Brand versus Human Connection: Will you ever be as loyal to Nike as you are to your mother?

Chris Cooper of Two-Brain Business recently posted a blog arguing that as a gym owner your goal should be to ensure clients are loyal not to one specific coach, but to your brand.

While I have tons of respect for Cooper—super hard-working and insightful dude—I couldn’t help myself but disagree. Whole-heartedly. And some.

Cooper’s logic is this: “In most professions, shifting between dealerships or franchises happens only once or twice in a career,” he wrote. He used a dentist and a financial advisor as examples.

“But in the fitness industry, it happens around every three years. Especially with CrossFit, where the barrier to ownership is SO low, trainers move in and out of gyms pretty often. And if you don’t want your clients to follow them down the street, you have to take a different approach,” he added.

His solution: Ensure your clients have a relationship with your BRAND that “overrides their relationship with any specific coach.”

The first, and smaller argument I’m going to make is this: Can you ever be as loyal to a brand as a human being? You might feel loyal to Lululemon, but the moment you find a less expensive brand that makes a similar product, chances are you’ll jump ship without looking back. The expression, “I would jump in front of a train for…” or “I would die for…” always ends with a human being’s name. You’re not jumping in front of a train for your small family-owned deli you’ve been going to once a week since you were 10-years-old. No matter how good their pastrami is.

Unless it looks like this maybe…

But the latter is the less significant issue here, the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. THE REAL HOLE IN COOPER’S ARGUMENT is SO MUCH LARGER than brand versus human loyalty.

The problem is the very fact that coaches leave gyms so often! The problem is  the fact that gyms can’t retain coaches to have professional careers like dentists and financial advisor practices do! 

(Cooper said coaches leave every three years on average in the fitness industry, although based on our data I would argue it’s more frequent than that).

So instead of pushing clients away from human relationships and toward your business’ brand, let’s fix the fitness industry so it’s more like these other professional careers.

This is exactly what we’re doing with our member gyms.

Let’s address why coaches leave so often now: We have worked with hundreds of gyms in the last 10 years, and the biggest reason coaches quit is because they can’t make an adequate living as a coach. So they leave to open their own gym hoping this will allow them to raise a family, buy a house etc, or they leave the industry completely. (The second less common reason they leave is personality conflicts, which are inevitable in any profession).

This is at the heart of what we’re doing at MadLab Group gyms. We focus on coach development, technical training, sales training, and providing a system that compensates coaches based on a percentage of revenue, as opposed to by-the-hour or via salary. This allows our coaches to earn a professional wage (upwards of $75,000 a year), meaning they, AND THEIR CLIENTS—who they have tight relationships with—stick around for years, even for their entire careers.

If you don’t think the answer is financial, let me ask you this: When was the last time a coach at your gym made $75,000-plus and quit to open his own gym or work in construction?

One final food for thought question:

Is it harder to raise and keep a loyal coach or a loyal client? Who is more valuable to your business? I don’t know a single gym owner who wouldn’t trade in one loyal client for a full-time, hard working coach who will stick around for years to make his business better.

The key to success isn’t to create loyal brand junkies. It’s on developing coaches and empowering them to develop relationships with clients, change lives, and stick around pursuing a professional career earning a professional wage in the fitness industry so they can live a great life.

When you do this, these same coaches will stick around your gym for years, and so will their loyal clients.

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