Your Gym Can Sell More Nutrition Coaching. Here’s How.

Your Gym Can Sell More Nutrition Coaching. Here's How.

Mike Warkentin: (00:00)
This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” In this episode, Chris Cooper talks to Ric Thompson of Smart and Simple Nutrition about how gym owners can generate more nutrition revenue. Please subscribe for more shows just like this. Now, here’s Chris Cooper.

Chris Cooper: (00:14)
Ric Thompson is the owner of CrossFit PTC, and the owner of Smart and Simple Nutrition. Ric, welcome to the show,

Ric Thompson: (00:21)
Chris. I am so glad to be here.

Chris Cooper: (00:24)
Okay, man. So here’s what prompted this. A year ago almost, we were at the Two-Brain Summit and we were talking about these numbers that we were seeing with nutrition coaching in gyms. And while 74% of gyms now have some kind of formal nutrition program for coaching, three years ago, almost none had. But still, only 4% of their gross revenue is coming from nutrition coaching. And I’ve asked you here today, Ric, to kind of help us walk through these numbers, what they mean and how gyms can fix it. So Rick, let’s start at the high level. 74% of gyms have a nutrition program of some sort. Now, why is it that they’re making so little money on it?

Ric Thompson: (01:02)
Because there just aren’t that many clients in your gym that are really interested in nutrition initially, and you don’t run a good nutrition program and you don’t have the right coaches in place to keep those clients coming back and staying in the program.

Chris Cooper: (01:19)
So, okay, man, lots to unpack there. Can we start with “you don’t have the right coaches,” let’s go there first.

Ric Thompson: (01:25)
Yeah, so the skillset for a nutrition coach is a little different than the regular coach. And what we’ve seen happen and what happened at our own gym was, we started off just getting, we’d run some challenges and then we would get a nutrition coach, we’d pay for them to go get trained somewhere or do something. And then they were either doing it as a favor or they were doing it as a side gig. And it really wasn’t something that they had a lot of heart for. And what we see from that is that then the clients don’t get the follow up that they need. They’re not making the right, they’re not achieving their goals. They’re living on some kind of a meal plan or they’re going from challenge to challenge and they’re just not hitting their goals. And then so they’re out of the program. And so your nutrition coach is different from your coach on the floor. The ability to have a lot of follow up, the ability to do things like motivational interviewing, the ability to do things like working on actual behavior change and not just, Hey, is your squat low enough? Or, are you engaged in your lats on that toes to bar?

Chris Cooper: (02:38)
So it’s skill, but is it also incentive? With 4% revenue coming in, I must think the coaches just aren’t getting that much work.

Ric Thompson: (02:47)
Exactly. So a lot of things that we did wrong, we started off, we charged just like everybody else anyway, on your regular rates. We charged way too low for our nutrition program. And that plus the fact that nutrition clients come in once, twice a month, maybe once a week. To get them the book of business. If you had 20 clients that are doing nutrition and they’re only meeting for a half hour and that’s once a month, then you’re only being able to give that nutrition coach 10 hours of work. So you really can’t keep them gainfully employed as just a nutrition coach.

Chris Cooper: (03:25)
And is that really up to the coach to make that number go up or is it up to the affiliate owner, or what’s the problem here? Why such a big gap?

Ric Thompson: (03:33)
Both. Both. So the coach, if they’re losing clients, just like on your gym basis, if you’re not getting people coming back in, then as you lose ’em, then your numbers drop. But it’s also selling the program a little bit. It’s getting the information out, giving people examples. We’ve done things like run challenges as a feeder program to try to get people into the nutrition programs. And so that’s something that has been super helpful, but it’s still being able on a single gym basis, even if you had 20 or 30%, which would be a very big number, you just don’t have enough clients there really to keep a full-time nutrition coach employed.

