Tell me, what’s wrong with a little goofiness in business? People don’t change the world, or challenge the status quo by continually doing what’s typical. Also, sticking to the beaten path never blazed new trails.
That’s the attitude that Cincinnati Sports Club brought to our interview. It isn’t just a club positioned in a well-to-do area in Cincinnati, Ohio — well, it is that — but it is also much more.
Over the past 15 or more years, Cincinnati Sports Club has seen a wave of need for fitness in its community of Hyde Park, a beautiful and trending area of greater Cincinnati. In addition, in that time, the club has seen itself grow from a seven-acre lot to about 15 acres today.
As the club saw growth, its community and demographic also began to shift — growing families turned into senior populations, and teens turned into potential members as they entered adulthood. However, as many clubs might attempt to follow its members into their Golden Years, which Cincinnati Sports Club did, they also decided to follow a new trend of young professionals moving into Hyde Park.
“I’m going on 14 years, and I’ve seen a major renovation every year,” said Julie Goodchild, the club manager. “With that we’ve had an intensive growth in membership, along with additional staffing and programs. We are fortunate enough to be privately owned, because it does allow us to listen to our members and act accordingly to their needs.”
The growing never stops at Cincinnati Sports Club. According to Goodchild, the club has a renovation and growth strategy up through 2025. “When I started here, we had our fitness floor, which was about 3,000 square feet, and it was probably my second year here that we decided to take out our batting cages that were open to the public and expand our club, our membership,” she said. “We now have a fitness floor that is about 15,000 square feet, along with a new outdoor fitness area that we just opened a few weeks ago (September 2013). We are the only one in the area that has an outdoor fitness facility.”
Although it may seem odd to have an outdoor fitness area in Cincinnati, where the winter months can be quite troublesome, the club’s research has shown that people enjoy exercising outdoors, even in the crisp winter and spring months. “We believe that people will use this during the winter,” said Phil Norton, Cincinnati Sports Club’s operations manager. “Not everybody, and certainly it’s only a segment, but there are people that love that fresh air. In Cincinnati we’ll get a 50 to 60 degree day at different times. A lot of people talked about that — they like the fresh air.”
The club is also looking at installing a pavilion above the outdoor fitness area. “It will be totally open air, but just to shelter from the rain and that type of thing,” explained Norton. “The East Bank Club keeps its pool open through October on the roof, and they are on the north bank of the Chicago River. We like some of the trends we’re seeing on outdoors in general — people embracing outdoors.”
The outdoor fitness area is simply on par with the out-of-the-box thinking that goes on at Cincinnati Sports Club. In addition to yearly renovations, the team strives to think of new possibilities that will make the club unique for its members. “Our attrition rate right now is 18 percent, but it’s been as low as 12 percent at one time,” said Goodchild. “We are targeting a younger market and we know that they move more, so our attrition rate has gone up. Based on that, we’ve had people that have been with us since they were children growing up.”
Some of the renovations over the past 14 years have included upgrading the locker rooms and private changing rooms and expanding the pool decks. “These aren’t just paint jobs,” said Goodchild. “It’s what our membership has come to expect. They like spending the summer at the outdoor pool, they want to know what the next major project is, so we keep them involved. We put signs up in our lobby. We explain what we’re hoping to do. We take their feedback. That’s a big part of who we are in terms of our continuous improvement. We base things on quantitative and qualitative data that we collect.
“Some of the examples of the qualitative data is we record and track every comment card that a member completes,” continued Goodchild. “It’s put into a database where we can see if there is any trend, and we can follow up with that. We also have a member advisory board that meets quarterly and a medical advisory board that meets three times per year.”
Goodchild also hosts several member focus groups throughout the year to help keep the club on track and discover what members may want from the club. “We do an annual survey sent to all of our members,” she said. “We really are in touch with them, and once we put together our plan, that doesn’t mean that plan doesn’t change, based on their ever-changing needs.”
Although Cincinnati Sports Club has strived to include the 25- to 29-year-old range in coordination with the aging of members’ children, it has also followed the aging of the typical member with a relationship with The Christ Hospital. According to Norton, the club had noticed that the hospital was looking to develop a club within its walls. It simply made sense to Cincinnati Sports Club to reach out and offer a strategy and partnership, which would complete Cincinnati Sports Club’s wellness offerings.
“Obviously, we get into the wellness aspect of it, with the lectures about once a month, joint screenings, a health fair and a physician referral program,” said Norton. “We have some great stories where a member was sponsored in a program. We had a recent story where we had a referred member come in who had been sedentary pretty much her entire life. Doctors said she had to get her knee replaced, and after going through the 60 days of working out, the doctor said they could delay the surgery, and maybe not have to have it at all.”
The partnership has assisted both The Christ Hospital and Cincinnati Sports Club by giving patients a place to rehab or receive physical therapy, while also giving current Cincinnati Sports Club members access to additional wellness benefits that other fitness clubs don’t offer. Additionally, employees of both sides have benefitted from the partnership.
