When Christophe Bellito came to the U.S., his original intention was to learn everything he could about the American fitness industry and take his knowledge and return to France to open his own club. After meeting his wife, Cecile, his plans changed. “I ended up realizing my dream here in the states,” said Bellito. Together, he and his wife opened up their first location, Cabrillo Fitness in Santa Cruz, Calif. Years later the couple used their experience at Cabrillo to launch a secondary fitness club, Toadal Fitness throughout the greater Santa Cruz area.
Toadal Fitness, originally called Frog Fitness, Bellito used his good-natured humorous attitude to make the best of an ironic situation. “We used to be called Frog Fitness which could represent a derogatory term towards the French. You can either get offended or laugh about it — and guess what we did?”
From the beginning, Bellito’s clubs have been all about the average customer. “We specialize in the 80 to 90 percent of the population,” said Bellito. “We want to help the members who need help, since the ones who don’t need help can pretty much go anywhere and do anything. Making our members feel good regardless of their fitness level or experience is what we do best. We are family-based local clubs, locally owned and operated, surrounded by big corporation clubs that are sometimes ruthless.”
To compete with larger fitness chains, Bellito used his wife’s marketing expertise to bring in members. “My wife is exceptional at prospecting and talking people into getting more active. Going to businesses around us and talking with current members to have their friends give it a try,” brought members and prospects into Toadal Fitness, explained Bellito.
However, what sets Bellito’s clubs apart from fitness chains is Toadal’s ability to work with members to meet their needs. “Sales is the beginning of the relationship and therefore prospects must feel like the process is painless and pleasant,” explained Bellito. “We do offer a certain amount of flexibility with potential and current members if the financial part is challenging — but we never discount our monthly dues. Everyone pays the same price for the same services. The sales process is all about listening and offering solutions instead of imposing what we offer.”
Using the flexibility of a locally owned, hands-on club, Bellito caters to members with the upmost level of customer service being the top priority. The staff at his clubs know every member’s name, not because they are required to, but because it makes the members feel good. “Customer service is at the highest level,” he said. “We listen to our members and staff to make sure their experience at the clubs is a good one. Respecting our staff and members means we listen and always thrive to satisfy their needs and requests.
“Building [a] relationship with our members is a key to our success. We have made a lot of friends in our clubs and we hope to meet many more.”
Along with making members feel welcome, Bellito strives to make the club experience great for his staff as well. “We treat our staff and members like royalty. Without our members we would not have a business and without our staff, we would not have time to enjoy life.”
When it comes to customer service, sales or how Bellito deals with his staff, humor is at the base of everything. “Our marketing shows the lighthearted way of doing business and the humorous stand we take from the rules and regulations to the way we deal with our members,” said Bellito. After opening their first location 35 years ago, Bellito and his wife now operate five facilities — two Cabrillo Fitness facilities and three Toadal Fitness clubs.-CS
By Rachel Zabonick