Like many successful people, losing is not an option. Mark Fisher, the president and CEO of Sport&Health located in the Washington D.C. Metro Area, is no exception to the rule. “I’m fiercely competitive and I want to win,” Fisher explained in a quick switch toward a serious tone.
Fisher has strived to be a winner his entire life. It’s that winning mentality that has made him so vital to Sport&Health, and why he was asked to continue as President, while also leading as CEO.
Fisher, 51, discussed winning at least 10 times throughout the Club Solutions interview. Clearly, the concept is something he takes extremely serious. Winning is the main reason he has stuck with Sport&Health for so many years.
In his mind, competition is on the club’s doorstep. “The competition is coming, and the time is now,” he said when discussing a need to constantly be working and advancing. Although, Fisher doesn’t have a lot of time to open a book, he has focused his life on three main literary sources: “The Art of War,” “The Power of Now” and “Rhinoceros Success.”
Each book is significant on its own; however, “The Power of Now” has been a driving force for Fisher. In his mind, there is always going to be tomorrow and yesterday, but today is the day that he is executing — today is the day that Sport&Health is growing.
“Now, we have become incredibly focused on improving the member and employee experience,” he said. “That’s probably what I’m bringing to the table now. Creating a sense of community with our clubs, recognizing that our GMs are the key to our success and creating a sense of urgency within our company.”
Sport&Health already has a vast membership of about 160,000, in 25 clubs spread throughout the Washington D.C. Metro, which encompasses Maryland, Virginia and the nation’s capital (one of the fittest cities in America, according to Men’s Health Magazine). Fisher said the first thing Sport&Health needed to do to improve the member and employee experience, was to realize the GMs’ importance in the company. “Regardless of the culture we think we have from a corporate perspective, the culture is really driven on the club level by the GMs that have ownership of each location,” he explained. “They are included in the decisions we make as a company — they help shape the direction of the company. We are opening our ears more than ever to their feedback as to what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and policies we have in place that affect the member experience.”
By empowering the GMs, a waterfall effect was created that has extended down to the member. “When the GM is engaged and feels appreciated, they communicate that to the member and they feel empowered when the member brings to our attention something that we could do better,” he explained. “The GMs feel like that’s not going to fall on deaf ears, they believe ‘I can be a voice for the member and share with the ownership group what needs to change.’”
Working closer with GMs has given Sport&Health Corporate insight to the members. They can better understand what they are doing well and where they can improve. Although, Fisher understands for a company to improve it must be selfless enough to look at itself objectively.
“Honestly, Sport&Health’s time is now,” Fisher expressed. “There has never been more urgency in this company to grow, provide opportunities for our employees and team members, and to make a difference in the member experience. When we roll out an initiative, I want it to be immediate, and because of the size of our company, we can be fairly nimble and quick to change.”
Desire to be Third Place
The above subtitle may appear that Fisher has a desire to be Third Place in the fitness industry. Don’t be so naive. Sport&Health has taken a quick look at Starbucks and its early success.
“In the beginning, they did a great job of being that third place,” Fisher said. Starbucks developed themselves to be the third place in a person’s life — work, home and Starbucks. Sport&Health wants to take that third-place position in people’s lives — just another step in bettering the member experience.
Sport&Health uses the city of Washington D.C. to entice members to use their facilities outside of fitness. They attempt to have facilities close to members that make it easy for them to utilize restaurants, cafés and other clubs. Fisher said they push members to come to the clubs for Redskin football games. “Members can bring in their own food or we can help them with catering,” Fisher said. “We serve some type of food, including smoothies and sandwiches in all the clubs. One club has a restaurant.”
Employees are a major player in terms of improving and sustaining the member experience. For Fisher, the best way to continually improve the member experience is through the GMs — they are the best sources to reaching the third place.
Since Fisher has accepted his new role as CEO, he has been devoted to the belief that the speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. He has spent time thinking about the long-term position of Sport&Health. “As it starts to trickle down to the GMs, it’s about avoiding paralysis through analysis. Helping them understand that they can impact the member experience immediately and help us shorten the distance from idea to implementation.”
