In order to get my business up and running, I decided to get a job to earn a little cash as well as get a little experience in a corporate gym environment. I wanted to see how the big boys do it. I am in the process of opening a small studio with some pretty solid ideas and philosophies based on what I know about the fitness industry. Below is the story of my experience over three weeks at New York Sports Club (NYSC). My locations was on the UWS. I believe missing my home on the UWS heavily influenced my decision to accept this job.
I applied for a personal trainer position at New York Sports Club in late June. Within two days, I received a call from an assistant manager scheduling an interview for two weeks out. Two days after that I received another call from the actual fitness manager (The Manager) who wanted to have a quick conversation. I also received a spam email advertising an open house hiring event. I will admit, I was excited.
I think everyone gets excited when someone shows some interest in you whether personal or professional. This could explain all the bad dates I went on in my 20s.
The Manager and I had a quick conversation where I was able to share enough about myself and my experience as a personal trainer. I have been a certified trainer through American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) since 2011, I hold a black belt in mixed martial arts and I am a three time finisher of the NYC triathlon. I know a little bit. We agree to meet.
During the interview I do most of the talking. I share my philosophy on fitness, believe me I have some philosophies. I share my work experience: 10 years on Wall St.; 8 years in technology staffing all in sales. I am no slouch.
It is explained to me that I need to get a different certification. NYSC is now requiring all trainers to be certified by ACE (American Council on Exercise) because ACE's guidelines fit best with NYSC modus operandi (note: I have no clue what ACE's take is on fitness). It is also explained to me that I will be required to work 24 hours a week (either 5 days at 5 hours or 6 days at 4 hours, my choice). Also, I will need to do an opening and a closing shift. This means nothing to me during the interview process. It also explained to me that I will be working in three different club locations. They are relatively close together and to me this sounds like oodles of fun. I am looking forward to it.
We wrap up with me filling out the online authorization to look into my background. Go ahead. There is nothing there.
The next round is an actual workout. I am required to take an UXF class which is NYSC 's version of CrossFit. My thoughts on this class? Burpees do not a class make. There are so many exercises out there, why so many burpees. I hate them and I do not make my clients do them. There are other ways to torture them. I get through the work out with flying colors. Oddly enough, I don't here back. I email the manager to find out next steps as I was led to believe there would another round.
The next evening after my email, I get a call from The Manager extending me an offer to join the team. I am pleased. I also realize we have never talked money. I am not a stupid woman. I am aware that I will not be receiving benefits or a decent salary. If that were the case money would have been discussed.
I did accept the offer with the caveat that I could not start until after the NYC triathlon on August 3. This was acceptable. The Husband and I traveled to our place in VT and spent the next two weeks training in the mountains (see my other blog for those delightful nuggets).
I race, I recover, and then I start on Tuesday. I am not given a schedule right away. I was told to just come in on the Tuesday following the race. Tuesday arrives and I begin my day with shadowing my new manager. I get a tour of the gym and we settle down into his office. He is going to teach me their internal systems. Before we start, I finally ask about pay. He is shocked that he didn't explain it to me during the interview and questions me on it. I restate, no seriously you never explained it to me. Finally he shows me the breakdown on how much trainers get paid. Level 1, which what I will be after I pass the ACE certification and after I have completed 40 personal training sessions in a month. This sounds like a lot to me. This is the only explanation that I get. Level 1 trainers get 38% of their sales which would be about $300 a week if I train 2 people every day, 5 days a week. Floor trainers which is what I am get $8.00/hour which is almost $200 a week. Huge money!
We go through the computer systems and he gives me my schedule for the next three weeks. My training period will end with three days of a business class (M, T & W), work a shift Thursday and then a UXF certification class on Saturday. This certification is an internal certification and is not transferable to any other organization. The biggest thing that The Manager imparts to me and what is most important to the organization and my success is the PFW (personal fitness workout). The PFW is a free workout and their largest sales tool.
The workout itself is a formula. The PFW is a three part sales experience
11) Intake - the trainer sits you down and finds out all about you: height, weight, body fat, what you currently do in the gym, etc.
22) The Workout & Assessment - three exercises are used to give an idea of overall fitness and flexibility followed by a warm up again three exercises and then a small workout based on what the trainer saw in your assessment
33) The Pitch - the trainer brings the member/customer back into the office and pulls out a binder. The binder contains a schedule of drop in classes, a schedule of small group classes and a blank schedule.
