Shane Kinkennon by Shane Kinkennon

The following article appeared on the Club Industry website and as part of their special edition ResourceBeat, “The Changing World of Personal Training.” 

For those club chains that have invested in health coaching as its own offering, they’ll tell you the business results are compelling. These early adopters are so enthusiastic that they have been making the speaking rounds at industry events for years to persuade their peers to join them. Atlantic Coast Athletic Club, Newtown Athletic Club, and many others are successfully drawing a new type of crowd through the door, where new individuals stay members.  

As I’ve watched these innovators make their case, I can see that their peers listen with intrigue. Certainly, they’re hungry for ideas to reach beyond traditional gym members. And they recognize that fee-for-service health coaching might be one path.  

Yet health-coaching programs remain far from widespread in the club setting, and there seems to be consensus that clubs fear the devil in the details. “How would I structure such a program so that I could see a quick and reliable return on the not-insignificant upfront investment I’d need to make?” It’s a legitimate question! Since I’m a natural operator who finds it fun to turn ideas into action, here are my five steps to developing and launching a health-coach offering. They’re based on the best I’ve heard from those who are providing health-coaching programs to great success: 

Step 1: Snoop out the lurking passion. (It’s there!) Mark my words, on your staff today are exercise professionals who could be really jazzed to work not only with individuals who are looking to improve their fitness but those who are looking to improve their health. They may not be saying it out loud but ask intentionally and listen closely -- the passion is there. Chances are you’ll find it among your stronger communicators, those with standout listening skills, those who demonstrate lots of empathy, and those who have more tenure.   

Step 2: Put your people and your place(s) in ready position. Health coaching is not the sort of thing a person can wing. The practitioner needs to be skilled in behavior-change science so they can effectively establish systems of motivation and accountability and elicit meaningful health goals. The health coach needs to understand how all the elements of health work together – it’s not remotely about exercise alone. Most importantly, they need a credential that verifies their health-coaching skills. Finally, you’ll need space conducive to the kinds of work that health coaching warrants— privacy is key. You may need to think creatively about the arrangement of your facilities. 

Step 3: Put the meat on the bones. Health coaching in a programmatic-delivery form is a great match for the health-club setting. You could create the program yourself, or you could license one that’s already proven effective (and profitable!). They’re out there! By licensing a proven program, you can gain expertise to help answer all your questions. Then once the program is developed and ready, test it by offering it to a select group of members free of charge. Ask them to help you work out the kinks. 

Step 4: Get creative.  Package and brand your health coach offering in a way that shows it’s a compellingly different service. Offer it to your members at a discount or to new members as part of a bundle. Market it to non-members to get them in the door and get to know your club in a non-sales way. Ask the human resources department at nearby local companies about providing it to their employees. Even ask your primary-care physician if she/he would be willing to suggest to patients to check it out. 

Step 5: Track it. Take the time in program development to set yourself up for data tracking. Track the relationship between participation and health outcomes if possible; as well as the relationship between program participation, new-member acquisition, non-dues revenue per member, and retention. I know this is outside the traditional domain of health clubs. Yet it’s what the future holds for our industry, so it’s a terrific time to dabble.