What if you could conduct a fitness study in your club that would positively affect the industry as a whole, increase your member enrollment, improve retention and supply you with enough marketing material to take you well into 2013? Would it be worth it to your club?
For Joe Cirulli, the founder and CEO of Gainesville Health & Fitness in Gainesville, Fla., that question was answered in 1978 when he opened the first Gainesville Health & Fitness (GHF).
Cirulli didn’t consider the study a burden on his clubs, but instead, he saw the possibilities it could hold for his members that were trying to get into great shape. “I became very closely involved with Arthur Jones and Nautilus from the first time I bought my Nautilus equipment in 1979,” explained Cirulli.
Already aware of negative resistance training, Cirulli started learning from Jones’ sales staff and team of scientists. Among those scientists was a young doctor that was studying the effects of negative training through Nautilus equipment. Dr. Ellington Darden and Cirulli became close friends and discussed the opportunity for conducting fitness studies inside GHF.
“He had an enormous following in Gainesville, and it was that way in 1985,” explained Darden. “We had a 10-week study that put people through a Nautilus workout and diet. It was the first book on the market pushing the concept that you could build muscle and lose fat with the right workout and right diet.”
“Ellington was very determined and focused,” said Cirulli. “He was driven to collect the data, so when he released it, it was the real thing. When he approached me in the 80s to do a study with us, I felt it would be a great opportunity for the members. Fortunately, I’ve always had a great staff that could help the people each time they came in. Ellington is great at explaining things and helping members understand things.”
Since that first study, Ellington has held 15-20 additional studies at GHF, using GHF members. This year Ellington held another 12-week study using X-Force equipment — a negative resistance strength line that functions similar to the Nautilus equipment, but allows members to be able to perform negative training without additional spotters.
The study provided data, as well as before and after photos, of members that received amazing results. Not only has the study supplied Darden with enough data for an additional book pitch, but also it has given Cirulli and GHF enough marketing material to extend the GHF reach another 30 miles into neighboring cities.
How Studies Transformed GHF
Cirulli explained that the studies couldn’t have occurred without the support of his staff, or a commitment from the club to compensate the trainers that took time away from their paying clients, to help members participating in the study. Cirulli understood that if he compensated his trainers for the study over a 12-week period, everyone would benefit in the long run. “When we can get great results for our members, how can it not help us as a business by having a dramatic way of changing our members,” said Cirulli. “It’s so dramatic that there is no way it can’t help the reputation of our company. You get the members results that they never imagined and they have contact with hundreds of people.”
Each member becomes a walking advertisement for GHF and X-Force. It helps all parties involved. “Members have to be willing to allow us to use their pictures, before and after,” said Cirulli. “The great thing about that is that you get people who say they are willing to make that commitment and those are the people that will work hardest for you.”
“You have a huge amount of word-of-mouth promotion,” said Darden. “People talk about it when they lose fat. People notice when others lose fat. It reinforces them and pushes them to keep going. If you have 50 people working, it brings the enthusiasm up throughout the club. It’s like having a winning football team connected to your school or town. You have more people that want to join and want to experience the study themselves.”
Cirulli and Darden used the members/participants to motivate each other throughout the study. They would host the workouts at the same time each week for the participants. “They would show up and they’d have to wait for a minute or two until they could begin the workout,” explained Cirulli. This allowed the members to get to know each other and build connections. These connections became more prevalent as each person pushed harder and harder on the equipment.
“It’s not like we didn’t plan this out,” said Cirulli. “There have been no issues with the people that started the program in finishing the program. We had everyone training within the same two-hour block. They were like partners in misery, but they accepted it because they were pushing each other.”
“I visited the man behind the X-Force equipment three years ago and introduced him to Joe,” said Darden. “There was a collaboration to get his equipment into Joe’s club. I wanted to go there and put members on the same diet that I had used in the past, but change the exercise. I had four different studies going on in Gainesville starting in February with 97 subjects. I’ve taken all this data and compared it with a previous study. Now I can say which exercise is better in a simultaneous fashion.”
According to Darden, the X-Force equipment’s tilting weight stack provides negative training with a deeper “end road” than other types of equipment. This allows the user to lift heavier weights with fewer repetitions — in theory, releasing higher levels of HGH and promoting faster muscle growth. “With X-Force, the machine adjusts to increase resistance by 40 percent automatically,” explained Cirulli. “The doctor that developed it in Sweden, who was a great follower of Arthur Jones, created this great equipment. If you had been in weight training your whole life, there is no way you’d say no to it.”
Cirulli said the study proved that a person could essentially properly exercise on the X-Force equipment one day a week and still receive fantastic results. “If someone goes through one high-intensity workout with eight to 10 exercises, they can do it one time a week. Rick Caro is going to come in and do a study on the product to determine if people will only exercise once a week. If we advertise the right message to a city 30 miles away, we will see if they will come to Gainesville to exercise one time a week.” During the study, one woman drove from Orlando to Gainesville, a two-hour drive, on Sundays, to participate in the study.
How to Grow After the Study
The study only took up 12 weeks in 2012. It wasn’t designed to bring in a large group of new members initially, but the trickle effect from previous studies has proven to Cirulli that the people of Gainesville see the results and identify them with GHF.
Over the next several months, GHF must make several adjustments in order to create a working environment for the continued use of the X-Force equipment. One adjustment includes a 12,000-square-foot expansion facilitated by Fabiano Designs. Cirulli says the Italian in Rudy Fabiano and himself has helped them to connect and create masterful designs.
These redesigns of GHF have been a direct reflection of Cirulli’s reading of “The New Rules of Retail” by Robin Lewis and Michael Dart that has him convinced on the future of the fitness industry — at least in Gainesville.
“Right now we are developing the small group training programs for X-Force,” explained Cirulli. “We have eight people in it, training two times a week. That’s the program we have in place right now.” Cirulli believes the entire club will evolve in how it presents different sections of the club to its members.
Cirulli described the future of the club much like Wal-Mart — where the giant retailer separates gardening from apparel, and electronics from groceries. Each entity simulates shopping in a different store, removing the sensation of being in a huge warehouse facility.
“‘The New Rules of Retail’ helped me clarify what I had in mind,” said Cirulli. “We have to make sure when you Google personal training or small group training that we come right to the top. Because each person that runs each department, you have to look at yourself, not only as the leader of the department, but as the author of that department.”
Each section of the club will be broken down into Group X, Court Sports, X-Force, Pools, etc. Each section will be branded as its own section under the overseeing brand of Gainesville Health & Fitness. “You start out with a business called Gainesville Health & Fitness and then create all the babies inside your business,” said Cirulli.
“Even though it’s conceptual, you start to understand how members can use the design of the club and give them space to use different types of equipment,” continued Cirulli. “When Rudy and I were talking about it on the phone and I explained it to him, he said he found it intriguing. Rudy is great because he can grasp concepts in a hurry.
“X-Force will be another retail item inside of our business. Ultimately, when all of these things are done, it may be the redesign of our membership. If people come in and they want to buy the X-Force, we design our pricing to fix it so that they get more of one thing, but can use the entire club at certain times. X-Force will be part of one of the Gainesville sub brands.”
Since the mid 80s, fitness studies have helped GHF separate itself from the competition. Not only do the studies help them retain members, but it also has helped spread the word on successful fitness strategies that occur inside GHF’s walls.
Not every club is in a position to hold fitness studies. However, by engaging small pockets of members and helping them achieve high levels of success, they become the strongest voice to potential members — they become a full-speed word-of-mouth marketing machine.
By Tyler Montgomery