Chris Cooper: (04:17)
Oh, man. So that’s a big statement. With 74% of gyms doing this and the average gym only making 4% of their gross from nutrition coaching, I can see why gym owners would be tempted to do other stuff instead. They prioritize selling access, which is 6% average gross, or a kids’ program. Again, like 6% average gross. So why should they stay the course, Ric? Why should they keep focusing on this nutrition coaching? That sounds like a lot of work for not a lot of revenue coming in.

Ric Thompson: (04:49)
Well I think it was you, Cooper, who said it before, but if we all believed that nutrition was the base of the pyramid, we would all have a nutrition business with a gym out back instead of a gym with a nutrition business out back. I think you said that a few times.

Chris Cooper: (05:05)
Yeah, that was me. Thank you.

Ric Thompson: (05:07)
But I think that we all realize that our best clients are the ones that see results. And they see results when they’re working on both nutrition and movement as well as sleep and recovery, all those other pieces to it. But when those clients are fully engaged like that, they’re our best clients and we wanna see ’em keep going and we all know that that’s a part of it. And trying to get our clients to believe that is a big part of it as well.

Chris Cooper: (05:36)
Alright, so let’s say that you’re running a gym. You’re making a thousand bucks a month on nutrition coaching, but you’re also paying for certifications and you’re trying to keep your staff engaged. Maybe they’ve got their own mentor or whatever. How do you change the tide here? What do you do, Ric?

Ric Thompson: (05:56)
So, I mean, kinda self-serving here. So what we’ve done is we’re going out and saying, okay, just like hiring a VA, if you could hire a stand in coach, a coach that works for you is part of your gym but just isn’t there, then you can sell it kind of like retail. You can make it match where it fits into your program and then have that, and then you’re gonna make a profit off of that. But you don’t have to be engaged in keeping that nutrition coach, keeping their book full. You don’t have to be engaged in trying to manage their payroll. You don’t have to be engaged in trying to manage their time at the gym. Do I have a separate place for them to meet? Do I have all those different things that are just gonna cost you time and effort?

Ric Thompson: (06:43)
So I mean, that’s kind of how we’ve gone about it. But I think if you’re gonna do it on your own, that one of the things to do is,you’re trying to get that nutrition coach to be fully engaged in nutrition, and then they have to engage your clientele. So they have to engage your clients. They have to be sending information, putting information out to them. They have to be interested in running challenges. They have to be interested in how they’re performing. But they also have to be able to be interested in the people. So that’s kind of the key piece there. The more that they’re engaged and the more that you talk about nutrition, the more that you bring nutrition in, that you show that you do nutrition by having whether signage or posts, those kinds of things. That’s the only way to kind of keep it front of mind. Because I think we all know none of us went into the gym for a nutrition program, even though that may be what we need. And I think that might be another Coop quote that I’m just throwing out there.

Chris Cooper: (07:49)
That one’s all you. Yeah, you can take responsibility for that, man. I mean, you named off a couple of expenses that come with nutrition coaching that most of us forget about. And we did our expense audit in December. It was like, Hey, why are we still paying for this big Zoom account? We don’t actually need that anymore. And I think some gyms might actually be underwater when it comes to offering a nutrition program, they’re losing money on it. So how does your program work, Ric? How does Smart and Simple Nutrition actually solve this?

Ric Thompson: (08:19)
So we work just like we’re one of your employees. So if you sell a program, say you’re selling your intro or your On-Ramp program has a nutrition component to it. So if you add that in, then what happens is once your client signs up, they sign up for us as well and we meet with them on nutrition via Zoom, and then we feed all that information back as well. We share information back and forth. And our goal is really, as a gym owner, I wanted somebody that was gonna work with us. I didn’t wanna work against somebody else, and I didn’t wanna have somebody in a position that they’re gonna try to steal your clients. I didn’t wanna have somebody in a position where they had separate interests.

