The Major Leagues
Over the years, Jack Cust’s love of baseball has turned into multiple successful businesses.
Jack Cust has hit the ball out of the park with every business opportunity he’s been presented. One of those business opportunities includes HealthQuest, a multi-purpose family health club located in Flemington, New Jersey.
In 2013, HealthQuest produced more than $6 million in revenue and boasted more than 8,500 members. Although the club only has one location, its influence on the local community has been paramount thanks to its many youth academies, classes and programs, including martial arts, gymnastics and dance.
“We make our facilities available to the high schools when they need it; we have aquatic opportunities for kids — we just try to really get ingrained into the community in a lot of different ways,” said Cust.
However, no activity has made a greater impact on the local community than baseball, thanks to HealthQuest’s sister property, Diamond Nation. Founded by Cust in 2009 and located just half a mile down the road from HealthQuest, Diamond Nation is known as the premier baseball and softball tournament and training complex in the U.S. During the course of a year, over 50,000 players visit Diamond Nation to play ball.
To understand how one organization can have such draw on thousands of youth and amateur players across the country, you’d have to start at the beginning, with Cust’s passion for baseball.
In the ‘70s, Cust played baseball for Seton Hall University while earning his bachelor’s in accounting. After graduating in 1974 and starting a family, it seemed natural that he would end up coaching his sons in the sport. “We’re a big baseball family,” he said. “All three of my sons were drafted and were All-Americans.”
Cust’s oldest son, Jack Cust Jr., even played in the major leagues for various teams, and was a first-round draft pick for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Drawing on their passion for the sport, the father and son decided to launch the Jack Cust Baseball Academy in 1997. There, Cust and his son’s abilities to help players improve athletically in baseball became well established.
Cust Jr.’s popularity in New Jersey was a major factor in attributing to the academy’s reputation. According to Cust, his eldest son was named to The Star-Ledger’s All-Century team and was ranked as the number one high school power hitter in the country by Baseball America. Cust explained his son’s reputation was the foundation for the success of both the Jack Cust Baseball Academy and Diamond Nation.
Meanwhile, Cust began working as a partner for Wiss & Company, one of the top CPA accounting firms in New Jersey and the New York City area. When the opportunity to open a family fitness club came about, Cust spearheaded a group of investors and HealthQuest opened its doors in 2001.
“From the outset, [HealthQuest] was modeled after large family clubs,” said Cust, explaining that he even consulted Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, Pennsylvania, on what HealthQuest’s model should look like. “We’ve kept with that model through the years. We have modified some programming, we’ve changed some things based on current trends in the industry, but we’ve really kept the [family] model and expanded the campus a little bit.”
One of those expansions included the construction of a 140,000-square-foot amateur sports dome next to HealthQuest’s fitness facility, which the club shares with Diamond Nation. Considered the premier indoor facility for winter athletics, the dome covers part of HealthQuest’s campus from November to March, allowing for leagues and clinics year-round.
According to Keith Dilgard, the president of Diamond Nation, the construction of the HealthQuest Sports Dome had a large impact. “It has been a game changer in our local area, the state of New Jersey and the Northeast,” he said.
The idea for the sports dome came about as a result of a simple observation. While Cust was watching his sons play baseball, he noticed they were at a disadvantage compared to kids in the South. “Really, a lot of the kids in the Northeast weren’t getting the same opportunities as the kids in warmer states,” explained Dilgard. “These kids had the opportunity to play 12 months a year, whereas kids in New Jersey and the Northeast area have a lot of weather restraints that restrict them from being looked at [by scouts] on the same level.”
As a result, Cust and Dilgard contemplated the question, “How can we improve the landscape of baseball and softball in New Jersey and the Northeast?” The HealthQuest Sports Dome proved to be a solution.
“When we have a foot of snow on the ground, we can go indoors and have the opportunity to play live games,” said Dilgard. “That has really improved a lot of different things. Pitchers have the opportunity to develop arm strength. [Hitters are] able to pick up 100 at-bats in the winter time. And if you do that year after year … you’re going to be in a better spot when it’s time to get recruited.”
