Fitness equipment certificate trains retail/supplier staff

A little-known Fitness Equipment Expert retail training program has been getting the attention of specialty fitness retailers, sporting goods stores and equipment manufacturers as a way to help sales staff do their job better.
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A little-known Fitness Equipment Expert retail training program has been getting the attention of specialty fitness retailers, sporting goods stores and equipment manufacturers as a way to help sales staff do their job better.

A blend of exercise physiology basics and sales training, the program is endorsed by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and was created and is run by Gregory Florez, CEO of First Fitness Inc. (www.firstfitnessinc.com) and FitAdvisor.

"This is so retailers are able to sell more than just motors and horsepower -- to become more like consultants versus just pure salespeople," Florez told SNEWS®. "It is meant to match customer needs to equipment and sell results."

Florez informally assembled the program, dubbed FEX, over the last few years partly because he watched his First Fitness personal trainer staff constantly being asked to accompany clients to purchase home fitness equipment. He formally launched the training at the Health and Fitness Business Expo in August 2000 and it has grown mostly be word-of-mouth, with Newark, Del.-based, Leisure Fitness being the most recent to adopt it early this summer.

Ultimately, according to Florez, FEX can lead to increased same-store sales and more repeat business. "This helps the salesperson cross-sell," Florez said, "and makes the retailer a more complete provider of solutions."

Starting last month, Leisure Fitness will spend thousands of dollars to train its 32 retail employees at all of its 11 stores in five states in the East.

"We need to have people who know how to sell, and we believe this is one tool toward getting to be the best," said James Bond, director of retail sales for Leisure Fitness. "This is not about making our salespeople personal trainers. It's about matching up the physiology of fitness equipment with the needs of the buyer so we can better educate and sell the right products to customers."

Typically sticking to matters of pure exercise physiology, fitness and nutrition, ACE endorsed this program all the way back in 1999 because it was scientifically accurate with a sound curriculum, according to Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., ACE chief exercise physiologist and vice president of educational services.

"We support this because it is consistent with our mission to protect society against ineffective fitness products, programs and trends through ongoing public education, outreach and research," Bryant said. "We hope it ultimately leads more consumers to safely experience the benefits of exercise."

How FEX works
The six-hour on-site session combines lecture and hands-on product and applied physiology demonstrations, described as basic training for the safe, effective use of exercise equipment, which is customized according to each retailer's product mix. Florez said that content is constantly updated to cover newer or popular pieces of equipment such as the TreadClimber and balance or core-training equipment.  

Also included are sales skills role-playing, case studies, quizzes, plus "intell" gathered from competitive and mystery shops. According to Florez, the training for manufacturers -- another FEX offering -- differs slightly from that of retailers in that it provides additional insight into the dealer customer as well as the end-user.

To earn a FEX certificate, participants must pass a written exam. Although currently without continuing education to sustain the certificate, the intent is that training manuals, flash cards and wallet cards can keep principles fresh.

Leisure ramps up
At Leisure Fitness, retail employees must earn the FEX certificate as a condition of employment, and the company will promote this benefit to consumers in its marketing using ACE's name and logo in its marketing.

Leisure Fitness plans to host in-house training sessions annually and have specific employees become certified "master trainers," who will train new staff as necessary and will participate every 90 days in a conference call with FEX instructors for supplemental coaching.

"We're in a constant state of fitness equipment training," said Bond, who added that the company accelerated the sessions -- originally scheduled for September -- to coincide with the summer off-season.

"We're growing at an unbelievable rate, and some dealers that grow fast end up not doing too well," Bond said. "We're looking at every area of our business to have a stronger foundation, and we want to own the fundamentals like high-quality training and education along the way."

Others on-board too
Former FEX trainees have included Fitness Resource, Push Pedal Pull, Busy Body, Chicago Home Fitness (when it formerly was Fitness Warehouse) and Galyan's (now Dick's), in addition to manufacturers such as Nautilus and Polar.

In 2000, the 21-store Fitness Resource chain in Maryland, Virginia and Atlanta -- a direct competitor of Leisure Fitness -- was one of the first specialty fitness retailers to conduct FEX, although it already had a comprehensive sales training program.

"We wanted all of our sales folks to know the basics about physiology without having to become personal trainers," Kevin Long, vice president of consumer sales and operations at Fitness Resource, told SNEWS®. "And we can say we all have this ACE certificate, which we think gives us an advantage because it has an impact on customers, helps new salespeople feel more comfortable, and has raised our employee retention to about four years."

Florez said that although demand for FEX training has fluctuated with economic and sales factors over the years, the industry understands the importance of investing in training.

"As the playing field becomes more level in specialty fitness, the only difference retailers can provide is the sales experience in-store," Florez said. "And specialty retail customers who just bought from you are eight to 10 times more likely to buy from you again -- if you have systems in place to make them want to come back and refer others."

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