“Corporatization” of Independent Professions, Businesses Fosters Wage Stagnation, Wage Gap

The corporate pirates are very crafty at ways to gain profits, even if it comes at the expense of individuals, professions and the self-employed.  One such example is in the fitness profession.

Before 2005, most personal trainers who were nationally certified carried their own liability insurance and were independent contractors training at just about any local fitness center they chose to. One had only to pay a small fee per client to the fitness center, usually about 10% of what the trainer charged the client. All financial transactions were mostly cash between clients, trainers and fitness centers and were done up front at the front desk in order to keep things honest. Usually the fitness center kept a training log of each personal trainer which included the trainer’s fee, and days and times they were in the center training clients.

It was simple and a personal trainer could make a decent living, or, make a decent second part time income as in my case.

Starting in 2005, corporate fitness centers – chains and franchises – began popping up and spreading. These corporations, run by what I term corporateers, were purely profit driven. They determined that by prohibiting personal trainers as independent contractors and requiring all their personal trainers to be employed as staff, they could reap a much larger profit from personal training. The fitness centers took over all the money transactions. They determined what the fees for personal training would be and how much a trainer would be paid hourly for personal training.

In order to stay “competitive” against other area fitness centers and in order to lure more clients for personal training, these fitness centers have kept their personal training hourly fees about the same, with little increase since 2005.

As an example, when I began personal training in 1996, I started out charging $40 per hour per client. By 2000 I was charging $80 per hour per client. That $80 fee represents the going rates for most fitness centers in my area today, 20 years later. Some centers still charge members only $45 – $60 per one hour session. But staff personal trainers at fitness centers get 30% to 50% of that fee charged to the client. That meant personal trainers such as myself, who have been in the professions since 1995 took a 50% to 70% decrease in their hourly per client amount when doing personal training in a fitness center as a staff trainer. That is wage stagnation which is the primary cause of the wage gap; the culprits being the corporations, in this case the corporate fitness centers.

The hourly fees charged by independent personal trainers in biz for themselves hasn’t increased much either. As an example, a few months ago, the TV culture show out of Boston, “Chronicle”, featured a personal trainer doing strictly in-home training at clients’ home. She was charging $150 per hour. The show aired this as a “novel” approach for personal training and hinted that the fee was on the high end. Excuse me? Back up, again. Seventeen years ago I was doing in-home personal training north of Boston and charging $150 per hour. Nothing novel. Fee once again, stagnant for the last 17 years.

These are two classic examples of how the corporateers – the corporations – have slyly swallowed up independent sole proprietors and stagnated individual professionals’ wages for the corporations’ own profits.

The professional compensation that is being offered to personal trainers today by these corporate fitness centers is insulting. It is basically the same dollar amount that I began charging as an independent contractor personal training in 1996. Even as an owner/partner trainer of a private personal training studio, personal training fees have been very slow to increase.

By 2005, the profession of personal training began to see a huge influx of folks getting certified; it was becoming a flooded profession. By 2010 it was even more flooded. And today in some areas, personal trainers are a dime a dozen. This, unto itself lead to many independent trainers low-balling or fee slashing in order to attract clients and get an edge over their “competition”. Purely unprofessional.

Since personal trainers have become, and are cited by fitness facilities as being a dime a dozen, little value is placed on compensating them as professionals, so they get compensated more like hourly wage earners.

True, the profession is extremely flooded; a dime a dozen does describe it. But so are M.D.’s a dime a dozen and P.T.’s, as well…and D.C.’s and C.P.A’s. and M.B.A.’s. Have their fees been stagnated for the last 20 plus years? No. The fee for these professionals have increased right along with the cost of living. Putting things in comparative perspective, while the cost of living has increased some 60%+ since 1995 and the cost of doing business has increased much more, the fees (wages) for fitness trainers has remained stagnant. And it bears repeating; for those of us who began in the profession early, pre 2000, it has actually meant an approximately 50% decrease in what we are paid as a personal trainer today.

Clearly, the corporatization of a profession means wage stagnation, income decrease and thus a wage gap. The blame for perpetuating and continuing the wage gap has got to be placed squarely on most consumers who continually patronize these corporate places in order to save a buck.



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