Walk the Talk
Maria Parrella-Turco doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the struggles she may or may not have had working in a male-dominated industry. She didn’t get involved in fitness clubs to become a fitness maniac or prove anyone wrong. In the early 1990s, Parrella-Turco saw first hand how clubs could change a person’s life and has dedicated her time and energy to building a club and helping the fitness industry.
Boosting Your Club
Parrella-Turco, 35, doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she has set up her club, Eclipse Fitness in Green Brook, N.J., to be prepared for growth throughout the next five years. To ensure expansion, they rely heavily on club management technology to help keep Parrella-Turco and her partners, Chris Pacifico and Ray Coassin, in the loop as they are away working on their consulting business, New Paradigm Partners.
For the rest of the club, the communication system has allowed employees to log their interactions with members and help keep member’s information up to date. As Parrella-Turco and her partners travel, they can log onto their management system via an online management system, and stay on top of the club. “For us that is necessary to be able to check in on members and our club from anywhere in the country just by logging online,” Parrella-Turco said. “Because we have our consultant company, we are always traveling and it’s great to not lose a beat because you are on the road.”
“We use Twin Oaks Software for our club management system,” Parrella-Turco said. “We create a profile on the members that lists seven things about that member. That trickles down to our trainers and our staff throughout the facility.” The information helps to prep Eclipse’s personal trainers before they ever interact with their new clients.
Like most clubs, Eclipse saw a slight impact from the recession, but has attributed its success to strategies they implemented in the beginning. Parrella-Turco said the biggest factor has been a constant support of the club. They continually put funds back into the club and have scheduled renovations every five years. “We are innovators and aren’t afraid to try new things,” Parrella-Turco said. “Being in and out of clubs every day, we see new ideas and we get ideas from our staff.”
Team Work Makes the Dream Work
Growth for Eclipse Fitness would not be possible without the three partners and the club’s general manager working as one. They have used each other to create new ideas and help push each other to continually think outside of the box. In 2001, Parrella-Turco founded New Paradigm Partners with Pacifico, 46, and Coassin, 63. Coassin had been a consultant in the fitness industry longer than the other two partners had actually been involved in fitness clubs.
Their teamwork was the backbone that has helped put them where they are today. Pacifico, at one time was the managing partner for three Gold’s Gym clubs in the New York/New Jersey area. Eventually, New York Sports Clubs purchased Pacifico’s clubs and his skills simultaneously. Pacifico worked for Town Sports International (TSI) from 1998 until right after 9/11. “I had been in contact with my partner Ray (Coassin) and we had decided we wanted to come up with something different when it came to consulting,” Pacifico said. “I think what helped me the most was the combination of owning and operating my clubs and later working with TSI. Seeing how TSI managed their business plan helped me improve my financial expertise. I felt that on a weekly, monthly and annual basis, they had a good understanding of the numbers from membership, retention, attrition and expenditures. Like many clubs some learning at Eclipse has been on-the-job training, however a lot of what I know today was taken from those years at Gold’s and TSI.”
As Pacifico and Coassin hatched out their plan to develop a great consulting firm, Pacifico was introduced to Parrella-Turco at a family gathering. “Maria is related to a close friend of my family and I knew she was in our industry,” he said. “ I was introduced to her at a family function and our relationship has filled another niche for us in our business.”
Coassin, who got into the fitness industry 41 years ago – specifically on Jan. 1, 1970 – said Parrella-Turco’s ability to communicate with the team as a whole has served them well over the years. “We compliment each other very well,” Coassin said. “Maria is a wonderful compliment and has a keen intelligence. She is extremely detailed and focused and it’s that focus that has allowed us to easily move forward.”
The focus and forward motion should add two or three more clubs to the Eclipse Fitness brand in the next five years. “Each one of us is very competitive and our success in the business which pushes us to constantly brainstorm about new ideas,” Pacifico said. Coassin added, “We focus on the fact that we have a twofold purpose, optimize mission and optimize profit objectives. The mission objective is to make sure the responsibility to our members and our community is equally balanced to our financial objectives.”
Considering the team members spend only one day per month within the club, and the rest consulting other clubs throughout the U.S., they have brought in their auxiliary fourth member of the team – General Manager Bill Lemanski. All three team members have attributed the success of Eclipse Fitness to Lemanski. “Bill has done a good job of making our job a lot easier,” Coassin said. “He is the primary force within the club that makes things happen. We suggest to operators and owners that they have a quarterback that makes things happen at the end of the day – Bill is that guy for us.”
Marketing for Success
Eclipse hasn’t been immune to the low-price competitors showing up in their area. Parrella-Turco said that several of the competitors started popping up around Eclipse in the past couple of years, and started proving to be competitors. However, it has been through a successful marketing switch that has kept Eclipse on top and plowing forward.
The team took their message back to the basics and started marketing the people, the programs and the place. “We do that by highlighting the people and the programs through member-success testimonials,” Parrella-Turco said. Eclipse uses flat screen TVs throughout the club to project the vision of fitness to the rest of the members.
The trio has instilled in their team a positive and ethical attitude that has gained respect from members. “We try and instill in our team that good ethics are the moral compass to the decision making process of the day-to-day decisions that we make,” Coassin said. “A lot of people suggest, not waking the ‘sleeping dog.’ We don’t go along with that standard. We teach our staff to do the right thing, so we contact that member that hasn’t been in, in a while. They may cancel their membership, but it may help get them back on track.”
Pacifico added to Coassin’s comments by saying, “Our communication with our members is very crucial. We continually communicate with our members through a newsletter or an event. We like to have multiple events throughout the year that involve our members and the community. We have communications within the club and we are a technology based company that helps us convey information to our members.”
Parrella-Turco said Eclipse has become a real family environment and the team hopes that it will continue to grow in that direction. They have marketed their club to young athletes and brought in high school students for exercise several times throughout the year. By including the local kids, it has made Eclipse stand out as a place that cares about community. The residents have responded to that marketing concept and have put their support around the club.
Also, Eclipse has discovered how to market to their members and the surrounding community by talking directly to the members themselves. “We are big surveyors,” Parrella-Turco said. “We survey our new members 30 days after they enroll in the club and we survey all members once a year. We survey them to discover what types of programs and services they would like to see.”
“We are in the belief that marketing is an investment, not an expense,” Pacifico added. “A portion of our earnings goes towards marketing. We think it’s important that you’re always in front of your members or potential members.” Coassin explained that the key to keeping members happy has been through Lemanski. “We put a lot of time and effort in terms of empowering our management staff and the different components,” Coassin said. “I think that is what helps differentiate ourselves. Being in the industry for some time, I think our industry has suffered because we have done a great job of selling memberships, but I don’t think we’ve done a great job of getting results and I think that is the key point. Programs are what have gotten people results and that’s the key difference at Eclipse. We are trying to create an exciting experience from our members to our staff. Anything from group exercise programs and expanding to our group PT programs and solo programs – it’s helping us brand ourselves in the community.”
Parrella-Turco and her team have created the modern club with an old-school-marketing scheme that has touched people throughout the North East. They have used their successful knowledge and each other to further their success and help propel their secondary business, New Paradigm Partners. Parrella-Turco may have never thought about herself as a female in a male-dominated industry, but she has definitely found a way to use her femininity as a niche and become an integral part of a club team and its brand. -CS