Ric Thompson: (09:07)
So we have a common interest for that client to do well. So again, the simple piece to it is it’s really as much as once they sign up with us, we do an intro call with them and then start working with them on simple habits. I mean, it’s really a habits-based approach. It’s not an “Eat this, not that” program. It is habits-based. It is motivational interviewing based, it is behavior change based. And we can work with clients that are, we’re agnostic to if they are vegan, carnivore, keto. If they were all carb, I guess that would be hard.

Chris Cooper: (09:48)
All carb?

Ric Thompson: (09:49)
We’re really agnostic as to what method of nutrition that they’ve already had as a background coming in.

Chris Cooper: (10:00)
Okay. I’m gonna ask you to walk me through it step by step in a moment, but you actually highlighted another big issue. So there are some outlier gyms where their nutrition program really takes off and their nutrition coach just crushes it. And what I’ve seen, and I can name three specific examples, is that Coach is like, well, all these clients are mine, I’m leaving. And the gym loses revenue. And sometimes they lose clients because that nutrition coach is like, I’m just gonna go on my own. Now they’ve, I don’t want to use the term stolen their audience from the gym, but really the gym is like, who’ve fed them all the clients. This is a real risk, you know? It happens. So Ric, if I’m a client signing up for Smart and Simple, let’s say that I’m signing up through my gym Catalyst, what happens?

Ric Thompson: (10:44)
So the first thing we’ll do is sit down and talk with you on what it is that you guys are doing, the talk about your different ways that you onboard clients. We’ll talk about the different long-term programs that you have, and then talk about how we fit into that. And so how we fit into that is, most clients will meet once or twice a month with the nutrition coach. We’ll also have things like an intro call that we talk to the client to try to get a lot more information. That’s usually about an hour. And so we try to figure out how that fits into the programs that you’re offering now. And then, so short and simple, when a client comes in and they do an intro with you and you sign ’em up, once you sign ’em up and they’ve decided that they’re gonna add nutrition to that program, then at the same sitting, you can sign them up with us in terms of just set, go ahead.

Ric Thompson: (11:48)
And all you do is you enter the client in and put a code in and then it’ll schedule an appointment and then we’ll sit down and talk with them. We’ll send them some forms so that we can get some background on ’em.

Chris Cooper: (12:00)
Where does the gym usually introduce this? Is it part of their on-ramp or how do they approach existing clients about using the service?

Ric Thompson: (12:08)
What we recommend is that you start as part of your on-ramp. And what we’ve done is we put it into the packages, just some of the packages that we offer. So whether it’s a a five or eight or 12 PT sessions or all PT or something like that, what we do is we offer that with a nutrition and a non-nutritive option. And so when someone does that, so I mean, those are just the packages that we offer and we kind of suggest something similar. And so once you talk to the value of the client on that, then they can bring that right in as part of that intro process for existing clients. The way that we’ve seen to build awareness is to run a challenge or there’s all kinds of different ways.

Ric Thompson: (13:04)
Kickstart, we ended up calling it a kickstart challenge. But doing all those different things where we do a six or an eight week type deal. And in that we have some different habits that we work on. Clients come out of that with at least the knowledge that, hey, there is a nutrition program. And then from there we’re trying to gain some clients outta that. So ones that have been convinced that, okay, this challenge is a little bit like going to a bootcamp or doing Biggest Loser or something like that. It’s not really sustainable in that form, but here are the skills and if you want some help going forward with that, we can provide that. So that’s what we can do and we can run a challenge with the gym. So a partner gym can run a challenge with us.

Chris Cooper: (13:55)
That’s great, man. I was actually gonna ask about integration. How do you avoid the feeling of separation that the client gets where it’s like, they come to Catalyst but they’ve got a nutrition coach somewhere else. How do you guys actually integrate into the Catalyst program?

Ric Thompson: (14:09)
Right. So your CSM or somebody from your gym will be listed as one of our coaches on our software. So that way they can go in anytime and find out, Hey, how’s Julie doing? How’s Bob doing? And so they can always provide that feedback back to whoever their PT coach is, or to the CSM if they’re just tracking everyone. And then we also keep track and provide feedback on specific clients right through a Slack channel or something like that as well, just to try to provide the information flow back and forth to the gym as much as possible. And we use Slack. We’ve messaged, I mean, I’m more like everyone else. We can use Facebook Messenger, so , all those things to get back and forth.

