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Redefining a Brand


In 20 countries and 39 states, Powerhouse Gym has positioned itself as a global giant in the fitness industry. Opened in 1975 by the brothers William and Norman Dabish, the gym built itself around bodybuilding and the thrill of weight training.

Now, operated by William’s son, Powerhouse Gym CEO Henry Dabish is attempting to perpetuate the growth of the Powerhouse brand and reform its image from the bodybuilder society, into a modern wellness, made-for-everyone sort of club.

The road has been long — but, as everything must change, so must Powerhouse. This is the story of an industry brand, looking to redefine and mold itself into a grand spectacle for all to emulate.

What’s In a Brand?

Dabish said it wasn’t his father and uncle’s goal to launch a fitness chain. They hadn’t even considered “branding” when the first Powerhouse Gym was transformed in the back of Dabish’s grandfather’s grocery store in ’75.

Transforming Powerhouse Gym from its original bodybuilding persona hasn’t been easy. The company held this perception strongly through the 70s and 80s until fitness clubs and exercise became popular in the late 80s and early 90s.

William and Norman used the real estate recession in the early 90s to purchase Powerhouse Gym locations in major markets, such as Los Angeles and Chicago. “They had billboards throughout cities and landlords were calling trying to get a Powerhouse in their center,” Dabish said. “That’s when it really took off for us.”

“Throughout the 80s and 90s [exercise] had become more mainstream,” Dabish said about the change in Powerhouse Gym. At that time the company transformed many of its gyms from just weights and a little cardio, to full-service establishments with more cardio and Group X classes.

This started the rebranding of Powerhouse Gym. However, as time tends to engrain a company’s role, Powerhouse struggled to lose the persona of a major muscle-building corporation.

Meanwhile, Powerhouse watched companies like Bally’s and Crunch come into play and excite the general population with an exercise-for-everyone campaign.

Making a Change

Change isn’t easy for anyone. It’s especially not easy for a company like Powerhouse Gym that created its brand 35 years ago. It could be argued that the most recent change occurred when Dabish and his brothers took over the club at the turn of the new millennium.

“I was 18 when I became a manger at the Farmington Hills, Mich., Powerhouse Gym,” Dabish said. “I think I always watched how my dad and uncle worked and taking it to the next level was what I wanted to do.”

There are a lot of clubs out there that have created a brand within their communities that only attracts the city bodybuilders. However, in today’s society, many clubs, not just Powerhouse Gym, are trying to regain some balance within their clubs.

“The entire market has changed,” Dabish said. “In the early 70s no one worked out unless you were a very serious bodybuilder. It’s more mainstream now than it was 20 years ago.”

Group X has been the transformation for Powerhouse Gyms. Working with Les Mills and TRX have redefined the Powerhouse name and helped to bring in more typical customers.

“There is always a new trend coming out and working well,” Dabish said. “With Les Mills, they always keep our classes up-to-date and that helps us out a lot with consistency across the board.”

Dabish said TRX training systems have also started a new buzz throughout Powerhouse Gyms. “A lot of our trainers were using TRX,” Dabish said. “They started using it with their clients, and now our group exercise instructors are bringing the systems into their classes.”

Powerhouse Gyms aren’t franchised, but licensed; they have a network that provides entrepreneurs the ability to open a club, but eliminate a large portion of liability and increase their success rate.

Considering their 35-years of experience, Powerhouse provides their licensees with the Powerhouse network that relays these new systems and programs that work well for Powerhouse Gyms.

Creating New Ideas

Owning a Powerhouse Gym isn’t like starting up a private-labeled club, or joining a franchise. Owners have the ability to slap the Powerhouse name on their club, then do as they please — provided they abide to a few regulations. Dabish referred to it as the easiest way to break into the industry, and incur minimal risk.

However, Powerhouse Gym has 19 corporate facilities throughout the U.S. They use these facilities to implement new programs, such as TRX as a Group X course.

Following implementation, Powerhouse distributes their information throughout their network to help licensees with their own new programs.

“I think the main benefit is the network you’re working with,” Dabish said. “We’ve been in the business for 35 years and there are a lot of experiences we’ve had. We work with our owners and we try and pinpoint upcoming trends. We try and stay ahead of the pack and we do that by continuing education and looking for what’s new.”

Branding Today

Branding today isn’t the same as it was 10 to 20 years ago. There is much more to develop today — bringing in new equipment and a color scheme only scratches the surface.

One major initiative that Powerhouse is creating involves revamping their website. Although, a website may be a minor step in having a successful gym — to have a successful brand, it can be everything.

A lot of clubs develop websites to attract and even sign up new members. Powerhouse uses it to relay its brand message concerning its gyms, clothing line, nutrition and home-gym equipment. Not only did their website give them a starting point for rebranding, but in the past several years it has helped them reach foreign markets.

“We have a lot of interest from overseas,” Dabish said. “Many times, individuals are trying to market Powerhouse to their country. The online outreach allows them to tell their story in a fun way. The website has workout tips, and Twitter and Facebook allow us to reach the whole world in a cost-effective way.”

Powerhouse has worked hard to change their website by making it more user-friendly and created a back office for licensees to create a better network connection.

The website promotes new, modern-looking color schemes that have attracted younger and more mainstream members — not just bodybuilders. They utilize Facebook and Twitter to further attract their youthful and tech-savvy clients.

Powerhouse Gym licensees can create their own Facebook pages, or they can reach members through the main Powerhouse Fan Page. Providing several web options for licensees, through Facebook and Twitter, has allowed everyone, including old school gym owners, to get in on the action and reach new members.

Modern branding doesn’t always involve new technology or reaching members via e-mail or Facebook. Although, Twitter may revolutionize the media market, it won’t necessarily do everything to attract new business.

Powerhouse Gym understands this. It has moved its beliefs past the muscle gym to be more of a wellness facility focused on the member’s results.

Powerhouse has developed strong personal training systems that work with TRX and Les Mills to implement results and subsequently push their nutritional supplements.

“Personal Training feeds the nutrition,” Dabish said. “If you have a strong personal training department, you’re going to have members that trust their trainers and they will purchase nutrition programs. The trainer will help the members achieve their goal through nutrition.”

Aside from personal training, Powerhouse has started partnering with local hospitals — a rebranding opportunity that has been executed by many in the industry.

Partnerships have allowed physical therapy patients and their therapists to use the gyms to help people either prevent disease, or regain their lives.

“It’s great to have people in the gym getting healthy,” Dabish said. “After they are done with their therapy, many times the patients become members.”

Powerhouse Gym in Farmington Hills has partnered with Detroit Medical Center’s physical therapy department, in particular. The relationship gave Powerhouse the insight into developing newer relationships and move into the realm of wellness.

Dabish said these relationships have completely revolutionized the Powerhouse brand by adjusting their culture. Currently, they are pushing licensees all across the U.S. to look for opportunities to partner with medical facilities throughout their areas.

In 1975, Powerhouse Gym revolutionized the fitness industry and made a great venue for bodybuilders to train for upcoming Mr. Olympia competitions. Now, 35 years later in 2010, Powerhouse Gym has begun to revolutionize the fitness community again by taking the focus away from bodybuilding, and moving towards health, wellness and assisting in the battle against obesity. -CS


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