In 1984, Lynne and Victor Brick were just off stage at an aerobic competition in Miami. They were getting pumped to go on when they realized their team needed a name. Lynne looked to her husband, who looked back with an equally perplexed expression. Without knowing exactly what to do, they went with who, and what, they were … Brick Bodies.
Brick Bodies was started, not quite yet how we know it today — as the dominating Baltimore health club chain — but more as a couple devoted to fitness. Lynne had graduated from Towson University with her B.S. in nursing and had immediately taken a job at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, the first shock trauma unit in the world. “To work shock trauma, you don’t have a chance to sit down very much,” said Brick. “Many of the nurses I would meet one day would leave by the next day, because the stress level was so incredible.”
After Brick’s daughter was born in 1981, she wanted to get back in shape. She always had been a dancer, and Victor was teaching group classes for the Bel Air Athletic Club just north of Baltimore. Brick said that Victor was expecting people to come to his classes and perform the exercises he was used to — jumping rope, running around a track, sport-oriented exercises. “When all the ladies showed up in leotards and tights, and they started hitting each other in the head with their jump ropes, he was like, ‘wait a minute, my wife’s a dancer, I’ll get her to do this stuff,’” she said.
Brick had never taken a fitness class in her life, but she started getting up every morning at 5 am and watching “Morning Stretch,” for inspiration. She felt that if the host of the show, Joannie Greggains, could teach those classes, she could teach the classes as well. “I went up to the Bel Air Athletic Club, owned at the time by Roger Ralph and Elaine Ralph, and I taught my very first fitness class — the very first fitness class I ever took, was the one that I taught,” explained Brick.
She had played tennis in racquet clubs before, but she hadn’t really experienced a true fitness club. “Roger Ralph pulled me into his office and said I had potential, which we laugh about when we see each other now,” said Brick. It had been that comment from Ralph that motivated Brick and her husband to follow their dream in opening their own health club.
“I ended up running group aerobics classes at the Green Spring Racquet Club in Lutherville, Md.,” said Brick. “That was all the way from 1982 through the beginning of 1985.” Brick then became pregnant with her second child and started moving away from her large class load, due to the strains of pregnancy. However, she wasn’t about to give up on her dream of working in the fitness industry.
As she was lightening her load, a participant in one of her classes pulled her into her Mercedes outside of the club to pitch an idea to her. “She said, ‘I hear that the Padonia Fitness Center is for sale.’ That was in June of 1985. We went and looked at it the very next week, and in August of 1985 we bought it. I was eight and a half months pregnant at the time, and my son was born on October 2, 1985. We didn’t have any cash to pull together, we just borrowed $125,000 from Victor’s dad, and through the grace of God we built the business from that point forward.”
The nursing background helped Brick to be forward thinking in treating her members. Although, like all businesses that must have a sales focus, Brick Bodies paid extra attention to the current customer and their needs. Brick attributed this ability as a caring individual to her time in the shock trauma center. “Each participant, even if they are a guest in our clubs, we try to shift from being, ‘gotta make the sale,’ to really understanding the member or guest’s perspective,” explained Brick. “Industry keynote speakers have reminded owners and managers to see the club through the member’s eyes.
“We’ve always been a very service-oriented company,” she continued. “Just like all successful clubs, we’ve been very results driven. We are in the process of getting to the bottom of what true service is all about. Service is not just about prescribing what to do for a member, or guest, but really asking the powerful questions that reveal the state the person is in today.” To increase this influence, Brick has returned to school at Tai Sophia Health and Wellness Coaching, located between Baltimore and Washington D.C. in Laurel, Md. Tai Sophia is a graduate school for the healing arts and sciences.
Brick said that Tai Sophia has been teaching her to become a coach to make people believers in health, wellness and exercise. “Asking the right, powerful questions at the right time is truly an art,” she said. “It’s really beautiful to see when someone has an ‘a-ha’ moment. For example, one of my practice clients (Tai Sophia requires its students to practice on actual people outside of the program) is a member at one of my clubs, and she revealed to me that she’s an over-eater. In the health club setting, we ask questions like, ‘can you keep a food journal and bring in the journal for me to assess?’ In the true health club setting, we set up a program, and hopefully, it works for that person and they will embrace it.”
The client Brick referenced had already tried weight watchers several times, and had been searching for something that would work for her in the long run. “She had some success, but not life-changing success,” said Brick. “In the process of asking really great questions, she revealed to me that she has this ambivalence in her where one side is really comforted by food, and the other side feels guilty. She’s punishing herself because she’s eating too much.” Through continuous coaching, Brick was able to get her client to repeat her problems over and over until she could honestly see her issues come to light. According to Brick, as those issues came to light in her client’s mind, she was able to discover exactly why she felt the urge to eat for comfort.