Chris Cooper: (14:57)
I’ve actually seen better communication from your staff to gym coaches than within the gym coaches’ communication themselves. It’s awesome. And here’s an example. So let’s say you are selling supplements, right? And you are an affiliate with one of the top supplement companies, whatever, Thorne. And so you’ve got an affiliate link and your client is working with Smart and Simple, one of the nutrition coaches on staff at Smart and Simple, and they’re like, you know what? A couple of months in, I just don’t think you’re getting enough protein. Do you think a supplement would help? Here’s the link. And they give out the gym’s affiliate link. To me that was just so amazing and just such a great detail.

Ric Thompson: (15:39)
Yeah. And we want them to be sold on your program. I mean, that’s the service that we provide is to help them be a better client for you and to help you get better results with them without having to provide that background. And then what I think that I’ve also seen is that, clients don’t really recognize, I’ve had actually a couple of them tell us, well, I thought you were just at the gym and we were just meeting via Zoom. So that was that. I mean, that’s their experience and whether it’s because of space or whatever, I thought you were just at the gym and we were just meeting by Zoom.

Chris Cooper: (16:18)
Yeah, I gotta send the Smart and Simple gang a bunch of Catalyst T-shirts. Maybe that would just completely tie it in. That’s so great, man. Let’s talk about legality because still, not every gym has this. And what is holding some gym owners back is just like, I live in Florida, I have to be a dietician, or I live in California, or, where they live in the world restricts what they can say as far as nutrition goes. How do you guys solve that problem?

Ric Thompson: (16:43)
That’s an awesome question, thanks for asking that. So we have an RD that is part of our staff. So, she provides supervisory service. Typically we don’t do meal plans, we don’t do medical nutrition, nutrition therapy. I mean, that’s the area of an RD and kind of all of us. Knowing when you’re in and out of scope is super important. So having an RD on staff, though, is super helpful because as soon as we have something that’s overwhelming or we need something that’s a little bit beyond, we can engage her and she’s willing to come on and help out with whatever that is. And she can also review stuff and act as a supervisory position. Like, hey, how are things going with so and so?

Ric Thompson: (17:32)
And review some of their progress and talk with nutrition coaches. We also try to stay out of the RD field as much as possible. I mean, it’s really about behavioral modification and that’s the line that we tend to walk. We also try to find out who they would recommend locally for things like, well, somebody’s has a little bit of an eating disorder or there’s something that comes up. Because a lot of the time, nutrition things turn into counseling and we need to be able to say, Hey, we’re outta scope. And hand that off to somebody like Bonnie.

Chris Cooper: (18:12)
Yeah, Bonnie Skinner at Level Up Coaching, that’s who we’re talking about. Ric and I are both friends with her through the Two-Brain Tinker program and she is amazing. Okay. Well this has been great, man. Tell us a story of a gym that’s been signed up and using your service. And by the way, anybody that’s listening to this podcast knows that we don’t sell sponsorships, we don’t sell ad spots. I’m just a big believer in Ric and this program and I think it’s worth checking out if you’re a listener to this show. So you can go to while Ric is telling us some stories here.

Ric Thompson: (18:42)
Yeah, so our onboarding process is really fast. So a couple of gyms, I mean really what we’ve done in each case, we’ve just had a quick call, they’ve brought on a couple of clients through the web interface, just like a lot of other folks using something like Acuity. We schedule an appointment and then we start to see clients make a lot of different changes. One of the ones that I think is most incredible is you see, I’ve got a client that I’m actually working with right now. And he comes in and he tells you all these different things that like, well, I can’t do this, I can’t do that, and I love to eat and I don’t wanna make changes.

