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Fitness Industry Interview with Movati Athletic's Kelly Thorne

Kelly Thorne
Matt: I’ve been looking forward to this! Thank you for sharing your time Kelly. To start these interviews I love to ask what was it that led you to developing an interest in health and fitness? What inspired you to pursue a career in this industry?

Kelly: It started early for me. I was a very active kid and played sports throughout my childhood. I ended up going to York University in Toronto and had the opportunity to play for the basketball team for four years. During that time I pursued a degree in kinesiology and also got involved in a fitness assessment certificate program which I really enjoyed. I had the opportunity to do fitness assessments for local firefighters who were preparing to do their tests and even to do the preseason fitness testing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m going to date myself a bit (laughing), but I guess that would have been the 2000-2001 team when Tie Domi and Mats Sundin were playing. It was just a very cool experience, I was definitely starstruck. I think that’s when I really fell in love with the whole world of sports, fitness, and high-level performance. In my last year at York I had the opportunity to train one of my professors which convinced me that I should pursue personal training as a career. When I graduated I started working as a Level 1 Personal Trainer for Bally Total Fitness. This was almost twenty years ago, so I was pretty much just given a uniform and a pat on the back. Go find some clients (laughing). So, I had a ton of knowledge when it came to anatomy, physiology, strength training, and so on. However, I had zero knowledge about how to do sales, prospect for clients at the gym, behavior change, and how to convince members to actually invest in personal training. One memory that really stands out to me is that I probably did close to 40 consultations before I gained my first client. I remember wondering if I would have to trade in my passion for a stable job. I actually ended up taking on some shifts at the juice bar within Bally’s to get to know more members and make money during this time. I remember just focusing on continuing to get the reps in and buying several sales books so I could improve. Over time it did come or else I wouldn’t be on this phone with you right now (laughing). Eventually I worked my way up to having a full client roster, then became a Manager, and then a Regional Manager. While my career was moving forward I really cared about doing whatever I could to help other personal trainers so they didn’t experience the same type of pain that I had when I started. I didn’t want young personal trainers to have to worry about paying their rent or their car payments. I wanted them to go from starting on day 1 to building a full roster of clients as fast as possible.

Matt: You started to answer my next question! To dig a little deeper there, when it started to click for you as a young personal trainer what do you think helped the most? Was it simply time and experience? Was it a certain mentor or resource? What was the key for you to start closing and building up that client base?

Kelly: Yeah, I think it was a few things. We know that with practice comes confidence. The more reps you get the more confidence you’ll build. As a personal trainer if you struggle with sales the first thing that comes to your mind is that you’re not good with sales and you want to stop doing it. Of course that doesn’t help, so continuing to practice really helped me. Secondly, I was really in my own head. This reminds me about a great presentation from Bobby Cappuccio where he talks about taking the focus away from yourself and putting it on the other person. As a young personal trainer I felt like ‘I need to gain a client’ was tattooed on my forehead as I was walking on the floor (laughing). I was focused on myself all the time, just thinking about what I was going to say next. I’d be thinking about my script and how I should answer the next objection that would come up. That’s a big difference compared to focusing on building a relationship, being empathetic, and thinking about how you can add value to that person's life. I made a switch where I stopped talking as much and just started listening. I started to gain more clients immediately, so that was a big turning point for me.

Matt: That makes a lot of sense to me. My partner Ally had a really similar experience as a young trainer and had to work hard on getting out of her own head when talking to potential clients, but once she got it she built up a client roster really quickly.

You mentioned earlier that eventually you moved on from working as a personal trainer to becoming a Fitness Manager. What drew you to taking that next step in your career?

Kelly: I really wanted to have a personal training team of my own and to help each of them become successful. I think that a lot of times we move into leadership roles because we feel that there's an opportunity to share the experiences we’ve had and help others become better than we could ever be. I started working as a Fitness Manager at Bally’s and eventually moved on to join Goodlife Fitness, where I spent almost a decade, before working for Movati Athletic. In the beginning I just really focused on building the team and the culture. At Goodlife I had upwards of 20 trainers at the first club I worked at. We wanted to build a culture of support, focus on our education, collaborate with each other, and provide an extremely elevated personal training experience to our clients.