The coaching that Brick used with her client at Brick Bodies has been what she studied at Tai Sophia. The art of coaching clients through health and wellness, as opposed to simply selling a personal training and nutrition package, is Brick’s vision for the future of the industry. However, she hasn’t been naïve enough to discard the importance of traditional training and nutrition counseling within the club. The philosophy of coaching, and teaching health and wellness, are just the beginning of a new era for fitness clubs.
Once Brick completes her graduate program she plans on conveying her teachings to her employees to help them begin coaching, as opposed to just instructing their clients. “I’d love to have our entire team shift,” she said. “I have started the conversations with many of them, and they love this concept. It just takes a lot more time, but it inspires the trainers by enabling them to have significant, meaningful conversations with their clients. They aren’t just doing this exercise, at this number of reps, and this many sets, then move to the next exercise; they will be focused on the exercise in the moment, but then they will have the conversations where there is a true relationship. That’s what the coaching model is. It’s not just about the client and the coach. It’s fostering this sacred ground, which is the coaching relationship — it’s larger than life.”
With the future of Brick Bodies being focused on health and wellness, and working with the client, Brick said that she believes much of the future is about people developing those “ah-ha” moments. Those moments where a member stops just going through the motions, but begins to see health and fitness as a lifestyle shift where Brick Bodies is the catalyst for this change.
Brick also has been working with the executive director of her program at Tai Sophia to create a condensed version that could be taught to trainers throughout the industry. The tools that they would provide to trainers would be a weekend or a couple of weekends long, as opposed to the yearlong curriculum. “It’s very useful information, especially for the trainers,” she said. “I think the industry uses the term ‘coaching’ kind of loosely. This particular coaching follows the International Coaching Federation guidelines, so it’s a little different. People that are in fitness or wellness have used the term ‘coaching’ from a different perspective, than from the true ICF coaching competencies.”
When Brick Bodies opened in 1985 it held onto the Padonia Fitness Center name, but added “Home of Brick Bodies Aerobics.” “The Brick Bodies was always the brand of our group exercise classes, and it evolved over time,” she said. “The second club we opened was a Lynne’s Bricks Women’s Health and Fitness. We have seven Brick Bodies and Lynne’s Bricks in the Baltimore area, in addition to Planet Fitness locations in Maryland and in Tennessee.”
Brick and her husband own 15 Planet Fitness locations, with two more slated to open. “In 2005 and 2006 we were very intrigued with the budget club model, and the way that segment of the industry was growing,” said Brick. “When I served on the IHRSA Board of Directors in 2006, at my first board meeting John McCarthy was on his way out after 20 years as executive director and everyone asked him if there were lasting words on which he wanted to leave. He said, ‘I challenge you to grow the industry.’ He just kept repeating the words ‘grow the industry.’ Victor and I were always fascinated with diversification in the industry, and when we studied a lot of different models, we were always intrigued with the Planet Fitness model.”
For Brick, it wasn’t the $10-a-month plan that intrigued her, but the judgment free zone — the idea that a club could be so profitable without worrying about training as a major profit center. “We had an opportunity to look at the model, and thought that this was a great way for us to diversify our business portfolio. We are still growing our Brick Bodies by expanding every one of our current clubs. We always want to put the model that best serves the community, whether it’s Brick Bodies, Lynne’s Bricks or Planet Fitness.”
Brick Bodies was designed to encompass the true heart of Baltimore. Brick, who grew up in the city, said that it is a close-knit community. “What differentiates Brick Bodies from other clubs in other markets is that we understand Baltimore, because we are Baltimore,” she said. “We’ve positioned ourselves as the accessible expert, and put a face behind the name.”
In all the advertisements for Brick Bodies, Lynne and Victor use the family as the face of the business. “It’s either myself or my husband, or all four of us — our two kids (Vicki and Jon) are now involved in the business. They each manage a club, and they sit on our executive team. They also have other roles in the company, too. We believe very strongly in being inextricably woven through the fabric of the community.”
Brick Bodies has also set the standard for great programming. When they began, it was Brick’s purpose to train instructors so that they would be the best aerobics instructors in the area. As the company has evolved, the training has maintained, but it has expanded to include Les Mills, Zumba and other programs Brick has installed into the clubs.
“We still do an instructor training program where we teach very passionate members who want to get involved in the industry,” she said. “They become our best instructors. Some of our instructors have been with us for 20 or 25 years. We are very blessed in that way. We teach people how to connect with the members.”
Brick Bodies has allowed itself to become a club for everyone, whether you’re a family or an individual, whether you’re male or female. Lynne’s Bricks has been a long-time location as a women’s-only facility in Baltimore. With the membership, women are able to enjoy a workout inside the comfort of the women’s-only club, but then meet up with their family in the co-ed facility.
Brick said that it was always her goal and the goal of her husband, two children and the rest of the Brick Bodies team to create an atmosphere that was welcoming, but also produced results. As she said from the beginning, Brick Bodies is about results, and it wouldn’t be where it is today without being able to produce those results for their clientele.
By Tyler Montgomery