This is where the pitch begins. NYSC sells their personal training as a membership. You can only buy packages. The packages are 1x/week, 2x/week, 3x/week or 4x/week. The packages renew every month on your credit card and you cannot cancel before month 3 without a doctor’s note. Seriously.
The Manager walked me through the pitch and my jaw dropped. My skin crawled with the used car salesman tactics. On the blank schedule your job is to show the prospect the discount and the benefit of buying a larger package. A single session is $99 but if you buy the 2x/week package we can discount that for you by $20 a session. The customer credit card will be billed $632/ month for the next three months but only if they cancel in month two. If they don't, it’s a recurring charge.
To justify the cost, I am supposed to break it down to $158/week by showing the client other classes to take during the week. So, because the client is taking targeted classes on my advice, which makes the cost per session even less (even though those classes are already included in their membership).
For example: Train with me 2x/week and take three classes that I suggest (which may or may not include UXF which is an additional charge) I am supposed to convince the client the charge of $158/week is now $31.60/week. $158/ 5 is 31. Disgusted yet? This is the package they would prefer that you sell. Are there other options available? Of course but we save those for when you can't convince the person to buy this one. We were also not supposed to show the rate card to the member because they would only choose the cheapest option.
My first day continues on to the lunch hour. I found myself in the break room. Ick! There are signs everywhere that ask you to keep it clean but apparently trainers cannot read or just choose to ignore the signs. Shocker.
During my lunch two trainers came in and settled down. The female trainer, Ariana as I got from her name tag, and the male trainer, Shakiram by the same detective method, were well engaged in conversation. I waited for an appropriate break in their conversation before interrupting. Turns out I did not have to. Shakiram turned right to me and introduced himself. We shook and he smiled. The two continued their conversation. I tried to interject with appropriate comments and was actively ignored by Arianna. Well, ok then. I kept to myself after that, finished my lunch and left. The remainder of the week passes quietly enough. Every day I come in and think I am to shadow my manager. But after day two I am told that I am on my own and it is considered a "regular" work day.
My second week starts off again, relatively quiet. I am beginning to know faces of some of the other trainers and I am beginning to see some health club regulars.
Part of my role as a floor trainer at NYSC is to “floor sweeps”. I have been instructed to start on the 5th floor and make my way down. “Sweeping” generally requires me to re-rack weights left on the floor, put towels into the laundry that members have left behind and toss abandoned water bottles & coffee cups. Generally to straighten out the gym and make it look presentable. I have no issue with this as I would not want to walk into a health club and see old newspapers, towels and coffee cups lying around.
Tuesday morning I go for my “sweep” around the gym. I land back on the second floor. The second floor is the main floor with all the good trainer toys and cardio equipment. So as trainers, we do spend most of our time there. Just outside the UXF zone is a high table, almost like a bar, on which a large iced coffee sits melted. I checked around to see if it belongs to anyone and there was no one around. So I threw it in the trash.
Once my sweep was complete The Manager finds me and it’s time for us to review something or another and we head the office. We were not seated for 5 min when one of the senior trainers, Bari, shows up shaking a cup full of melted ice coffee. In a someone-let-the-cat-out-for-the-night sing-songy voice, she says "someone threw my coffee away". I looked her dead in the eye and stated confidently "I did" and left it at that. A good 10 minute story follows about how The Manager threw her coffee away every day for the first three months that he worked there (a sign perhaps?). She wrapped up her story with "Don't worry, you will get to know me.” “You have not been here long enough yet." Seriously?!
I would have liked to toss that gross cup of coffee in her face but I save my violence for the ring. I smile and we move on.
Wednesday, another day, another...
I am “sweeping” the floor at the beginning of my shift and, believe it or not, I find another cup of coffee in the same spot. This time, it’s a hot cup of coffee gone cold. It has coffee stains on the side and is wrapped in an equally coffee stained napkin. Learning my lesson from the day before, I leave the coffee on my first pass.