Fitness Managers and Personal Trainers at Movati Athletic

Matt: So during those ten years you worked at Goodlife you went from working as a Fitness Manager at a single location to the National Director of Personal Training. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to work for such a fast growing organization that is now the largest gym chain in Canada?

Kelly: I learned a lot working at Goodlife, especially about what it takes to scale an organization to that level. When you’re growing that fast it really emphasizes how important it is to create systems and tools that can be used over and over and over again, but also the importance of developing leaders that work with you. We called it Four Quad Goal Setting. It was crucial to block off time to sit down with the leaders that worked underneath me at Goodlife and talk about what their goals were. Financial goals, educational goals, personal goals, whatever they were. What was it that they wanted to accomplish and what did success mean to them? If you helped that team member achieve those results it allowed you, as a manager, to become successful yourself. That was the biggest lesson I learned during that time. The more people I helped achieve their goals the stronger the organization became. A few of those team members I worked with at Goodlife actually work for me now at Movati, so it shows how important and strong those relationships are. When you’ve worked together to create a strong culture at a new gym location from the ground up you build a really strong level of trust which lets you be confident in that person if they go off to another part of the country to do it on their own. That culture and level of success will grow and grow. By the time I left Goodlife I’d worked with 70 locations across 7 regions across Ontario and Alberta. The pace we moved at was incredible and the amount of different demographics we worked in really taught me a lot. That was something that I brought with me over to Movati, especially as we started to shift into a faster growth phase. I knew just how important it was to create that foundation, the culture and the structure, for us to build on and replicate for each new club opened and each new region we moved into.

Matt: I love hearing what it was like to to experience that, that must have been so super exciting. So Goodlife now is pretty much the 24 Hour Fitness of Canada. It’s everywhere and it’s a great success story. What was it that attracted you to starting to work with Movati Athletic?

Kelly: I was actually contacted via LinkedIn about this opportunity. At the time the bulk of my time had been spent in the GTA, the Greater Toronto Area, Calgary, and Edmonton. So I wasn’t that familiar with Movati Athletic because the majority of their locations were in the Alberta region. I had the opportunity to meet Chuck Kelly, the CEO and Founder of Movati, and right away I could tell he was really different. He was just a very humble man, cared so much about his team members, and I thought that was really impressive. I visited one of the Movati locations and was blown away by the level of detail. The focus on the quality of the experience for the gym member was really high and it was the same for their team members. The company really cared about creating a great environment for their employees to thrive. So, I committed to joining and went from overseeing 70 locations at Goodlife to overseeing 13 locations with Movati Athletic. The Personal Training department was just starting to grow so there was a real opportunity to take my ideas from my time at Goodlife and install them right at the beginning. I worked with Chuck and our COO, Kate Carroll, to develop new structures and standards with the goal of making Movati Athletic the employer of choice for personal trainers. We want Movati to be the first gym you think of when you’re looking to start a career as a fitness professional. It was just an incredible opportunity for me to be creative, independent, and to test out a lot of my ideas. During my first 30-60 days on the job I didn’t change anything. All I did was travel from location to location and sat down with as many personal trainers as I could. I’d ask what they loved about Movati, what drove them crazy, what did they want to change, what did they hope would stay the same, and so on. I focused on asking questions and listening to as many members of my new team as possible. I ended up with a filled notebook that helped shape my priorities and influenced the changes I wanted to make to elevate the service for the members and our personal trainers.

Matt: That’s really cool. We’ve talked about this before in previous calls, but we both share a similar mission where we want to experience an industry where personal trainers are able to have long-term careers. Specifically, the goal is to blow past the current average personal training career length of less than three years. The opportunity you had to build with a clean slate, as you described, is just incredibly rare and I love how focused you were on improving the trainer experience across the board. Looking back, what systems or resources that you put in place have had the most impact on making Movati the desired employer of choice for personal trainers in your regions?

