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You see a need. You fill it. At least that’s what Federal Hill Fitness owner and general manager Andrea Shelby did alongside her Maryland-based team.
In a historic Baltimore community where restaurants, bars, stores, markets, parks, schools, workplaces and nearly anything else a consumer could want or need were just steps away, a gym seemed to be the one facility that was missing.
“We recognized the gap and filled it mainly because we wanted a gym we could walk to,” she said, admitting the motivation may have been a bit selfish — though no one, especially not gym members, are complaining.
Federal Hill Fitness is often recognized as one of the area’s top gyms, as is its sister facility, MV Fitness, which Shelby owns as well.
The gyms are located approximately two miles a part from each other, and serve about 500 members at each location. Around 20 employees, including front desk managers, trainers and Group X instructors share responsibilities at both locations as well.
Shelby credits a lot of her clubs’ successes to the time that is put into choosing and continually training an exemplary staff. “Keeping our staff happy and prepared for most situations goes a long way in selling new memberships and retaining existing ones,” she said. “We recognize that the front desk staff has to be smart, polite, friendly and alert, leaving their personal problems at the door.”
Keeping the facilities up-to-date and aesthetically pleasing also draws a lot of attention — and that may be an understatement — to both locations.
World-renowned magazine Vanity Fair once selected MV Fitness as one of only seven of the “most beautiful gyms in the world,” describing the space as “an atmosphere that exudes elegance.”
“We built out the facility to be architecturally interesting and in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Shelby. “Everyone always comments on how beautiful our space is. People like to workout in a nice place, with nice people — that’s a fact.”
Shelby explained that in addition to creating a beautiful space for members, she and her team also set out to differentiate themselves from the operational practices often found at mainstream gyms, paying specific attention to concepts that made them uncomfortable in their own experiences as clients.
“Things like having to make an appointment with a salesperson, or not being able to get rate information over the phone or online seemed like horrible business practices that always made us feel swindled,” she said. “So that had to go.”
An awareness of community, both inside and outside of the facilities, is also important to Shelby and her team, who she said strive to get involved in events like community clean-up days and other volunteer opportunities.
“We sponsor a night of movies in the park, which allows us to do a free class for everyone right before the movie,” said Shelby. “That is great exposure. We donate training sessions, group fitness class packs and months of membership to all local [organizations] that reach out to us, whether they are auctions for schools, shelters or national fundraisers hosted locally.”
Shelby explained that by being on the auction block, her gyms have the chance to reach a demographic that might otherwise not be aware of the clubs.
But, at least in Shelby’s mind, it all goes back to building a successful team from the ground up. She cautioned other gym owners to be patient in the hiring process, pointing out that it is better to hire the right person later than the wrong person immediately.
“Be really careful to dig deep when you hire someone new,” she said. “Too many times, we as owners are so focused on filling a gap that we can overlook some red flags; but firing people can be very uncomfortable and time consuming, not to mention a huge distraction and potentially demoralizing to the rest of the team.”