Specialty fitness-focused sales training to launch with regional training "camps"

Tom Richard could be considered a latecomer to fitness, making his first foray into the industry by running a fitness center in 2001 before he moved on to manage a Gym Source store in 2004.

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Tom Richard could be considered a latecomer to fitness, making his first foray into the industry by running a fitness center in 2001 before he moved on to manage a Gym Source store in 2004.

When he discovered he had a knack for making sales and listening to customers, then noted a gap in retail sales training specializing in fitness, he didn't hesitate to make the leap into training others in the industry as his next endeavor.

As of mid-May, Richard will kick off his so-called "Money Tour 2005," which will run two-, three- and four-day workshops geared toward helping sales associates, managers and owners grow sales, listen to customers better, and engage higher customer loyalty. They will be off-site locations to make sure participants focus on the training and interact with each other for added networking.

But don't call it sales training (sorry, Tom).

"It is definitely not sales training," Richard told SNEWS®. "It is taking a glimpse inside your customers' heads and finding out why they buy. And when you understand that, you'll be able to sell the way specialty fitness should sell."

Why such involvement after hardly more than four years in the industry? "I am so passionate about helping this industry because I believe in what it's trying to do," said Richard, who lost 60 pounds after realizing his life needed to change.

His enthusiasm has since funneled to others who may need that life-changing boost, which could come through equipment and advice found at specialty stores. In his year managing a Philadelphia Gym Source store, he was consistently in the top 3-5 sales people there and was frequently No. 1, Gym Source COO Tom Lourenso told SNEWS®.

"He took a store that was floundering and increased sales 100 percent," Lourenso said, "and sometimes hit increases of 200 and 300 percent…. We think he's great."

With all the generic retail sales training groups from Friedman to Covey, Richard's advantage with fitness is that he's been a part of both the retail and club level, and he knows the needs and issues.

"He's done it and lived it," Lourenso added.

In fact, this may be the first real training that specializes in fitness, run by somebody doing training exclusively.

Richard (www.tomrichard.com) said that specialty fitness is emotional, high-end and full service and must stop relying on price since it will lose every time. Plus, customers are often there for deep, emotional reasons that go beyond the features and mechanics of a piece of equipment.

"They didn't come in to buy belts, decks and rollers," Richard said, which is why he focuses on asking "intelligent, engaging questions" and then "listening to understand."

In addition, one effective piece of Richard's system is an intensive follow-up with seminar participants, according to Lourenso.

Since seminars will be done regionally, associates from different retailers may be together in a workshop, but Richard said to worry about competition is not beneficial.Â

"If we can all come together and serve the market better in a more efficient, more ethical and more productive manner," he said, "the entire industry will benefit from it. High water floats all boats."

One additional aspect is the opportunity for manufacturers to "sponsor" his trainings, which means they will supply equipment for role-playing and to use in the sessions, and help offset the cost for participants. Plus, that will give them "scholarships" to gift to retailers of their own choice.

SNEWS® View: Some fitness specialty shops do a fantastic job on their own. Some, well, need a bit of help, as we've seen in the Mystery Shopping stories SNEWS® has begun to run at regular intervals. Both can likely gain from some kind of seminar run by somebody who knows fitness from the inside. Training can never hurt, not only for what you learn, but also from the networking and discussion of mutual problems and dilemmas with peers, as well as how it simply helps you focus on what you do and how you do it.