When Paula Neubert, the president and general manager of Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, first entered Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club 10 years ago, she wasn’t expecting to become the general manager. Having just recently moved to Denver with her husband to raise their children in a new environment, she was simply looking for a job within a good club, which would keep her on her career path in the fitness industry.
“I came to Greenwood and said, honestly, I’ll do anything,” she said. “And they hired me to be a program coordinator. I was putting together adult programs and kid programs. It was kind of like this perfect little thing for me, because there was no stress related to it. I did my job and went home. I left it all at the club. I could go home and be with my family and so forth. Six months later the owner (J Madden) of the club asked me to be the general manager.”
Initially, Neubert was reluctant to take on the additional responsibility. She was thoroughly enjoying her low-stress position. However, her aspirations got in the way.
Competition was getting fierce around Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club with new clubs popping up all over the city. “We needed to mix some things up,” she said. “When I got to Greenwood there were so many things I wanted to do, but I didn’t feel like I was in the right position to do them, because I was a program coordinator. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to do my job and make sure I was contributing to the success of the organization.”
When Neubert went home the day after she received the offer to be general manager, her husband reminded her of all the ideas she had for Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, and how she was being offered the opportunity to take action. This moved her to accept the role. “The next day, I called J and said I wanted the job,” she explained.
“When I first got here, 9/11 had happened and the economy had taken a little bit of a dive. At the same time, our club was going through a gigantic remodel that did not go well, at all,” she explained. “So, for about a three-year time frame the membership in the club dropped significantly — between 200 to 300 memberships per year. In a club like ours, that’s significant.”
Membership was first priority on Neubert’s mind when she took over as general manager. However, she realized that membership couldn’t be addressed as a single entity. There was so much more going wrong, operationally, than simply fixing the revolving door that was membership at the time.
“We had to do some changes in management with certain people, but we didn’t do a lot — we did a little bit, and made a great team,” she explained. “For two years we looked at just our operations. We didn’t even look at the competition. We just looked at us and said, ‘we have to get back to the basics.’ We went department by department, one right after the other.”
During this time, Neubert was feeling pressure from her owners to sell memberships, but she knew that if the club wasn’t functioning properly that increasing membership sales wouldn’t play a major factor in turning the club around long term. “After we were finished, we didn’t even have to do anything with marketing and promotions because our members just kept referring everybody to the club,” she said. “We did some special things to reintroduce who we were in the community, but overall we just got back to making our members happy. The way that we always built the club was referrals, and that’s the way we continue to.”
Since the changes about eight years ago, Neubert said that Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club’s attrition rate has reached an astonishing 16 percent. “We really didn’t even look at the outside competition,” she said. “We just looked at ourselves and asked, what can we do better? How can we be better, what do we need to change? What do we need to do that’s new?
“We did a lot of construction … a lot. Our owners gave us a tremendous amount of money over the time frame that I’ve been here, and we’ve built a lot. That helps, definitely, because when you’re a 25-year-old club, when you have brand-new beautiful facilities being built around you, you’ve got to make sure you’re putting money back into it. That’s one thing that our owners have always done, is support us in anything we’ve ever asked of them.”
Neubert first went to her owners for financial support on a 32,000-square-foot renovation of the club’s aquatic space, which projected membership straight through the roof. Once the first project went extremely well, Neubert said that her owners couldn’t say “no” when she continued to go back for more expansions and renovations. “We did the weight room in 2008, and membership exploded again,” she said.
“Every single time we’ve been able to produce more revenue for them in the following year.” Over 10 years, owners of Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club have given Neubert $12.5 million for renovations.
The extensive renovations helped Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club display the grandeur it possessed in the 101,000-square-foot athletic club that sits on 13 acres. “Not many facilities are being built like this anymore, and we know that,” said Neubert. “There are certain companies that are still building big and grand, but not very many. I think the pure size and grandness of Greenwood is different than what I’ve been used to before.”
Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, located in Greenwood Village, provides the club with a demographic that is comprised of the second-highest income in Colorado, according to Neubert. “Our population of people that we serve is a very specific population of people that know exactly what they want, with very high expectations,” she said.
Neubert said she came from a basic health club that was negotiating on price for membership and other amenities in the club, to a place that refused to negotiate, which was acceptable to the buying market. “I had to learn very quickly about the population we are serving,” she said. “We definitely don’t serve to the masses. We serve a very specific member. We don’t sell a lot of memberships per month, but we hold the hand of every single one of them that we sell, because that’s what they expect.
“There are so many clubs around us that are going to sell 80 to 100 memberships a month. Number one, we would never in a million years do that, because we don’t want to oversell our club. Number two, we want to take care of every single one of the people that join our club. Our club isn’t about the type of equipment that we have or the type of pool that we have, it’s about the relationship that we’ve built with that member. We want to introduce them to as many members as we can and we want to introduce them to as many employees as we can. We want to make sure they know everything about the club, because we know they are going to stay if they have a vested interest in the club, and if they have a relationship here with people.”
Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club looks to net between 5 and 10 memberships a month because they believe that’s the number that best allows them to integrate members perfectly. And, unlike some clubs that may have a large sales force with adjustable rates during peak seasons, Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club has a sales force of three, with longevity and low turnover. “We don’t lose anyone,” said Nuebert. “We have an attrition rate of 16 percent, so nobody leaves the club. We want to sell just enough to get us a little bit more every single month. If we oversell the club, number one, our current membership base isn’t going to be happy. They want to make sure that they can still get on the equipment they want, get in the showers that they want, have the lockers that they want, the parking spaces they want and so forth. That’s our population of people.”
The sales staff at Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club has the ability to sell the value of the club. According to Neubert, they are trained to implement a soft sale approach. “It’s easy to sell the club, in regards to when you walk around the club and you can feel the energy and see the culture with the interaction between the members and the employees,” she said. “For them, when they walk through, it’s an easy thing for them to show. When they sit down at the table there is no negotiation. It is what it is.
“If somebody says, ‘you know the club down the street is going to do this, and this club is going to do this,’ our [sales staff] will say ‘this is who we are.’ When they say, ‘why don’t you give us your deal,’ we’re going to say ‘we don’t have a deal, this is what we offer, this is what I can guarantee you, this is the value you’re going to get out of our club.’ The most important thing for us is that you exercise.”
The soft sell approach works with the Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club sales staff because they target a particular demographic, and work mainly on referrals. “Because we don’t discount, our sales team gets commission from the [initiation] fee and off the [initiation] fee only (initiation fees range from $350 to $800). Every time they get a sale, they are going to get the biggest amount off of their [initiation] fee. It’s not like we are wheeling and dealing, they know exactly what they are going to get off of every sale. And, the more they sell, the bigger commission we give them.” The commission percentage for Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club varies depending on whether the sales person is under, at or over their goal. “It’s a nice percentage when you go over your goal, because we know that with the dollar amount at our club, it’s tougher.” Neubert has also established team goals with financial opportunities to accompany the individual goal.
For Neubert and Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, it’s important to them that the club’s employees are happy and able to have full careers. One sales employee has been with the club almost 10 years. In addition, they just hired two new, relatively young, employees, and Neubert hopes the commission and base structure will keep them there for a while, just like previous employees. In other departments, such as personal training, which makes Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club about $2 million a year, the average expectancy for employment is about 10.6 years, with 23 trainers employed.
“[Personal training] is a definite signature with our club,” said Neubert. “It was good when I got here, there was a little bit of a challenge in regards to the leadership, so I knew the number one thing to do when I got here was change the leadership in that department, and I found Vic [Spatola]. The number one reason for our success is because I hired the right person.”
Vic Spatola, the director of personal training at Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club, and a regular contributing writing for Club Solutions, was said by Neubert to be the “key to the success of the personal training department.”
“We have to have the right leaders so that the trainers respect him,” she said. “He can be their friend, he can be their boss, he can be their role model, he can be all those different things to them. The club being located where we are, in Greenwood Village, and in regards to our clientele wanting to spend more money on personal training and Pilates, is helpful.
“Our clientele are so well educated (one of the highest educated demographics in Colorado). They know how important health and physical fitness is, and they want to be as young as they possibly can for as long as they possibly can. They know that having someone guide them to that is key in their success.”
Spatola has used his seniority in the club to help mold the younger trainers and help them become great with their clients. “They’re so successful,” said Neubert. “They know we, as an organization, are going to give them the tools necessary to do their job, which is providing them with the newest equipment, the space that they need to do it in and so forth. We give them a commission plan that allows them to make a very, very good living.”
In hiring Spatola, Neubert searched for an individual that was a personal trainer as well, because she wanted someone that understood the rigorous tasks that trainers had to go through over multiple hours and clients. Additionally, she wanted someone with a grand knowledge base in regards to equipment. “He selects all of our equipment,” she said. “I trust him completely. He knows exactly what he wants to do. Vic picks the best pieces of equipment from every single line. He’s going to look and say, ‘we need two ab machines, I’m going to look and find the best ab machine out of every single line.’ He’s going to find the best one. He’s going to make sure we have the best pieces, because he hand picks every single one.”
In addition to hand picking equipment for the club, Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club has also decided to provide functional training options, in terms of TRX Suspension Training bands, stability balls, kettlebells, among other things, throughout the club. That commitment also pushed Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club to launch the Power Plate Club, which they attempted as an additional revenue source, but found it more as an amenity. However, in order to use the Power Plate Club, which features Power Plate equipment, a member must go through a training regiment with a trainer, or be enrolled with a trainer that is putting them through the Power Plate system.
For Neubert it’s important for Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club to stay on the cutting edge and maintain its level of excellence. This doesn’t mean a continuous turnover of employees or slashing prices to compete with the club three or five miles away. This means, first making the right hires, doing what it takes to hold onto those hires and keep updating equipment and services with high industry standards.
By Tyler Montgomery