On my second pass, I ask the trainer closest to the coffee quietly if it belongs to her. I do not want to interrupt as she was with a client. She says, no it’s not hers. I give it a few more minutes, look around for who else it could belong to and I see no one. To the trash it goes. I head back to the trainer desk to get my belonging for the call drive I am about to start and I hear in a who-dropped-a-house-on-my-sister voice, "who threw away my coffee?” It’s Sarah, a trainer that has been there for at least 100 years. I turn and once again admit that “I did”. I am the culprit, the evil thrower away of coffee. I am truly disturbed by this incident. She came screaming up to the desk in front of every member that was training at the time. I reported the incident to both the GM and The Manager. I was even more disturbed on how my manager reacted to it. He said "well, Bari didn't like the way you said ‘I did’ yesterday”. Seriously? These women need a lesson. I am new and probably not the one to give it to them. For those of you who know me, this probably sounds a little odd.
The week progresses and it’s the little things that really count. I tried to smile at Ariana while she was stretching a client, nothing. She stares straight through me. I pass by Bari on my way to the ladies room and say good morning. Nothing, like I was not even there. Sarah comes racing in while I am standing at the front desk and looks right through me. I let most of it roll off my back but it doesn't go un-noticed. The physical part of it all is what is most disturbing. Ariana decided she needed to be at the trainer desk more than I needed to be there and quite impolitely wedged me out. Ridiculous.
The week arrives for me to attend personal trainer business class (PTBC). I am actually looking forward to not being in the gym just so I don't have to deal with these ladies (a term I am using loosely). I am also concerned that I already know everything they are going to teach me. I have been in corporate sales for 18 years. I have had tons of training & experience in sales, setting goals, following up and relationship building. It turns out I could have taught most of the class. Thankfully there was enough NYSC specific material that I had to pay attention and it was not a complete waste of time. I will say most of the instructors did a nice job keeping the audience engaged. They broke us down into groups where we had a chance to get to know each other and bond. There is always that special bond that happens during an isolated boot camp like event. I learned two things: PTs are not all necessarily bright people, even if they are all good looking 2) they all care very much about helping people. It turns out, sadly, that this is not the job. At the end of the day, it’s a sales job.
On Thursday of week three, I returned to the gym for my first shift on my own. Before I arrived I received an email from The Manager letting me know that an HR person, Marcy, will be onsite. I have met Marcy, she seemed like a perfectly nice person. I met her on my first day during my training.
When I arrived at the gym, the first thing I did was talk to my assistant manager to give her the DL on what happened during training (The Manager taught the second day and we were tracking how many times he said "cool" before noon: 136 BTW). So much happened during the 3 days of training that I spent my first half hour in the office telling stories. Once I downloaded all the info from training, I head to the top of the gym to start my “sweep”. I punched the elevator button, climb aboard and headed up.
SHIT! I have a cup of coffee in my hand. It was just a mindless thing. I was so tired from the PTBC I didn't even realize I had it. On the 4th floor, I spy my GM and Marcy from behind. Not being shy, I said hello. I even greeted Marcy with a hardy hello! How are you?! I have not seen you since my first day.
I apologized for the coffee, the GM said no problem sometimes we all need it. Marcy however was not pleasant. She says "You need to put that away”. It’s not like I was standing there drinking it. I had actually placed it on a bench with my checklist and pen. I said ok but was a little put off. She then starts questioning me about my schedule; what checklist I had in my hand; whether or not I knew how to open; did I have a key; do you I how to check members in; I need to put the coffee away. Jeez lady, I will but I am being interrogated. It was an accident. I finished my sweep and head back to my assistant manager to report what happened with the HR person.
Within the hour, I received an email from The Manager to call him. I call, he asks "tell me what happened with Marcy". I tell my tale again. His response to me is, “I am not going to write you up for a cup of coffee”. WHAT?! Write me up???? For what carrying a cup of coffee? I have not even received my first pay check yet. I have never been written up in my entire professional career.
I leave that night very upset by what happened and winding up not getting to bed until 2 am.
The next day is an off day. I attend UXF certification class off site on Saturday, off Sunday & Monday back to work on Tuesday to open at 5:30am. The first hour and half of my shift flies by and is free of drama. I wish I could say the same for the rest of my morning. Trainers starting coming in for their 7:00am sessions and with that they bring their attitude. All three of the female trainers spend the bulk of their morning on the main floor. Although they may not have been actually throwing daggers, it certainly felt that way. My shift ended at 10:30 am. I would like to stay and work out but I needed to move the car for alt side street parking kicked in.
