CEO: What if we train our employees and they leave?
HR Manager: What if we don’t and they stay?
We have often heard that the cost of customer acquisition far outweighs the cost of keeping existing customers. The fitness industry is no different: high turnover of membership as well as a constant struggle to recruit and retain high caliber instructors are common themes. Many studio owners/operators often neglect the primary reason for their success: their instructors. I write this post due to my frustration with my current work at a New York-based indoor cycling studio where, for the past 4 years, not a single dollar has been invested in offering continuing education, CPR training, team building or certification workshops to the instructors.
While I understand that one of the many challenges an indoor cycling studio faces is its operating expenses (including payroll), neglecting your instructors will ultimately lead to their departure. For many studios, as well as larger fitness facilities, the instructors play a critical role in customer retention. Rock star instructors keep classes full, ensure consistency in coaching delivery, build persistent excitement and lend credibility to their workplace. However, not offering the most basic of incentives is something you should seriously reconsider. For example, the studio owner balked at the cost of hosting a CPR/AED certification for the 8 indoor cycling instructors. We were forced to attend the workshop on our own and pay for it individually. Yet again, the owner refused to invest in a certification workshop for new bikes with Bluetooth technology. And, we were never offered any financial assistance when attending industry conferences or continuing education classes.
Some of my readers will probably think that the employer has no obligation to us beyond a paycheck. I disagree. It is a good business practice to invest in your workforce – not “spend” but invest. When you do not, the only thing keeping me there is the paycheck. If another studio offers a higher pay, guess what? I will likely leave. By investing in your instructors, you are fostering a relationship of mutual growth, loyalty and dedication. This will set you apart from the competition, even though they may have newer bikes, a more glamorous studio or a national chain supporting them.
Moreover, to dispel your fears if you are a studio owner/operator, the investments I am referring to above range between $50 to $100 a year per instructor. So, for a team of 8 instructors, the “investment” would be about $800 (or less) for the entire year. I will further explain below using examples of what you can do to retain the best indoor cycling instructors for your studio:
1. Pay for CPR/AED certification: This is imperative. Instructors with no current CPR/AED are a liability that you cannot afford. The average cost is about $50 per instructor and needs to be done every two years.
2. Share the cost of continuing education classes or conferences: Many of us would greatly benefit from attending a workshop on using power meters, new techniques in group fitness training or related indoor cycling/spinning training classes. Most of these classes are conducted online at less than $75 each.
3. Share the cost of certification: For many of us, we may need to recertify or obtain new certifications. Why not help by sharing 50% of the cost? For example, recertifying with Mad Dogg Athletics is about $199 every two years. That translates into $50 per instructor per year (the other $50 paid by the instructor). Other platforms like Schwinn or Real Ryder do not require recertification, so there is no additional cost.
4. Host a team building workshop: This can be done at a very low cost. Once a year, invite all of your indoor cycling instructors to a 2 or 3 hours’ workshop to share experiences, ideas and suggestions. The cost: a couple of pizza pies. If you are an adventurous studio owner, invite an exercise physiologist or Master Instructor to speak to your team and help expand their knowledgebase. Appearance fees vary, but a local expert will typical charge less than a national expert.
5. Recognize & promote your instructors: An “Instructor of the Month” award goes a long way to establish good will. The cost: a $10 gift card or voucher for a meal at a nearby restaurant. Promote this award on social media and on the studio’s website.
6. Establish a performance pay system: Some studios are starting to reward instructors using the “BIS” model (butt in seat). The more attendance you can garner, the higher the reward. For example, if a 50 bike studio is filled to capacity during a certain class/time, you can add $0.10 per bike to that instructor’s pay rate for a total of $5. It is not a lot of money, but it does create a “reward/benefit” approach that several studios are using to retain instructors.
7. Leverage your instructors’ other talents: Many instructors excel at creative writing which you can put to good use for your studio’s blog. Others are avid cooks, who can share a recipe or two for that blog. Even others are social media /SEO savvy and can promote the studio in very low cost ways. By harnessing these talents, you can monetize the advantage of the human element. A small $10 reward (monthly) for each blog entry will add a new dimension to the retention of that instructor.
8. Go beyond: This is no-to-low cost. Many instructors would gladly volunteer an hour or two per month to help you host a charitable ride or an event for your local community. There is a level of pride that we all feel when we selflessly give of our time and treasure. By making your studio a community beacon, that sense of pride will transcend the paycheck.
9. Recognize tenure: Some of your instructors may have worked with you for 5, 6 or more years. Is it acceptable that you still pay them the same rate as the instructor who just started? These tenured instructors are a special breed. Treat them as such without breaking the bank….how about a small raise (3-5%) for every year of service?
10. Invest in technology/studio: Instructors love it when the stereo equipment is functioning properly, the bikes are in great working condition, the facility is clean and well maintained. It is not just you who looks bad when things are broken – we do too. We appreciate it so much when everything works!!
I believe that for indoor cycling studios owners/operators to succeed, they must differentiate their compensation models to encompass a combination of creative as well as traditional methods. Sometimes, even if a raise is not feasible, instructors will continue to give their best as long as their basics are met: working bikes, functioning stereo, a simple thank you once in a while. Without the basics, there is little left to retain us. And, with the competition heating up, you are faced with important decisions to make. Please remember that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. A simple gesture such as picking up the cost of a CPR class or a thank you note is sometimes all we need.
Note: For those instructors who work full time, you may already receive additional healthcare benefits, life insurance, child care reimbursement, etc. This post is mainly targeted at instructors who are paid hourly.