Kelly: There’s three that stand out to me. The first is the hourly rate. I had a good sense of what the industry average was and I wanted to make sure we were above that. To add to that, we also looked at the annual incomes of our personal trainers and put some structure in place to improve the compensation even further with the strong support from our founder. That’s something where you don’t necessarily see the impact as an organization right away, but over time these hourly and annual raises will make a big difference. At the leadership level we’re now continually tracking the annual income of our personal trainers to see if it is increasing. We start by looking at the total hours worked by each trainer, but we round out the full picture with the hourly pay and their annual income. We want to ensure that each trainer can reach and increase their target income goals if they close enough clients and work enough hours. Secondly, we really focused on trainer education. We all know that personal trainers really value education, their interest in health and fitness inspires them to pursue this career. When I started at Movati I reached out to my connections that teach at a national and international level to get their advice on creating a formal education calendar for Movati personal trainers. We have huge beautiful clubs at Movati so we have the opportunity to host educational courses right under our own roof with different course providers. The courses can be assessment based, performanced based, and much more. Additionally, we created an education fund for our trainers so that for every hour they worked a dollar went into their personal education fund. As far as I know it was the first fund of it’s kind in the Canada fitness industry. The main goal here is that we want to reward our trainers for the time they put in and give them the opportunity to invest their education fund as they see fit. If they are interested in a fascial stretch therapy course, a TRX course, movement and mobility with Kelly Starrett...we have a curated list of courses that we approve the fund to go towards. Lastly, we created a level advancement system. If you’re a brand new trainer at Movati you start at Level 1 and the expected pay rate and qualifications are clearly defined. We’ve made six Levels overall, so as you gain more experience you can work through the Levels and increase your hourly rate and income. With the courses, the education plan, and then the advancement system we know have all the pieces in place to invest into and incentivize our personal trainers. The last note I’ll add to that is that we’ve also been able to increase our service offerings. When I first joined we only had one-on-one private personal training and a little bit of partner training. Over time we’ve added, with the help of our National Manager of Small Group Programming Courtney O’Reilly, small group training which has really exploded. Through the small group training you can do strength based, HIIT, boxing, nutrition coaching sessions, athletic training, and really started to expand the level of services. You may not be a member that’s interested in one-on-one, but now there’s a variety of options to still work with a personal trainer in some way and as a result we’ve been able to engage with a much higher percentage of our member base.

Movati Athletic Personal Training

Matt: Can you talk a bit about what the timeline looks like for a new personal trainer in Level 1 at Movati to get ramped up and then move on to the next Level? To go a bit further, how long does it take for a personal trainer at Movati to get to the point where they have sustainable income? What additional career paths are there for the trainers in the long-term?

Kelly: So as I mentioned before there are six Levels at Movati for our training teams. The average personal trainer at Movati is Level 3 to 4, so I’d say the average tenure of our trainers is around 3-4 years which is quite good in the fitness industry. That timeline really depends on how quickly you take the additional courses that are available for you to advance. The personal trainers that are at Level 5 and 6 have been in their profession for 5-10 years. So, our average trainer will probably take 2-3 years to get midway through our training Levels. The cool thing at Movati is that we have a large number of trainers that are hybrid based as well, so in addition to their one-on-one training they lead the small group training sessions. This can be a really nice way to mix up their days or work weeks. I also oversee the Studio Fitness Department at Movati and a number of our personal trainers offer group fitness classes in addition to working with their own clients. It’s a great way for them to meet our members and build relationships because you can have up to 40-50 people in one class. Some of our personal trainers are also fitness coach hybrids which means that some of their day is spent doing the initial consultations with gym members. To explain that a bit further, we have team members whose role is to spend 100% of their time doing these consultations and the personal trainer hybrid who can do these as well. So, there’s a ton of ways for our personal trainers to improve their income at the entry level and provide variety in their day. After that there are two routes you can take if you progress your career at Movati. There’s the education route, where we have a handful of education specialists in each of our regions that help run the quarterly PT bootcamps. These bootcamps are the quarterly training sessions for all of our new personal trainers where they are taken through the initial assessment and the specialists are there to act as mentors to our new team members. Additionally there’s the management route, which is a great fit for our team members who are interested in leading others. We have a Rising Leaders quarterly training our trainers can attend where they learn all the ins and outs of how to be a great leader at Movati. We have Assistant PT Managers where small group training is their focus and they work to continue to develop this program at their gym. And obviously we have the PT Manager role where you are leading the full personal training team at the gym location.

