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On the morning of October 28th at 6:20 a.m., Chris Roussos heads to the starting line of the 2017 Dallas Spartan Ultra Beast marathon. He and other participants are about to traverse 26 miles and tackle more than 60 obstacles during the course of the race.
What exactly they’ll tackle is unknown — there’s no map or details of the course. And, there’s likely to be a few twists thrown their way.
But that’s part of the allure. The unexpected is what Roussos and the other participants have trained for, and no matter what, they’ll find a way to overcome.
This isn’t the first challenge Roussos has taken on in the past 12 months. In May 2017 he was named CEO of the San Ramon, California-based 24 Hour Fitness — which saw him transition from a 16-year career in healthcare to one in fitness.
But although Roussos has spent more time in healthcare, he feels he’ll be able to make a greater difference at 24 Hour Fitness, which boasts more than 420 locations, than he did in his prior roles.
“I used to think I came from the healthcare business, but really, it was sickcare,” said Roussos.
For Roussos, his new role at 24 Hour Fitness also lines up with his personal passion for fitness. Upon graduating from college at Clarkson University — where he was a student athlete — Roussos entered the military, serving for 11 years. He was an Army Ranger, Platoon Leader, Infantry Battalion Staff Officer and Company Commander. Plus, he’s been a member of 24 Hour Fitness since the 1990s.
“When I got the call to even be considered for this role, I literally skipped down the hall to my wife’s office telling her what had just happened,” recalled Roussos. “I had a big smile on my face because of how central what we do here at 24 Hour Fitness is to my life personally.”
Roussos’ energy is palpable — showcased in how wholeheartedly he’s thrown himself into his new role and strived to learn the complete ins and outs of the business. For the first few months, he spent the majority of his time on the front lines in clubs — folding towels, checking in members, cleaning and working with technicians to fix equipment.
“Chris may be new to the fitness industry, but he’s certainly not new to helping people,” said Tom Lapcevic, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for 24 Hour Fitness. “He has a remarkable history with his past companies, and he’s carried over the passion he has for people to 24 Hour Fitness. I think he’s really energized because he can help people in a whole new, proactive way now to really improve their lives through fitness.”
That passion is being used to fuel a number of exciting initiatives at 24 Hour Fitness. A great example? In November 2017, 24 Hour Fitness announced a partnership with Spartan, becoming an official sponsor and training gym for 26 Spartan events throughout the U.S.
Yes, Roussos wasn’t just running a Spartan Ultra Beast as a personal challenge — he also looked at the race as an opportunity to get to know more about the tribe-like community Spartan has cultivated since its inception in 2007. Ultimately, the thinking behind 24 Hour Fitness’ partnerships with brands like Spartan is extending the fitness chain’s reach beyond the four walls of its clubs.
“The goal is really getting outside our four walls and being a part of the local communities we’re in,” said Roussos. “There were 10,000 people at the event I was at, and some of them were 24 Hour Fitness members. It was the same thing we see at our clubs — with extraordinary athletes on one end, and then folks like myself on the other, the weekend warrior types. I think that community is going to line up very well with the sense of community and purpose we have in our clubs today. We will also have Spartan-certified personal trainers in our clubs across the country to help them train and prepare for their races.”
Another way 24 Hour Fitness is striving to engage with members outside its four walls is through technology. This month, the fitness brand announced the 24GO App, a member-facing mobile application offering members personalized and prescriptive workouts.
According to Frank Napolitano, the president of 24 Hour Fitness, the app bridges the gap between the times members are within the gym and when they’re not.
“We’ve always known consumers visit the gym two to three times a week, but they exercise more than that, and we think being with them during that experience and allowing them to consolidate their activities into one source of information — this particular app — is really important,” explained Napolitano. “We think that is really the special secret sauce — the convergence of digital fitness with the in-gym experience.”
24GO and the partnership with Spartan are just a couple of examples of how 24 Hour Fitness is evolving into a wellness company — striving to serve members holistically with solutions wherever they are.
One of the biggest testaments to that goal is the behavioral research 24 Hour Fitness is currently undertaking with Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” Together, Duckworth and the 24 Hour Fitness team are striving to better understand the incentives and motivations people need to achieve their fitness goals.
According to Napolitano, this is research the entire industry could benefit from. “This project is at the core of what we’ve been talking about in the fitness industry for decades,” he said. “Why is it that such a large percentage of Americans know they should exercise, but don’t? If we crack that code, that will be huge. It’s a big reach for us, but we think it’s important work both for ourselves, for the industry as a whole and for America.”
It’s projects like these, and initiatives like the 24GO App, that will help 24 Hour Fitness traverse the unknown. But like training for a Spartan race, mastering the basics is also essential to being able to overcome any challenges thrown the company’s way.
That is why, as 24 Hour Fitness heads into 2018, it will ensure its in-club experiences remain a strong suit.
“As we’re looking at all these other strategies — digital, and the other projects we’re executing — we will never lose sight of the fact we still have nearly 4 million members who are coming in multiple times a week to workout, so we need to and will be extraordinary at that,” said Roussos.
Ensuring 24 Hour Fitness employs a passionate team of fitness professionals who can create long-term connections with members is a great example of how the company is prioritizing the in-club experience. That, and its emphasis on leadership development — both on the front-lines and at the corporate level.
Currently, Roussos and Napolitano are implementing a leadership development program that centers around cultivating the emotional intelligence of its leaders across the entire organization.
“Right now we’re rolling out Harvard Business School education to all of our leaders focused on emotional intelligence,” explained Roussos. “We have a very structured methodology where we take those articles and assign them on a very specific basis, and that also includes local discussions at 420 clubs and corporate departments every week. We are really bringing these ideas alive in a stand-up meeting. We find that helps drive accountability, and just sharing and discussing these articles helps people then modify and adjust their behavior, or at least think about emotional intelligence on a much more personal basis. Our people are the most important asset we have — we’re deeply committed to continuing to invest in their personal and professional success.”
Another central aspect to strengthening its in-club experiences is ensuring that when tragedy strikes, 24 Hour Fitness is able to be there and help the communities it resides in.
During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the recent Northern California fires, as well as the fires raging in Northern Los Angeles, 24 Hour Fitness opened its doors to first responders, members and non-members, offering a place for those affected by the natural disasters to relax, take a break, shower, charge their phones — and even get a workout in, if so desired.
That hospitality extended to employees, through the organization’s Helping Hands Foundation, which provides financial and relief grants to employees and their spouses or declared domestic partners who are impacted by emergency hardship or natural disasters, among other serious matters. To date, the foundation has awarded 223 grants, with 178 grants awarded to team members impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“An important part of our culture is how we support and stand with our fellow team members and their families,” said Roussos. “We want them to do the same thing for our members, so we absolutely model that to them with this. There’s a lot of other things related to what we can do to help accommodate or help our teammates, and we do that even on just a day-to-day basis.”
With the basics covered, paired with its exciting, forward-thinking initiatives — 24 Hour Fitness is primed to grow and expand into new markets.
“One of the strategy focuses of this business has always been to grow — that’s been since its inception — and now is no exception,” said Napolitano. “Throughout the United States in every market we’re in, we’re looking for opportunities to grow, and we’re going to continue to pursue that as fast and as hard as we can.”
Like the excitement at the beginning of a Spartan race, adrenaline is pumping at 24 Hour Fitness.
“We are fired up,” said Roussos.
Images courtesy of Annie Elizabeth.