Ric Thompson: (19:35)
Well, why’d you sign up ? But over time, you see that he can make changes and he is starting to make some behavioral changes. But the thing that makes it good is when he says, yeah, well I’m gonna go back and I’m gonna do my PT session with Matt and I’m gonna have this thing, or I’m working on this other change that I wanna make. I’m gonna run this race. And you can see it gives us an opportunity to go back and forth with that different gym on what they’re doing with the client. And then that gives ’em an outlet too, because when you’re doing personal training with that person, you have that hour or that half hour or 45 minutes with that client and you can make some interactions with them between, but when you know that the nutrition coach is also working hand in hand with you towards the same goal, I think it builds a little bit better kind of community support for that client because they see a bunch of people helping to work for them or help them hit their goals.

Chris Cooper: (20:48)
One thing that I wondered about when I started working with a nutrition coach that was remote was, is this person really gonna be able to hold me accountable the way an in-person coach was? Because they’re not right in front of me. But the inverse actually happened. I find that I’m a little bit more open and honest with somebody that’s not right there in front of me, that doesn’t live in my hometown. Because it’s like, while my nutrition coach is not a stranger, she does live pretty far away and I can just be like, Hey Jen, I had four cookies yesterday. That actually happened, Ric. And I don’t have to worry about, oh, that person is going to see me out to dinner with my kids tonight and wag their finger at me having a piece of pie.

Chris Cooper: (21:32)
It’s really powerful to have that connection where the nutrition coach can act almost like a mentor. They’re objectively detached but still in the mix in the conversation. They know everything about you. So Ric, Smart and Simple Nutrition is the website, but you guys are also really amazing on social media too. It’s very positive and upbeat and happy. And one reason that you didn’t name, ’cause you’re too tactful, why some nutrition coaches are not popular is because they’re just kind of a rule follower, jailer, right? They’re not fun, they don’t make it something you wanna do. You guys really focus on that. Do you recruit staff for happy joy or how did you guys cultivate that?

Ric Thompson: (22:19)
So one of the places, when we started recruiting different coaches and because we’re a remote service, we have coaches all over. I mean, we do look for personality and we look for folks that have spent some time, typically our coach is a PN2 at least. We have some that have that were RDs that we’re putting in for the positions. And they’ve all had cool different reasons why they wanna do it. We had somebody that was working on a sports team that they were an RD for, for a college sports D1 team. But they’re like, well, I still wanna work on my skills and be better at interpersonal stuff, not just writing meal plans for the sports team. So we do look for people that are personable.

Ric Thompson: (23:11)
We look for people that have good follow up skills. We look for people that can be available for our clients. And they really have to have that strong desire. And I think most of the people in our field tend to have that really strong desire to see somebody succeed, and to win with the client. And then also understand that, hey, we’re working for a gym and we’re their staff. We’re just at a different place.

Chris Cooper: (23:40)
I’ve heard some people say that they actually started selling more nutrition coaching when they started working with you. Why is that? Are you giving them resources to help market or are you coaching them on how to sell more nutrition or how’s that go?

Ric Thompson: (23:52)
Yeah, both of those things. So we are working on providing more and more marketing resources so that they can make posts so that they can engage their clients. Again, so if you had a nutrition coach on staff with you, that would be probably something you would ask them, Hey, can you put out posts for social media? Can you do some of those things? And so we wanna be able to do that too. Put out stuff that is either already templated or make it so that it’s easily done for you. I don’t know how many times that I’ve heard people say something was done for you and it’s not really done for you. So, you know, make it easy. Something on Canva to just change, put your logo in or do something like that. And then try to do those things to keep feeding them with stuff because I mean, it’s a two-way street. It’s not like we’re just so sacrificial. I mean, it serves us as well. If you get more nutrition clients, then we get more business as well.