Matt: That’s a lot more flexibility than I was expecting to hear, very cool. It sounds like there are a ton of great work opportunities for the younger personal trainers to experiment with so they can increase their income while they are continuing to work through the Levels at Movati.

I’d like to ask about the business goals of Movati as a whole, which has continually been growing since you’ve joined. Movati is positioned as a luxury gym experience, so where do you see Movati going as an organization from here? What’s the goal for expansion?

Kelly: We’re continually looking at new sites in Canada. Obviously Covid-19 has put a bit of a pause on things at the moment, but we’re still out there researching opportunities. We want to continue to look for that space in the industry where we can be different and stand out. Like you said, Movati is a luxury brand, but it’s affordable luxury. Our membership is about $60-$70 a month. We take a lot of pride in having a very clean experience, we’re cleaning our facilities 24 hours a day. As Chuck says, it’s a bouquet of boutiques. You can walk through our doors and experience small group training, boxing, HIIT, hot yoga, pilates. It’s not like a studio where you take the class and then leave, it’s a full experience. You can bring your family in for the day and we have an amazing child care room. You can spend hours in your day at Movati working out and spending time with your family. You can grab a smoothie and hang out. We have beautiful change rooms, saunas, steam rooms, pools. There’s really something for everyone under our roof.

Matt: Having been sheltering at home and working out with just my kettlebells on the patio for the last six weeks that sounds incredible right now (laughing).

So you referenced Covid-19 earlier and it’s worth mentioning that obviously it’s an incredibly challenging time for the industry as a whole right now. I’d love to hear how you and the Movati team are approaching this challenge and re-opening?

Kelly: Our preparation for re-opening is well underway. We’re still waiting to receive guidelines from the government regarding capacity levels, but we’ve put in place a variety of policies about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces across the gym. We’re going to have restrictions for class size and have put in parameters for social distancing with our personal trainers when they are working with their clients. It’s our job to ensure that our gym members really feel comfortable when they come back into our clubs. We’re also looking to add more offerings for the members who still love Movati, but aren’t quite ready to come back in yet. We have some online fitness programming in place, some Zoom class options for small group and group fitness. While the doors have been closed we’ve been offering Live Fitness classes through Facebook which has been received really well. We put out a post a few weeks ago where we shared that our live classes have been watched across 65 countries, which is awesome for expanding our brand and to showcase the instructors we have. We’ve created a Youtube channel where we’ve uploaded several on demand options like yoga classes, fitness classes for kids, HIIT sessions, mobile sessions, and more. We’ve been really proactive to give as much value to our members as possible.

Matt: What have been the biggest takeaways from having to build a bigger online presence and service offering basically overnight?

Kelly: I think we’re learning that there’s an opportunity for us to reach even more people outside of our gyms than we thought. If we fast forward 3-6 months from now there will still be those members who may not come in as much as they once did and, on the other end, members who travel frequently and still want to be able to experience Movati on the go. By creating some of these more flexible service options we can potentially tap into an even larger percentage of our membership base and provide more support. I think we’ve also learned that you really can’t replace that personal connection that personal trainers are absolutely fantastic at. I truly believe that when we open our doors it will take some time to ramp back up, but there will be a pent up demand for that in-person experience and accountability. As you said, we’re all tired of being stuck at home (laughing) and Movati will be ready to deliver that high quality, personalized service. A big part of being a successful personal trainer is being able to hold your clients accountable. The past few months have really shown us all the benefits of working out. It’s helped with our mental health. It’s helped keep us sharp even if we are stuck in front of a computer for eight hours a day. I know I’m looking forward to getting back to our gyms, seeing everyone, and seeing our personal trainers connect with their clients to get them on a schedule again.

