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Top club operators share their key lessons learned in 2016 and their predictions
for the year ahead.
Owner of Genesis Health Clubs
Growth and expansion have defined 2016 for Rodney Steven II and Genesis Health Clubs. The company has seen tremendous growth over the past year with the addition of 23 locations, doubling its footprint in the Midwest. “We acquired 10 Gold’s Gyms and thirteen 24 Hour Fitness locations in Kansas City, Omaha, Lincoln and Tulsa,” said Steven. “Our biggest success was getting through the acquisition and finding our rhythm now as a 40-plus club operation.”
Lessons Learned in 2016: “A lesson
I re-learned was the importance of having the right staff on the team,” said Steven. “There is no way we could have accomplished all that we have this year without the commitment and diligence of the team we have in place.”
Goals for 2017: After a year of extreme expansion, Steven explained 2017 will be time to focus on strengthening the Genesis Health Clubs’ brand. “I predict a year of finding our niche and getting brand awareness in the new markets we have entered,” said Steven. “We will have a few large construction projects completed that will solidify our position in those regions, and I won’t say that continued growth isn’t in our future.”
President of Brick Bodies & Planet Fitness Franchisee
Between re-branding Brick Bodies, opening their first venture in the micro-gym world with Studio B Yoga & Barre, and obtaining additional funding for Planet Fitness Growth Partners, 2016 was a busy year for Lynne and Victor Brick. “The highlight of the year was winning more money than my husband Victor at The Kentucky Derby, as well as our daughter, Vicki’s engagement,” said Brick.
Lessons Learned in 2016: “As a member of Planet Fitness’ Franchise Advisory Council (FAC) and the chair of the PE@PF revamp committee for the entire Planet Fitness organization, one lesson I learned this year is patience,” explained Brick. “The decisions the FAC and the PE@PF revamp committee members make need to be thoroughly vetted and approved by multiple departments, which takes time, effective communication and patience.”
Prediction for 2017: Brick sees several exciting new developments on the horizon for the health and fitness industry in the New Year. She looks forward to these predictions in 2017: “Improved technology-based member engagement solutions, an emphasis on fusion programs and personal training, a focus on meditation programs based on scientific research, an emphasis on coaching from the participant’s perspective, focus on mind-body programs and the utilization of data to personalize the member experience.”
Owner and CEO of Gainesville Health and Fitness
Forward progress is probably a term Joe Cirulli would use to describe 2016. With the culmination of one large project and the start of a new one, big changes were underway at Gainesville Health and Fitness. Cirulli explained the highlight of 2016 was reaching the end of a four-year expansion and remodel project at the main center, as well as finalizing the women’s center remodeling and getting that project under way.
Lessons Learned in 2016: With all of these projects, Cirulli said one essential lesson to keep in mind is the importance of planning. “I am not sure I just learned it, but planning for the future takes a lot of time and preparation,” he said. “But even with the right preparation, testing and retesting, your hypothesis marketing is always a challenge. Getting it right is critical.”
Prediction for 2017: For the new year, Cirulli predicted more competition and more diversity in programs within the fitness industry. “The ultimate success of facilities will depend on the right marketing of services and understanding pricing strategy,” explained Cirulli. “We will all have to continue to learn from inside and outside our industry.”
Goals for 2017: “Connection to our business community is a priority,” added Cirulli. “Though we have always been involved, a renewed focus will force us to improve and find better ways to help them become successful. The development and branding of all our programs will continue to address the variety of populations who are members of our centers. We hope to create a more powerful brand in our community by continually developing our leadership team and creating an even more dynamic staff. We all understand good enough is never good enough.”
President of Midtown Athletic Club
When asked what the highlight of 2016 was, Steven Schwartz had a hard time narrowing it down. Finally settling on two achievements, he explained, “We rolled out our new website with online membership capabilities and point-of-sale electronic membership sign ups, and it has been a terrific success,” said Schwartz. “The other thing that might be even more important is we turned around our large club in Atlanta, which was a terrific accomplishment.”
Lessons Learned in 2016: While initially boutique fitness studios might have seemed like competition, this past year, Schwartz learned that the opposite was true. “The lesson I learned is that the explosion of boutiques has been a very good event for our business because it has reestablished the price point for a high-end club that the budget clubs had started to erode,” he added. “When they are charging $30 for a class, it started to make a good, full-service club like ours look reasonable.”
Goals for 2017: According to Schwartz, 2017 is going to be a big year for Midtown Athletic Club. “The biggest thing for Midtown in 2017 will be the opening of our new flagship club in Chicago, which will be a club and a hotel,” said Schwartz. “It will be a giant scale. We think it is going to set a new standard in the club business.”
Owner of Elite Sports Clubs
For Elite Sports Clubs, 2016 was a year of celebration. In 2016, the Milwaukee-based brand commemorated 30 years in business. “We had an over-the-top party celebrating our 30th year in business,” said Yuspeh. “It was at the premier hotel in Milwaukee, the Pfister, with an 11-piece band from Chicago and great food. Around 900 of my staff and members attended, dressed to the nines. Everyone is still talking about it today.”
Lessons Learned in 2016: Over the past year, Yuspeh discerned the importance of trying new things and trusting your gut instinct. “I would say that I have learned to trust my intuition,” she said. “We recently removed four tennis courts to build a market-first kid’s space, The QUAD. The project had its skeptics, but early results show that it will be a bigger success than we projected.”
Prediction for 2017: “We will continue to have more studios and high-value, low-price clubs enter the market,” predicted Yuspeh. “Some studios will close in the next few years because they only offer one form of exercise. But they will continue to squeeze the mid-price clubs.”
Goals for 2017: Between opening a new club, re-vamping current spaces, launching new programming and much more, many exciting initiatives are on the horizon for Elite Sports Clubs in 2017. “The newest purchase and remodel will be done,” said Yuspeh. “I am expecting our strongest year ever. We are well positioned in our communities as the suburban lifestyle family club.”
Executive Director at Chelsea Piers Connecticut
At Chelsea Piers Connecticut, finding new and innovative ways to improve the member experience is always a priority. This was no exception in 2016. Besides seeing great retention and sales numbers and introducing new classes for the general membership base, focusing on youth athletes was also key.
Highlight of 2016: According to Greta Wagner, one of the top highlights of this past year was the development of the CPAC 360 program. “We have about 950 competitive youth team athletes, so we developed a comprehensive program that goes throughout the year,” said Wagner. “It introduces our young athletes, from the age of 8 all the way up to 17, to the different opportunities that they have as club members.”
Lessons Learned in 2016: “We did a little bit of reorganizing with my senior staff, so making sure that some of the changes we made on a senior level didn’t impact the day-to-day of our member experience [was a priority],” explained Wagner. “I think that it is good every once in a while to take a step back and ask if you have the right people in the right place, and is everyone aligned and committed to having that exceptional experience for the membership base? That was one of the biggest challenges, but we are in a much better place now.”
Goals for 2017: Just like last year, continuing to enhance the membership experience will remain a priority for Chelsea Piers in 2017. “For every club the members have to perceive value in your product and they have to use it,” added Wagner. “We are working with Perkville, which is a member loyalty program, so I think that is going to be a really nice addition. We are also bringing on a new sponsor, Rhone, which is a men’s apparel company. We are always looking for companies that share our principal values, which are always pushing to get better. So we are excited about that and it is going to add a lot of benefits and opportunities for our members.”