Wednesday evening I return. This is to be my closing shift (all floor trainers are tasked with an opening and a closing shift). I arrive at 6:00pm, scheduled to be there until 11:00pm. I am dreading this. My bedtime is 9:00, granted I don't sleep at 9 but I do usually by 10.
I like to do my cold calling from the trainer desk on the main floor. I stand the entire time but I can also see all the members. That way, I am available for anyone to approach me and ask questions.
Sometime into my shift, standing at the desk, I wind up engaged in a conversation with another trainer's client. I am not soliciting him, we are actually talking about the staffing industry, my former career. We share corporate experiences. While I am standing there, hand on the mouse, chest facing the computer, Ariana walks up and takes the mouse out of my hand. I turn to see what is going on, she is moving the mouse curser around my screen. I excuse myself to the client and turn to her and say, I am sorry I am working at this terminal. I point “that terminal is empty”. “You can work on that one.” She says nothing. She continues to move the mouse around and start to move in front of me. I point again and say “I am sorry I am working here, you can use the unoccupied terminal since nobody is on it”. She bites at me "Why are you calling my client?” What? What are you talking about? It dawns on me that her client's name is on the computer screen. I take my call sheet to show and explain to her “If you had asked, I would have shown you that her name has been crossed off and marked as ‘already training’”.
I have had enough. I turn full to her “why are you so mean to me?” “We are on the same team working together. We are colleagues and supposed to work together”. She says “I don't have to be nice to anybody”. She retorts, “You didn't even introduce yourself”. Me, “I tried on my first day and you completely ignored me, you turned your back on me when I tried to speak to you.” “I am new here, you are supposed to make me feel welcome if nothing else. Instead you have been nothing but an absolute bitch to me.” There were a few more words spoken but I don't remember what they are at this time, I barely remembered what they were when they left my mouth.
I reiterated the event to the very ineffective manager- in- training and to my assistant manager. Should I tell The Manager? The collective answer was yes. I hunted him down only to find Ariana already in an office with our GM. I keep on the hunt and find The Manager. Only he is about to begin a session with a client. Quickly I tell him what this is all about and clarification sweeps across his face. Turns out Ariana went directly to management. They pulled the video tape, yes video tape, of the trainer desk and then proceeded to question both of us. I was told by The Manager that my story jibes with the events on the tape and that I would need to speak with the GM on Friday about the incident.
Turns out, the GM was in on Thursday and he found me. The most disturbing part of my conversation with him was that these exact trainers treated him the exact same way when he took over the club in January. Really???? You are the GM these women report to you, why not write them up for insubordination? Terminate them and start again? I was told there were huge management shake ups at the beginning of the year. A perfect time for huge change. If an employee of mine treated me or my employees that way, I know the corrective actions I would take.
I finished my shift on Thursday with a feeling of dread and no confidence that senior management would be able to correct the toxic environment they enabled.
I returned Friday morning once again to open. Once again, I had to deal with the senior trainers coming in and sending their daggers my way. My shift ended at 11:00am. I dashed out a few minutes before the hour to get the car before alt side of street parking kicked in. I got there in plenty of time. Once in the car, I was grateful to be on way home. It was on the drive that I knew I could not go back. I sat down with a friend of mine later that day and shared some of the more recent stories that she had not heard. The sympathetic head shakes and oh poor babies nailed it for me. Just telling the story out loud, I heard myself telling the tales of workplace bullying. If I had heard the same story from someone else, I would have told them to quit immediately.
Saturday morning I emailed my resignation.
I wound up having a short conversation with my now former manager about my lack of confidence in senior management and the toxic hostile environment. He accepted my resignation and let me know I am tagged as “Eligible for Rehire” do to the circumstances. I was also called by HR (different than Marcy) to ask my version of the events. She too told me that I could come back to another location but not before she asked me why I didn't put in for a transfer. I explained the assistant manager in training told me it was not worth it as well as it would take too long. I don’t think the assistant manager will be around much longer either.
As it turns out, I successfully got a “little money” and experience in a “corporate gym environment”. NYSC provided a great blue-print on what-not-to-do. All learning is valuable regardless of how tough the class was.