Matt: That really rings true to us. I’ve said this in several interviews now, but even though we are advocates of online training we know that it won’t ever replace in-person training. It’s been interesting to watch gyms and trainers adapt in this new world. For many adding Zoom training was the fastest path to get up and running, but we really don’t think that will be what online training looks like in the long-term. People crave personal experiences and that’s where the more personalized services like hybrid and personalized online training, not group, really stand out in terms of value provided.

Kelly: Yeah, I think that what it’s caused us to do is improve our reach. In the past you’d have clients who would like to train 3x a week, but can only make it in 1-2. That directly impacts a personal trainer's income, so now with hybrid training you create a structure to still engage with that member whether its a zoom call or a program. I think the end outcome is that it will help improve the relationship between the trainer and the client, but also the service hours for our personal trainers. It’s very limiting to rely solely on your client walking in through the door for that one-on-one training session.

Matt: The end result being that even more flexible and cost-effective experience for the gym members.

Outside of Movati I see that you're also involved with the Women in Fitness Association. Can you tell me a bit more about that? What are you currently working on and what are you excited about with the program for the next few years?

Kelly: The Women in Fitness Association (WIFA) is a non-profit organization focused on creating a community and networking opportunities for women in fitness. It has brought together women from all over the world to share best practices, insights and mentorship. Our Canadian team has planned monthly webinars ranging from how to prepare a Rockstar resume and interview skills, tips on nailing your next public speaking engagement and starting your own business. I’m excited about what the future holds for women in fitness, the opportunities are endless and the example of strong leadership continues to grow.

Women in Fitness Association

Matt: So many projects! That does sound like a really special organization.

Looking out from here, what are you excited about with Movati and your internal programs/projects over the next few years?

Kelly: We were really looking forward to opening our next location in Windsor, Ontario. It was originally scheduled for the end of March with the full team ready to go, but obviously everything changed before we could open the doors. I’m really excited to not only open all of our locations back up, but to get this new location opened up as well. Our founder is actually from Windsor, so we’re going back home to Movati’s original area. Beyond that we’re going to continue to put a focus on expanding our offerings for the members, one example being possibly adding nutrition services. On the trainer side we’re always adding more online learning options for our teams as well. It’s a big project to get all of the content that you might previously have received over 3-4 days in-person over to an online educational experience. We’re aiming to get these in place by the end of the year so now our teams will have more flexibility to review the content and also be able to go back on any areas they want to.

Matt: Outside of Movati we’re still in a huge growth phase for the health and fitness industries. When you think about this what else are you excited about for the industries over the next few years?

Kelly: Fitness is becoming a regular part of peoples lifestyle. It’s becoming more and more common to have a gym membership and to even invest further with your personal health and fitness by having a trainer. As an industry the more consumers we have the better and better our professionals will become and the same goes for the services we offer. I’m excited to watch what trainers are able to do now that they will be able to stay in the industry and have full careers. It will be easier than ever before to not have to trade in your passion for a 9-5 job. With the benefits of being healthy and active being proven out in the market it allows us as fitness professionals to be even better at our jobs than ever before.

Matt: I agree. I believe that instead of a few unicorns in our industry that have 20-30 year careers we could have the largest ever cohort of career personal trainers all working right now. It will be fun to watch!

Well Kelly I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story and your time. It’s been a real pleasure for me to learn more about your journey and Movati Athletic.

If you’d like to follow Kelly or learn more about Movati please check out the links below:

Matt McGunagle

Matt McGunagle

CEO & Founder of StrengthPortal. Working hard to help you in between deadlifts and jiu-jitsu!

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