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Three Lessons from Nearly Two Decades in the For-Profit World


“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan

I was fortunate to have a genuinely talented mentor right out of high school when I got a job in a fitness center in 1996. Our general manager, Mike, invested a substantial amount of time in developing me professionally for the first 10 years of my early career.

After every single sales miss, he would grill me at the start of the next day on what I could have done better. He would ask me things like, “Why would you say it exactly like that? Is that what your posture was like when you were speaking? You have poor mannered eye contact — were you trying to creep them out at the same time?”

At the time, I did not fully appreciate these debriefings. It felt more like getting my ass kicked than trying to sharpen my skills. It wasn’t until much later in my career, when I made the transition into a sales leadership role, that I realized how valuable that education was.

I want to share three of these lessons with you that, although essential to success, tend to be misunderstood or neglected altogether:

Nonprofits can improve close rates on sales opportunities and improve member experiences at the same time. This is not an “either/or” proposition.

We do not have to be masters at overcoming objections to make more sales. More often than not, it is the small improvements in how our teams utilize the tools we have. Make sure your team understands the purpose of a needs analysis — they have the ability to build obvious and tremendous value. Combine that with conducting a solid price presentation, and you will garner immediate gains in both sales and member experiences.

Your team can start improving both right now by doing this one simple thing, listen. Listen sincerely, intently and without interruption. For maximum impact, make sure during the needs analysis to ask the right questions. By asking the questions that matter most to your prospective members, you will create stronger rapport and gather crucial information about their needs that will allow you to customize the presentation and have an improved ability to earn their business.

A sales goal without a plan and a deadline is not a goal at all — it’s just a hope.

Did you ever see that South Park episode titled “Underpants Gnomes?” The gnomes’ business plan to create success was laid out like this:

  • Phase 1 — Collect Underpants.
  • Phase 2 — ???
  • Phase 3 — Profit!

Nevertheless, the gnomes tirelessly worked to collect underpants because, at the end of the day, there was profit. The only issue is they had no clue how they were going to get there.

From my experiences working with nonprofit fitness centers, it’s clear a lot of us don’t know what happens in Phase 2. Most everyone knows why we exist. Almost everyone knows what they want to accomplish in their efforts. However, more often than not, there is no executable plan with goals and accountability.

Are you hoping to be successful or planning to be successful? Success leaves clues and is not some happy accident. Good teams have monthly sales goals. Great teams have weekly goals. The very best teams have daily goals with a plan that maps out exactly how many calls, referrals, tours and sales each team member needs to execute to be successful, as well as a director who knows how to lead.

Market to your unique value proposition (UVP) and not to fitness generally.

Too often, I see grand marketing efforts that sound like, “We offer personal training at competitive prices!” or “Get your six pack at the YMCA!” All these very general marketing campaigns do is drive interest broadly and sends your prospective members into the doors of other facilities with similar offerings.

Instead, when creating marketing materials, focus on what makes your center unique. Do you have the only pool in town? Does one of your trainers have a special certification no one else has? Is the only place you can take a spinning class at your center? These are the types of marketing messages that drive interest and traffic to you, and not your competitors.

Ultimately, there isn’t one single killer sales secret in the for-profit world of fitness that nonprofits do not know. However, commercial players have mastered messaging their value to great success. By recognizing the importance of these points and implementing solid plans to improve your efforts, your rec center will be better positioned to compete in today’s fitness market.


Jason R. Stowell is the division director of fitness and wellness for JCC of Greater Pittsburgh. He is an award-winning fitness leader with over 20 years of successful experience providing strategic planning, talent management, and expert-level sales training in the health and fitness industry. Connect with him on LinkedIn here


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