“The hospital employees — it forces them to get more active,” said Norton. “With our own employees, it has given them things like a health risk assessment. We have a big health fair that we do that has between 700 to 1,000 people coming in to attend. The hospital will obviously have their booth and we’ll do some screenings there. We’ll do some marketing of fitness things, such as 10- to 15-minute classes, where people can kind of observe … it’s a great day.”
The screenings that are performed by the hospital, held at the club, are open to the public. This gets non-members — people who may not have entered the facility otherwise — into the club to look around. “We are reaching out to the community in that way,” explained Goodchild. “I think that is a benefit. I know that I have benefitted in terms of policies and procedures implemented through our medical advisory board — many of them are physicians, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons that are part of this medical advisory board that give us information and advice on our protocols. We’ve definitely benefitted in that realm.”
The partnership hasn’t only been a benefit to members and the executive team. It has also assisted the personal training department and its growth. “Another good partnership has been with the physical therapists and doctors, with our personal trainers,” said Norton. “The education going back and forth between them and the formalized program, as a hand-off from physical therapy to personal training — also just the connection of getting to know them and talk to them — there is a very open relationship.”
The two departments — personal training and physical therapy — also have a monthly meeting to discuss patients and how the exchanges from patients to clients should operate. “We’ve had meetings where we’ve shared ideas and direction,” continued Norton. “One instance, I go to Pilates here — we have a beautiful Mind/Body facility. It has one private room in it — it’s designed so that I can close the door and work out in it, and my Pilates trainer knows I have some chronic hip problems. The X-rays and physical therapists were able to give her input on how to exercise me without inflaming it, because we are trying to buy time without replacing it. It’s made a huge difference in how I feel days after my workouts.”
The two facilities, Cincinnati Sports Club and The Christ Hospital, are right next to each other, so patients, members, clients and employees can simply walk over to the hospital or vice versa. The closeness allows referrals to be more easily passed along, as opposed to one department referring an individual and hoping they make the connection. Each department is able to simply meet with the other, and ensure that the referral is carried through.
At Cincinnati Sports Club, personal training is the most referred program out of any other program. In addition, physical therapy is a practice that is broad and can be utilized by a multitude of individuals from a diversified demographic. “Health clubs tend to be a tighter geographic area,” explained Norton. “You would think the referrals would come more from the club to the physical therapist, but they go both ways.” Christ Hospital has about 90 locations around greater Cincinnati that serve different purposes.
“The facility here, at the Cincinnati Sports Club, receives their highest patient-satisfaction rating when they do their surveys every year,” said Norton. “I think it’s the environment. It’s not a traditional medical environment. We are a club — it’s like a second home — that’s what we have here.”
It was important for Cincinnati Sports Club to blend the two components of fitness and health, but remain a club for its members. “You bring what you do the best here, and we’ll give you what we do the best, but the club is staying a club,” explained Norton. “We aren’t going to make it a facility that feels like a medical-fitness facility. We offer all the professionalism of that, all the technical ability of that, but it’s still going to feel like a club — your second home. It was very important for us to maintain that.”
Part of keeping the club intact was predicated on its social component. “The purpose of our social events is that we believe that the social connections would help with member retention, or people to feel connected, and the more likely they are to remain a member,” said Goodchild. “Some of the events that we’ve had that we’ve built up over the years have been a ‘Friday Night Happy Hour’ at the outdoor pool. It took a while to be something successful, but today we have over 700 people in attendance and broke a record this past summer. These happy hours are for everyone and are very family oriented.”
The happy hour events have multiple different components that appeal to the different aspects of the family. “They are themed parties, typically, where we offer complimentary appetizers that are provided by one of our local restaurants,” explained Goodchild. “We also offer a monthly beer special, we have live music and then we also have a children’s attraction with the theme. The popularity of this is so great. We realized that parents like to have a night out, but they also like to have their children babysat, in a loose way, by them in an outdoor pool.”
The club attempts to carry these events on over into the winter happy hours. “This was slow to build, starting with 30 to 50 people,” said Goodchild. “Now, this past year, we had over 500 in attendance when we had a winter happy hour on our indoor athletic field.”
The club doesn’t just see families in attendance at the happy hour events. “You’ll see young professionals,” said Norton. “They’ll get a workout, have a beer, listen to music and have an appetizer, then they’ll go home, or go back out.”
Due to focus groups, Cincinnati Sports Club has been able to identify what has worked, and what’s not working about its events. According to Goodchild, many people love the happy hour events, but because they are reaching out to a younger crowd, they are receiving insight into a more adult-only event. This has helped the club reach its younger audience, and improve retention of a demographic that is notorious for moving around.
Although Cincinnati Sports Club may have its reputation set in stone with its demographic inside Hyde Park, it’s the perpetual growth that has the club continuing to diversify itself and reach new growing demographics. Additionally, it has kept the club fresh to new customers, but also added a wellness aspect to stay on par with its long-term, family-centered demographic.
Photos courtesy of Antonio Pantoja:
By Tyler Montgomery