Chris Cooper: (24:55)
Yeah, I love that, man. Any place that you’ve got a virtuous cycle of value like that where if you do a better job, you will get more clients. I love it. And it just makes absolute sense to plug that into a gym. How do you broach the topic where, let’s say that you’re coming into Catalyst and I’ve already got a nutrition coach that’s been with me for a while. They’re struggling, they’re not doing very well, and I’m like, okay, you know what? I’m gonna go with Smart and Simple to really ramp this up and help our clients more. How do you tactfully broach that conversation, Ric?

Ric Thompson: (25:25)
I mean, you care about the person that you have on staff and they’re the person right in front of you. And I think the best thing to ask ’em is just how they feel it’s going. And if it’s working for them, because I think a lot of times they’re holding on because they think they’re helping you. And trying to have that conversation and like, Hey, we only have 10 people. You’re making x a month. Or, you’ve lost a lot of clients. Is this really what you wanna do or is there a better fit for that person? And it comes in two different flavors I’ve seen.

Ric Thompson: (26:12)
One is someone that’s already a floor coach or personal training coach, and they’re like, yeah, this isn’t really the thing that gives me joy. And then if it is something that, hey, I think that really gives me joy, then what I would suggest is that then they continue down the education process a little bit, maybe get a little bit better at some of their skills, and then they can either come back or, if you think they’re good, then tell us. Then we’ll hire ’em on, get ’em more clients.

Chris Cooper: (26:38)
Yeah. The cycle just perpetuates itself forever, Ric. That’s amazing. Yeah, and that is the case too. I know that you’re always looking. So if you are a talented nutrition coach, you’re very passionate about it and you just can’t get enough work, reach out to Ric through Smart and Simple and he’s always adding to his team because they are really starting to blow up. Ric, man, congrats on your success there. There’s a meta lesson here, and that is when you spot a problem and you can solve it for other people, you deserve to be successful, and man, you deserve it so much.

Ric Thompson: (27:11)
And Cooper, I have to thank you. I mean, we were looking at different options and having somebody that’s in your back pocket that’s there to mentor you along the way and say, “Hey, I think you should do this,” that means a whole lot.

Chris Cooper: (27:25)
Yeah. Just so everybody knows, literally I said, “Ric, you should do this.” And he just took the ball and ran with it, and now he’s crushing it. And that’s a testament to your leadership and smarts, Ric. So congratulations, man. Anybody listening, just go to Smart and Simple You’ll get a good sense of what the program is, and just walking through it makes you wonder, wait a minute, what can I just hand to somebody and truly have it done for me? Right. I loved what you said about, it’s not really done for you. Some programs it’s like, you’re paying them to put the ball in the cup and they’re like, oh, I drove you to the golf course. Isn’t that close enough? You know, but, okay. Well, Ric, thanks so much for coming on, man. Any other advice you wanna give to gym owners about building a nutrition program?

Ric Thompson: (28:10)
No, I mean, go back to what Coop said a long time ago, that nutrition is still the base of the pyramid. People come into us that aren’t really, that’s not the thing that they’re not necessarily focused on. But when you realize that the best thing for them is to work on nutrition, to work on their movement, to work on their sleep and their recovery, when you work on all those different pieces and their mentality, the way that they’re attacking things, when you can work on all those things together, you provide a better value. You don’t have to do every piece of that to make it better, but when you’re the place that people go and you’re the resource, then you have a lot more value as a coach because they look to you for their coach. Like, Hey, which way should I go? And, hey, here’s another resource, here’s another resource.

Chris Cooper: (29:00)
Amazing. If nothing else, guys, this will improve your retention at your group or personal training sessions because people who get results stick around longer. And if you are unable to deliver the kind of nutrition coaching that gets results just because you don’t have staff or you don’t have the capacity or you don’t have the time to figure it all out, just give Ric a call, and he’ll solve this problem for you in a true done-for-you fashion. Ric, thank you so much for building this and thanks for coming on.

Ric Thompson: (29:25)
Thanks, Cooper, I appreciate it.

Chris Cooper: (29:28)
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