How I Gave Myself a $40 an Hour Pay Cut as a Gym Owner

A gym owner doodles in a notebook with the words "pay cut" written in large letters.

Confession: I made my first dollar in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, then promptly forgot how to sell personal training.

Back in 2009 or so, I sold an hour of my time for $40 or $50, then focused on trying to fill group boot-camp sessions at $7.50 per person.

For the next six or eight years, I focused only on groups, even when my “group” was a single person who rolled out of bed at 5 a.m. to come to a “class” that was actually costing my business money.

So I started out making $45 an hour but promptly and accidentally cut my rate to $7 an hour.

Don’t make the same mistake I did!

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

I’m not sure if I focused on the group model because the energy in a functional fitness class is addictive or because I assumed larger classes would eventually equal larger income.

Either way, I rented a space and tried to pack it with people. And I succeeded in select slots, like noon and 5 p.m. But I failed in most of the other slots, which were attended by two to four people who paid about $7 per class if I divided membership fees by attendance—I only did this math years later.

As you can imagine, money was tight because I offered too many poorly attended classes and didn’t have a plan to acquire the clients I needed to fill them. The business survived only because I absorbed a lot of the labor costs personally. My gym broke even on paper but could never afford to pay me, so I was working for free, and I wasn’t running a real business.

As I started to focus on increasingly dismal financial statements, I’d notice small bumps in gross revenue from month to month. When I dug in, I tracked them back to our eight-session one-on-one on-ramps, which we sold for about $400. For comparison, our unlimited group-class membership was priced at $150 a month.

I’d been told to start using on-ramps in a random conversation in the bleachers at some fitness competition, and my hesitant implementation was a major win: Sporadic high-value on-ramps were keeping the business afloat.

But instead of realizing that one-on-one training was a valuable service that solved clients’ problems and gave us access to a new pool of people who didn’t want to train in a group, I used on-ramps simply to get people ready for group classes.

We closed every on-ramp with an assumption that people would select a group membership. Not all did. Never once did we say, “After on-ramp, you can keep training one on one.”

And we didn’t tell people about personal training for years. We just assumed they’d ask for it if they wanted it.


Explore Your Options: Get Coop’s New Guide

I share all this because this mistake cost my business—and family—tens of thousands of dollars.

Let’s be clear: If you are focused on group classes at your gym, you do not have to stop doing that. Group classes are great, and they can create a very strong revenue stream in a fitness business.

But you should bring people into your fitness business with one-on-one on-ramps, and you should offer personal training and semi-private training as options in addition to group training.

Two-Brain data is clear: One-on-one training and small-group training are high-value services that increase revenue and solve clients’ problems, which improves retention.

The cover of Chris Cooper's guide "How to Make More Money Without Raising Rates."

Chris Cooper’s newest guide has quick implementation plans for both on-ramps and PT programs in gyms.

As a bonus, it has three other high-speed tactics a gym owner can use to generate more revenue without raising rates.

I’d encourage you to get the guide and at least review its contents. Had I done that in 2010 and taken action, I’d probably be retired right now.

Don’t worry: You don’t have to change your focus. If you love group classes, keep offering them.

But don’t miss out on high-value opportunities to serve people in other ways and earn more while you do it.

Get Chris Cooper’s new guide here.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.