Business Strategies

Rebuild Your Team With Star Fitness Instructors and Thrive Post-covid

Jack Cuneo | April 26, 2021

Great instructors and customer retention go hand in hand. 

Picture this: it is time for your post-COVID-19 studio opening. Longtime clients are reaching out to resume their memberships. The government is loosening restrictions on capacity. Many people have been cooped up in their homes for a long time, and they are looking forward to returning to the communities and activities they love. There’s a long way to go, but everything is looking up! Right?

Well… maybe. As demand for fitness and wellness increases, are you positioned to capture the full potential of this moment? To do so, you’ll need to rebuild your team with star fitness instructors  who will play an essential role in inspiring, motivating, building relationships with, and retaining clients.

How you create and cultivate your team is one of the most significant determinants of your success. Here’s how studio owners and managers can meet this moment and ensure that their post-pandemic team is stronger than ever:

1. Clarify what you want and need from your team.

Nobody knows exactly what will happen over the next couple of years, but many experts in public policy and health agree that life won’t be exactly as it was before and that we’re transitioning to a “new normal.” That means before you make choices about who and what to invest in going forward, it’s worth pausing to take stock of the changes you’ve seen, the ones you anticipate, and what you’ll need to succeed in these unprecedented times.

Take this time to reflect on what you want your company to look like for your post-COVID studio opening and beyondMany businesses hold onto relationships and practices that are legacies from the past— not because they’re effective, but because change can be challenging. The shifts that have been forced upon you over the last year may have cleared away some stale practices and relationships offering an opportunity to re-envision your business with intention for your post-COVID opening.

Ask yourself questions such as:

    1. What have been the most important drivers of my business success? How will those drivers change in a post-COVID world?
    2. How can I position my studio in a market that contains products and services like Peloton and Apple Fitness+?
    3. Should I reconsider elements of my business model like class format, size, price, and promotions?
    4. What’s the big picture? How can I create an environment and energy that is truly unique and special?

Once you understand your broader vision, you can outline the skills, qualities, preferences, and attitudes you are looking for in your new instructor team.

RELATED: Connected Fitness is Your Biggest Competitor. Here’s How You Can Win.

2. Rebuild relationships and gather insights.

One of the hallmarks of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an almost universal reassessment of priorities and needs. People have been forced to reconsider their budgets, careers, values, and even identities. Some instructors may not feel safe returning to work. Others may desperately want to return but can’t find or afford childcare. Others may have found new sources of income or passion during the pandemic and no longer need employment. It is likely that much of your knowledge and assumptions about your employees and clients has changed over the last year.

As you begin to rebuild your team, take the time to connect directly and personally with your instructors. Set up one-on-one phone calls with your former employees and really check in with them as human beings. How are they doing? What are they up to? What have they learned about themselves? What are their priorities? Do they still live locally?

Displaying authentic curiosity about your employees is an essential leadership skill. Investing this time and energy prior to reopening will help you identify how to engage your instructors in a way that will support your vision as you rebuild. Keep in mind that star fitness instructors and customer retention are interconnected

3. Assess past performance.

As any good investor will tell you, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” The same thing is true when investing in hiring someone for your team. That being said,  past performance can give you valuable clues about a team member’s skills, proclivities, and ability to retain customers.

Data about instructors and customer retention is crucial to rebuilding your fitness business. As a studio owner or manager, you likely have access to quite a bit of insights about your instructors’ prior performance. You can analyze metrics such as class sizes, retention rates, and the percentage of their clients who bought packages and memberships. FitGrid provides analytics dashboards, instructor reports, and client feedback that collect and summarize the most important data for you, so you can get a clear sense of who has been helping you drive your success.

Though numbers often reveal truths that are essential for success, they are only part of the performance puzzle. Combine data with your own impressions of instructors to rebuild a star fitness instructor team who will support your vision. 

4. Consider your recruiting pipeline.

Pre-pandemic, most fitness businesses relied upon regular classes and training programs to identify passionate fitness enthusiasts, build relationships with them, and develop their next generation of rockstar instructors. For many studios, COVID-19 shut this process down. Devise and execute an intentional plan to get this recruiting pipeline flowing again.

The most successful fitness and wellness professionals are driven by passion and sustained by community, so build those qualities into your recruiting plan. If you use FitGrid, have your instructors use the Pro App to send personalized follow-up messages to students after they attend class. You never know when someone with talent and desire will write back and say, “Actually, I was wondering what I could do to get more involved.”

RELATED: Build Loyalty & Drive Acquisition With A Studio Ambassador Program

5. Create clear expectations and agreements.

Once you’ve clarified your vision, gathered information about your network, and have some ideas in mind for how to kickstart your recruiting, you may be ready to start bringing some instructors back onto your team. Don’t rush this process—make sure you establish clear agreements, strong bonds of trust and open communication up front.

When COVID-19 first hit and FitGrid created a tool to help studios move their classes online, we heard from many studios that bonds of loyalty between management and instructors had frayed, and some instructors were setting up their own virtual classes and trying to entice clients away from the studio.

Work to create more relationships with instructors before your post-COVID studio opening How? Start with communication. This is another place where those one-on-one conversations can come in handy. If your instructors know you really care about them and are willing to listen, they’re more likely to tell you what they need, rather than doing something behind your back.

Right from the get-go, relentlessly reiterate your vision for the future of your studio and make sure you back that up with consistent, concrete action. As Stanford professors Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao remind us in their classic management book Scaling Up Excellence, growing the reach and capacity of your business is not an air war, where you can swoop in, drop a couple of speeches or trainings, and then fly away. It’s a ground war—it involves battling inch by inch against the endless distractions and challenges that come with creating anything meant to last.

The particulars of your agreements and relationships with your instructors will be unique, and that’s okay. The key point is that your message is clear and consistent. Make sure your employees know exactly what you are promising and can see that you’re delivering on those promises as you rebuild.

6. Remain open to change.

If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us that no matter how hard we work or how brilliant our insights, even the best-laid plans can be upended . As you move through your instructor team building and post-COVID studio opening strategies, remain open to revising and evolving your plans. Never stop listening attentively to your clients and employees, and keep scanning your environment for opportunities to be better in business and life. Find little, inexpensive ways to test new ideas, and be transparent with your employees and customers when you believe you have made an error in judgment, or when you decide to shift gears.

7. Create a training program to build your instructors into valuable revenue producers for your business.

Once you have identified your star fitness instructor team, it would be worthwhile to get everyone together and get them excited about your new studio vision and post-COVID studio opening plans. Get your employees involved - ask them what they think a successful reopening looks like. You can also take this as an opportunity to provide your new team with the tools to help your business increase customer retention once they get back in the studio. 

Nobody knows what the future of fitness will look like post-COVID, but with a team of engaged star fitness instructors, anything is possible.


Jack is a yoga teacher, SaaS professional, business consultant, and former CMO and COO of Kindness Yoga, a nationally recognized chain of yoga studios based in Denver, Colorado. He currently serves as Director of Client Services for FitGrid, a fitness technology and social wellness company that enables studios, instructors, and students to connect with one another in meaningful ways.

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