To help the GMs understand their power in the club, Fisher has them come once a month for corporate meetings where they share best practices with each other. “Typically, in a company our size, GMs will feel they are operating on an island,” Fisher said. “Because we are local, it’s fairly easy for us to have all our GMs in one room to discuss what’s working and what’s not working, and how we can improve.”
In terms of growth, Sport&Health is engaging its members on the social front by creating social spaces for members to interact. “In our new-build design, we are implementing places where the members want to hang out, where they want to get connected and where they want to relax. We are hosting a lot of social events, parties and member outings. We are a meeting point for the members before they go on their bike rides, their outdoor walks or wine tasting events at our clubs.
“You can have a space in your club where you can have a healthy cooking class, or where the members can come together and have a wine tasting party, or where they can all meet after their 5K run and watch the game on TV. And, we are integrating that now.”
With all the commitments in people’s lives, with family, work and staying active, it’s important for them to have a place that can harbor all of those needs. Fisher believes that it’s the role of the club, especially Sport&Health, to be that harbor. “We want our clubs to be the third place in somebody’s life. They go to work, they go home and there needs to be this third place in their lives where they can get a number of their hierarchy needs met. Having those social spaces creates a space in our clubs, so that when people are pressed for time, and they only have one spot in their life for another place, their third place, we want it to be one of our clubs. We recognize that people have less and less time, and if they are going to come to our club to workout, we want them to feel a sense of community.”
Right Here, Right Now
Fisher said there isn’t a time frame for change at Sport&Health. Again, he said the time is now. “There has never been more urgency at this company to grow, provide opportunity for our employees and team members, and to make a difference in the member experience,” Fisher said. “When we roll out initiatives, I want them to be immediate. When we are rolling out something that is going to affect the member experience or the employee experience, I want it to happen today.”
Being member focused has been Fisher’s goal since he began working in clubs in high school. Transforming his knowledge of the member experience to his own clubs, Exertech in Wichita, Kan. between 1986 and 1999, gave him the vast knowledge to engage the healthy-member market found in Washington D.C.
“A lot of things have come together at the right time, now, for it to be Sport&Health’s time,” Fisher said. “I have a three and five year plan strategically, but everything I’m doing right now as the CEO of this company is about today. I want to impact people today.”
Some of the major impacts in the foreseeable future include the addition of three more clubs and becoming a more regional player, all by impacting the member experience.
“In 10 years, this company is going to be a very dominant regional player,” Fisher continued. “It’s going to be widely known as a company that cares for and nurtures its employees; it’s going to be known as a company that is an incredibly fierce competitor, and I hope from the population of D.C.’s perspective, as a company that really improves people’s lives.”
Although Sport&Health is located in one of the healthiest markets in the U.S., it’s extremely important for Fisher to steer the club to be one of the main reasons for the Metro Area’s healthy success. “We’ve developed relationships with physical therapists, we have five locations with one physical therapist that we’ve developed a great relationship with, so we can be involved in injury prevention. He [the physical therapist] actually trains our personal trainers, and then we can be involved in injury rehab as a portal for people who are seeing an injury therapist for an injury — we are the next step.”
By giving personal trainers the knowledge about injury therapy, it’s allowed members to come to Sport&Health as opposed to going home and continuing therapy on their own. “They don’t go home to do the exercises, they actually engage with a personal trainer at our clubs,” Fisher explained. “We’ve been fairly successful at bridging that gap on injury rehab.”
The next step for Sport&Health is to build the relationship with hospitals and clinics to incorporate the wellness aspect for the club. Fisher said the need for a partnership between health and fitness has been brought to the attention of the clubs and medical community in the city, but it’s up to Sport&Health to nurture those relationships and assist in bringing them to fruition. Fisher, the leader, the president, the CEO, sees the need and believes the relationship will happen and transform Sport&Health from a fitness facility, to a complete wellness center. -CS
By Tyler Montgomery