Turning time into money
Entrepreneur built personal training business by offering on-site services

Ask any market researcher and he'll tell you two things about Canadians: they're in worse shape than ever and they have less free time. Scott Sternthal, president of U.N.I. Training, has figured out a way to turn both trends to his advantage.

"People want to have good health. But they don't know how to achieve their goals and when they do, they often can't stick with a program," Sternthal said. "That's where we come in."

U.N.I. Training's 12 personal trainers, Pilates instructors and message therapists provide clients with a variety personal training services that boost their physical condition.

But unlike most personal trainers, U.N.I. personnel provide services in clients' homes or offices, saving them time by eliminating the drive to and from the gym. According to one high profile client, the program offers several advantages.

"I am not one of those people who is naturally driven to exercise," said Terry DiMonte, morning man at CHOM FM and one of Montreal's most recognized radio personalities.

"You've heard about how some people get "runner's high?" I'm not one of them," joked DiMonte. "But having someone come to my house helps me get started. Otherwise I'd be tempted to slack off."

With DiMonte's numerous work, charitable and other commitments, his exercise routine has often taken a back seat.

"I've always had bit of a weight problem," DiMonte said. "And I don't always have time to drag myself to the gym."

Twice a week Sternthal, or one of the company's certified trainers visits DiMonte at his Montreal townhouse and puts him through a rigorous 55 minute workout consisting of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility exercises.

U.N.I. Training sells a variety of fitness packages. Clients have the flexibility of choosing their regular instructor, or if they prefer they can opt for a massage or Pilates class. The only equipment they need is an exercise ball, a few hand weights, a mat and an elastic fitness tube.

Sternthal insists that his instructors be certified from a recognized body, but said that knowledge is only one factor in rating a good fitness trainer.

"Above all they have to be good motivators. They have to make you want to work out," Sternthal said. "If an instructor shows up at your doorstep at 6:30 in the morning looking tired and bored. You're not going to want to exercise and you'll lose interest."

Instructors vary the workouts monthly to keep excitement levels high. Clients include numerous celebrities, professionals, business executives and a wide variety of people who want to get in shape and can afford the $50 to $75 an hour fees.

Sternthal has been a fitness buff all of his life. As a student he raced bikes in competitions throughout the province. But when he graduated with a degree in exercise science from Concordia in 1997, he wasn't sure what to do with his life.

Exercise science graduates are notoriously unemployable and for a time, Sternthal considered going back to school to study graphic design. To keep busy he started giving personalized instruction to other cyclists and then later to triathletes.

His name got around slowly and soon Sternthal was commanding $50 an hour for his services. "It beat working at Second Cup," Sternthal said. Yet without completely realizing it, he had tapped into a major trend.

Personal training is one of fastest growing segments of the fitness industry. During the past three years, the number of personal fitness trainers certified by the Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals has more than doubled to 4,000.

But according to the association's president it's a hard job.

"Personal trainers are almost entirely entrepreneurial people," said Rod Macdonald. "Most build their businesses by word of mouth, and if they are not on their game all the time, they lose their customers fast."

In fact Sternthal's biggest challenges has been keeping his best trainers on staff. If he doesn't supply them with enough hours they'll be tempted to strike out on their own.

But so far, the arrows on his company's charts all point up. This year U.N.I. Training will service about 200 clients in the Montreal area and generate close to $250,000 in revenues. And during 2004, he plans to expand operations into the West Island.

Sternthal is also marketing an online training service and earlier this year, he signed a deal with a high profile self-help book agent, who is shopping around a book proposal about his training techniques to U.S. book editors.

"You never know, just like my celebrity clients, maybe one day I'll be famous too," said Sternthal with a smile.


Photo caption: U.N.I. Training president Scott Sternthal, puts radio personality Terri DiMonte, through his workout paces.



Sidebar: How much is your customer's time worth?

One of the paradoxes of modern life is that Canadians in a leisure society, in which they are chronically short of time. People are working harder and have more commitments. They often make up for it by sleeping less, which starts a vicious cycle of increased stress and exhaustion.

The upshot is that businesses that can save people time have a leg up. Many including laundry services, restaurants and car washes have been quick to take advantage of the trend.

Time savings can have a considerable dollar value attached, especially for upper income earners. To figure out how much your customer's time is worth, calculate his estimated annual income and divide by 2,000, which is a good estimate of the number of hours the average Canadian works in a week.

So if U.N.I. Training saves a dentist who earns $100,000 a year, an hour in travel time to and from the gym, it will be worth at least $50 to him. And that's on top of the other benefits the personal training provides.

The formula works in reverse too. Organizations such as cable companies, government offices and airlines that waste customers' time by subjecting them to endless computerized messages are unintentionally telling them: "Go away. You're not worth it. We can't be bothered talking to you."


Fact box:

Company Name: U.N.I. Training Inc.
Services provided: In-home personal training, massage therapy and pilates instruction
Head office: Montreal
Number of employees: Three full-time, 10 part-time
Sales: Approximately $250,000
Founded: 1999
Web-site: www.unitrainingonline.com




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