According to Dilgard, none of it would have been possible without Cust’s leadership. “Somewhat, he single-handedly was able to change the landscape of baseball in New Jersey because of what he’s been able to accomplish,” he said. “Neither company would be where they’re at without him.”
For Cust, it has been gratifying to watch not only his sons play baseball, but witness Diamond Nation and HealthQuest evolve to the entities they are today.
As for Diamond Nation specifically, he said, “It started out as a passion and a hobby with a few players just learning hitting from my son, Jack, after he signed professionally, and myself. Now, we’ve had over 200 players drafted and it really was the foundation for us to expand that whole operation. We now have 20 teams that play for us that travel around the country. A lot of players go on to play Division I ball and also professional ball.”
In addition to Cust’s son, other sports professionals, including Jennie Finch, have aligned themselves with Diamond Nation, solidifying the organization’s reputation.
Just as Diamond Nation has succeeded on the baseball side of the equation, so has HealthQuest succeeded when it comes to family fitness. “The difference in the entities is that HealthQuest is more of a local, community-type of facility, and Diamond Nation has grown into a regional and national facility,” said Cust.
To keep the community vibe alive and well at HealthQuest, the club strives to have the best facilities and staff. “We have a great team headed by Deirdre Whalen, [the general manager of HealthQuest],” he said. “We have 250 employees that do a great job. We make it a fun place to work. Because of that, we’re able to attract great people that add to the equation.”
For both HealthQuest and Diamond Nation, Cust attributed success to putting managers in the right positions. “We have great managers at all of the entities we run,” he said. “You let them do their job and you just kind of steer, correct and observe and offer guidance wherever you can. It’s very important. You need to have great people to run things, and you need to give them the flexibility to make decisions and kind of get out of their way.”
However, Cust explained guidance is still necessary. “Make sure that over the course of events that you’re steering everything in the right direction,” he added. “We try not to micromanage everything, but we try to make sure that we have enough information from operations so that everything stays on the path that it’s intended to.”
Which leads to a key learning lesson Cust witnessed over the course of his career: “You have to make sure that when you’re trying to make a decision that you get all of the accurate information that you can,” said Cust. “Make sure that [the decision] is assessed properly. You can’t make or assess a decision correctly unless you have the correct facts.”
Cust follows this practice when discussing changes to either HealthQuest, Diamond Nation or any other business. “You need to be willing to make adjustments because whether it’s something that gets outdated or a trend that changes, you need to be able to change to stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “We try to consistently evaluate things and are willing to make those changes — that’s what helped us out and that’s what I’ve learned to do over the years.”
Recently, Cust evaluated HealthQuest’s facilities, and came to the conclusion the club was due for a $3 million renovation. “Our vision is to continue to make HealthQuest a very enjoyable club to workout in for the family,” he said. “We want to make sure we do upgrades wherever we have to do them. We want to make sure that when people come there, everyday, it’s always presented as a place for them to enjoy.”
According to Cust, HealthQuest and Diamond Nation make for two powerful organizations that feed into each other in mutually beneficial ways. “They complement each other beautifully,” he said. “A lot of our athletes train at HealthQuest. So the synergies, especially with them being very close in proximity, work hand in hand. People play a game or practice and [go to HealthQuest] to workout, and they can get a lot of things accomplished in a pretty efficient manner.”
Cust explained there are also synergies between his backgrounds in baseball and business. “There are so many things that transcend from baseball into business and life in general,” he said. “You need teamwork, you need to be able to communicate, you need to be able to work together — you need to be able to do a lot of things to accomplish a goal. Many of the attributes that you need to be successful in baseball, you need to be successful in anything that you’re doing.”
With HealthQuest and Diamond Nation’s successes and impact on not only Flemington, but the Northeast as a whole, it’s evident this philosophy has paid off. Therefore, it will be no surprise when Cust rounds the bases and proceeds to hit another home run.
By Rachel Zabonick