The benefits of having an on-staff or contract nutritionist are clear—for many potential clients it could be the tipping point in becoming a loyal, long-term customer. But beyond a fuller amenities roster, is nutritional counseling viable as an added revenue stream?
ASSESS THE INTEREST LEVEL
Before making any decisions, you first need to touch base with your current members to gauge how appealing access to a counselor is to them. How many would actually sign up and work with someone? If there is a real desire, then hiring someone could be a worthwhile decision.
We talked to Uforia Studios general manager Corinne Dobbas, who until recently worked as a registered dietitian, wellness coach and manager at a big box gym in the Bay Area. “From the owner and manager side of things, if you’re a bigger gym, being able to offer nutritional counseling and coaching can be very beneficial, because you’re presenting more wellness to the consumer,” she says. “If you already have a childcare center and a spa, and you’re really a full-service entity, nutrition is a key piece. That way your members are having all of their needs met in one swoop.”
ARE YOU EQUIPPED?
But for smaller, class-based studios, Dobbas says the decision on whether or not to employ a nutritionist really comes down to space. “You absolutely need to have them situated in an office with a door,” she advises. “Talking about food is tough for a lot of people, there is crying, there are moments of shame. You need to keep it confidential.”
Smaller boutique studios might want to ease into counseling by offering one-off workshops with a dietician, where someone comes in for an hour or so and you pay them a consulting fee. Roll out the workshops quarterly or monthly, and if they are successful, a more permanent solution could be considered.
For business owners, hiring a dietician or nutritionist doesn’t hold much financial risk. More often than not, these counselors work on commission—Dobbas says the typical fee breakdown is 70/30, with the dietician taking home the larger profit. “The person you hire really needs to understand that they are building a business, and the commission-based pay is certainly incentive,” Dobbas says, adding that the gym owners really only need to supply the office space, as the counselors typically supply their own malpractice insurance as well. “But for them, it’s kind of awesome—they don’t have any overhead. If they were to open their own office, they’d be worrying about paying rent and utilities. And at your gym, they’re surrounded by clients who genuinely care about their health and wellness.”
But while there’s little financial risk for owners, is there big financial gain? “Revenue? Probably not,” says Dobbas. “But it’s not about making money, it’s about being able to offer the service.”
That said, Dobbas does believe that integrating wellness and fitness into classes can be a moneymaker, if it’s done right. “If you have a registered dietician on staff who is able to give out legit nutrition advice and can work with trainers to build programming around these two things, then you have more potential for financial growth,” she says.
FINDING THE RIGHT PERSON
Before you even begin the hiring process, first research the many different titles, certifications and degrees of the nutrition field. Registered dietitian/nutritionists (RDNs), for example, have years of schooling behind them, while some nutrition certificates can be obtained online after a couple of weeks.
Last but not least, it’s important to be forthcoming about the nature of nutritional counseling with potential staffers. “As an owner, you have to be realistic with potential counselors, and set expectations that this job is not necessarily going to be a full time moneymaker for them,” says Dobbas. “It’s not impossible to make a great living at it, but it’s very, very hard, especially in the beginning. It takes a real entrepreneurial spirit, someone who is super upbeat and willing to bust their butt and be creative.”