaningful social interaction provides a more welcoming environment to the special needs population. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy in 2005 showed that group training for children with developmental disabilities improved their motor skills, strength, self-perception and enhanced their social connections. Adding programming for individuals with disabilities can be a beneficial way to impact your local community.

Social Media and Marketing Events - Kristin Degenhardt

To be innovative and successful, you need to think outside the box. Find ways to differentiate your club from other fitness options. Social media can be an effective way to distinguish your business.

Engagement is the key. Connect and encourage socialization via tweets and shares. Bombarding social media followers with sales and offers is not effective. The majority of your social media outreach should include relevant content, pictures, articles, and giveaways, with a small portion of your posts dedicated to sales. Share information that aligns with your demographic's likes and interests for maximum engagement.

Charity and community events help attract people who otherwise might not visit your club. Implement regular challenges for your members, such as boot camps. Members who participate in small group activities often become their own cliques, eager and waiting for the next challenge. These kinds of programs keep members excited and constantly engaged while supporting retention.

The Leadership Boot Camp - Jeff Griffith-Jones

Every facility needs great leaders. It can be difficult to find a leader capable of motivating others. Leadership training should encompass employee motivation, engagement, performance, and praise. It is convenient and affordable to implement in-house leadership training programs. Meet with your team leaders on a weekly basis to discuss, learn, and collaborate on leadership topics.

In-house leadership training is immediately effective because it revolves around your specific club. Get participants together and brainstorm problems. Work together to present solutions to the identified problems each week. Your programs should be active as well as interactive and should excite your team. Great leadership translates to better customer service and a better facility overall. 

Cleanliness in Health Facilities - Nick Jasilli

Germs can be a serious issue at health clubs, and a major deterrent to clients.

People who are sweaty from exercising require supplies to clean and sanitize their equipment. Your staff should clean the equipment in your facility throughout the day by wiping it down with disinfectant wipes. Take steps to make it easier for members to wash or sanitize their hands. Place disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer in convenient places throughout your club. Have clean towels available for purchase or as a complimentary service for your members. Client perception is important so you want your club to always look clean.

Membership Offers that Give Back - Tiffany Levine

Offers that "give back" are marketing campaigns that align themselves with your members’ lives. It often involves supporting non-profit organizations with a portion of membership revenue. This act of good will can help drive membership sales. However, it is important to understand the context of your club and target market when designing a "give back" campaign so you can pick an appropriate non-profit to support.

Begin with the end campaign in mind and work backward to take the necessary steps that achieve your end goal. The best campaigns are the ones that fit your clients’ lives. The backpack campaign offered $100 in savings with a donated backpack of school supplies. Once you've decided the details of your "give back" campaign, you can market it with postcards, emails, and content on your website. It will generate traffic to your club from people who perhaps would not have visited otherwise. Structure promotions that allow members to give back to their community while still enjoying savings.

Group Fitness - Mel Tempest

Who is your demographic? To answer this question, start by reviewing your membership database and breaking members into groups. Use this data to target those members and select group fitness programs to meet the specific needs of their demographics. Promote your group fitness programs to those specific groups. Be unique and differentiate yourself from the other clubs in your area. Seek programs that will appeal the most to your particular clientele. Remember, media sells fitness - if a certain focus is trending, implement it within your club.

Group fitness can be a very lucrative portion of your business. Social media is your own private retention tool. Once members are in the door, keep them coming back by creating group events that include their family members and friends. This can be an easy and reliable way to retain and gather new members.   

Childhood Obesity: Developing a Healthy Lifestyle - Samantha Miller

Childhood obesity is largely based on a caloric imbalance, but can be caused by genetic factors in addition to environmental factors and personal behavior. Obese children have a high likelihood of becoming obese adults. Obesity creates immediate and long-term problems, including social and psychological difficulties, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. Increased long-term medical bills are another factor associated with obesity.

Many children take in excessively high-calorie snacks and do not expend enough energy. Compared to past generations, children today are less likely to walk anywhere or play outside. They are constantly in front of a screen. Preventative efforts work best. Offer more fruits, limit sweetened beverages, show children how to be active, and limit screen time.

Fitness facilities can address obesity issues by offering kid group exercise programs, tennis and swimming lessons, small group training, and summer and vacation camps. Make sure your programs include fun and energy-expending activities.

A Vision for Success - Jim Worthington

Learn from the industry and adapt this knowledge to your particular facility. Boutiques are a huge threat to fitness clubs but there are actions you can take to differentiate your club and stand out, even against boutiques.

Make your club special and unique. Consider where you want your club to be in the future. Package and redesign your programs to reflect your envisioned destination. Understand who you are as a business while being different, special and fearless.

With the wide range of advice offered by the above health and wellness experts, there is something that nearly any club can apply. By following their guidelines and improving each piece of the operational puzzle, you can lead your club  one step closer to unprecedented success.