How did you first start out in the fitness industry? What initially ignited your interest in health and fitness?
I grew up around sport. My dad was a professional footballer so from day one, doing sport and exercise was the most natural thing in the world for me. When I was in my teen years I became a sprinter and an athlete. If you really delve into the background of sprinting it is very sports science driven.
The desire and passion to understand it and what it is that makes a body run faster, jump higher and jump further was fascinating to me. I saw an opportunity to take this thing that was of great personal passion into a commercial setting. There was clearly a gap in the marketplace for delivering phenomenal training and performance with results-driven techniques to an audience who want to experience that in a natural setting. So, starting one-to-one training in gyms made a lot of sense.
In the past, you’ve trained politicians, international film stars, musicians, fashion designers and professional athletes. How do you attract high-profile clients, was it something you chased actively or did it happen naturally?
You should never go into personal training with the idea of chasing well-known clients or celebrities. If you go in with the idea of chasing in that way then you end up being disappointed or looking desperate. For me, securing those clients came about because I had a fantastic venue and provided great service. From there the brand became well known. This attracted a variety of people, whether that’s high net worth or just well known, or those two combined.
The way to make sure you retain that client base, those celebrities, is to make sure you maintain that level of extreme confidentiality. You have to ensure that whatever you’re talking about with these well-known people stays between you and them. The moment you break that trust, it’s not just that one person that’s affected but everyone beyond that. If you’re seen as someone who reveals confidential information then you’re doomed.
Do you pay much attention to how you’re perceived in the media?
I care hugely about how the brand is perceived, we try to analyse it the best we can and I get a lot of feedback. I think it’s important to recognise how brands have to morph and change.
When I was first starting a business, I was 23 years old and there are certain ways you perceive yourself and how you’re perceived at that age. I’m now 45 years old and my personal interests have evolved and changed as well. At the moment I’m fascinated by the idea of guys who lose testosterone in their 30s and how you can maintain that in your 30s, 40s and 50s.
You have to use how you’re perceived, utilise it and make sure your company, your brand evolves around that perception. The thing is it’s still important that the Matt Roberts Personal Training brand is associated as a trainer of celebrities but we’ve never courted that, we’ve attracted well-known clients by consistently delivering quality.
What’s missing from today’s personal trainers?
The thing that’s lacking in personal trainers right now, for new entrants into the industry, is a lack of understanding of how much hard work is involved with getting clients, retaining clients and delivering results. It takes a lot of diligence, real passion and skill. Those things don’t just come to you on a plate and even when you’ve got them they can just as easily be lost. Being true to your core beliefs and understanding who you are as a trainer are key. Trainers can also lack the ability to really convey to a demographic, client-base and marketplace their USP. You really need to be able to understand USPs and brand positioning.
Importantly, there’s a need to recognise that the industry moves quickly, I think people coming into the industry now think they can do a number of things easily. In reality, it’s good to try and do one thing well and then expand on it rather than going too broadly at the start.
What do you specifically look for when hiring personal trainers?
As an employer, we look for people who have fantastic training in the first place, whether that’s degree level or something else. We want people to have some interesting life experience, great empathy and genuine people skills. Soft skills are as important as hard skills.
So, understanding and listening to a client, learning what their area of interest might be and where their stresses might come from are very important.
Those soft skills are vital. We now have consumers who are aware that all trainers have very similar training so the other things, the additional benefits, the added value is where our employees can bring something different. We can then charge a higher rate for good reason.
How will the role of personal trainers evolve in the next few years? Do you think current and emerging technologies pose a threat to personal training?
So far, the threat to personal training has been very low in reality, it’s been talked about for quite some time, especially online but so far it hasn’t happened yet.
I do think, not immediately, but down the line, artificial intelligence could be a phenomenal tool. AI delivered well could replace trainers to some degree. I’ve seen tech already that looks like it could to develop into being something interesting but it’s not there yet and won’t be for another few years. We will get there for sure. Does that then provide a threat to trainers?
Well, it shouldn’t provide a threat to those trainers who are good, who have good skills. If you can be that person who incorporates AI then there are great opportunities there. Ultimately, this is always going to be a personal industry, even with great AI. You do really need someone there and you can’t beat those soft skills, someone who’s a great facilitator, a sounding board and AI is some way away off ever replacing that.
Those at the lower end of quality should be concerned but those who have a passion and belief in themselves and who have great skills can only grow.