A gym owner friend of mine, Jake, is dealing with one of his trainers leaving the gym and taking many of his clients with him.
It’s not an uncommon story.
His trainer planned his exit for months. He had been using the gym’s resources to help give his business a jump start.
He built a website, recruited a couple other trainers at the gym, let all of his closest clients know, started taking clients on the side for cash only, and a lot of other shady things.
Now Jake wants to sue the hell out of his ex-trainer.
While some gym owners have been successful in this approach, most have simply spent way too much money and time fighting this uphill battle.
As s a business owner, and a victim of this myself, I can’t think of a worse feeling than the moment you realize someone you trust is doing things behind your back…then purposely trying to hurt your business in the process.
Where is the respect? You give them their start…you build up their clientele…you trusted them…and they ruin it all. It’s a horrible feeling.
Two things normally happen. First you want to seek revenge. The second thing that happens is that you start looking at your other employees and start distrusting them as well!
While these feelings are natural, I advised Jake to allow himself to breathe for a moment and think about the reality of the situation.
I told him his first action should be to focus on stabilizing the business. Contact and keep as many of the trainer’s clients as he can. Then focus on the ones who already left to go with the trainer.
There is such a small window of time to make all clients and other trainers feel comfortable about the big transition. By beginning that transition with a lawsuit could position YOU as the bad guy. And don’t start bashing the trainer or getting into a pissing match. The only thing that is certain to happen is that you’ll both be covered in piss.
The best revenge you as a gym owner could get is to limit the amount of losses the trainer is trying to create for you, thus cutting off his supply of clients.
Then he can consider a lawsuit. Jake is cash flow positive, so chances are good that he can outlast the trainer in court. But you never know just how much you’re going to have to spend in court.
In most cases that I’m aware of, when a gym owner sues the former trainer, and they have a solid non-compete in place, the gym owner will win the case.
BUT…by winning they have also cost themselves a lot of revenue. They’ve taken attention away from the gym. They’ve wasted loads of time and they have created even more negative energy around the gym.
You may actually have started your business by first being a trainer who took clients and started your own thing. Now that you’re a business owner, it scares the hell out of you doesn’t it. Funny how things come full circle 🙂
And if you’re a trainer considering doing this…don’t. It’s perfectly fine if you feel you’re destined for bigger and better than what your gym is providing you. But integrity is the only thing you have 100% control over. Lose it once, it’s gone forever. It’s better to have a surplus of savings, then build your business from scratch.
And you never know, if you do it the right way, communicate openly with the gym owner, and don’t directly compete with the gym, he/she might even be willing to help you get started.
No matter what Jake decides to do, he will need to take a long look at his own management style. He has to take some responsibility for letting himself and his business allow the trainer to put him in this position.
It’s his job to make sure that clients and members are loyal to the gym and not only to the trainer. They need to inspect what they expect and make sure the clients are receiving a high level of customer service from not only the trainer but from the gym as well.
If the trainers are the clients’ only contact with the gym, that could become a problem. You as the owner or manager need to touch base with clients on a regular basis as well.
The clients need to know that the gym is looking out for them and that the trainer’s system is in fact the gym’s system.
Had Jake done that, he would have found out much sooner what the trainer was up to and he could have minimized the damage caused when he left the gym.
He can’t go back now and change the past, but at least he can avoid repeating it by taking a few precautionary steps with current and future trainers and clients.
And one last note…if you still have trainers as contractors…you have to make the switch. They need to be employees and they need to follow your systems and your programming. Period.