Just like in the Wizard of Oz, there’s a man behind the scenes at New Evolution Ventures (NeV) who has been instrumental in making the company what it is today. When you pull back the curtain, that man is Mike Feeney, NeV’s executive vice president and partner.
Unlike the Wizard of Oz’s title character, Feeney keeps a much lower profile. “I’ve always been the guy in the background,” he said. “Mark [Mastrov] and Jim [Rowley] are definitely the guys out in front of our company that get their pictures taken and are in the industry articles.”
Feeney is fine with this dynamic. “I do what I do on my side of the business, and when it’s done, I’m happy with what I’ve done,” he said. “I can then go on to the next project.”
The projects Feeney is responsible for span from club design to construction for multiple brands in the NeV portfolio, including Crunch Fitness, UFC Gym, Energy Fitness Alex Rodriguez, Hard Candy Fitness, Energy Fitness Chile, Steve Nash Fitness World and Yogaworks. He oversees facility planning, design, construction and asset purchasing for NeV’s subsidiaries and affiliates. In addition, he brings concepts and prototypes to fruition, sets design standards, is in charge of capital budgeting and more.
Essentially, his hats are many. In each role he has garnered a great level of respect.
Unlike the wizard of Oz, Feeney’s talents are much more than simply smoke and mirrors. His keen attention to members, ability to build long-lasting relationships with vendors and impressive work ethic further the distance between Feeney and a disconnected wizard.
The Member Advocate
According to Adam Sedlack, the president of UFC Gym, Feeney’s focus on the members is a stand-out quality that has helped NeV’s brands become what they are today.
“Mike has the ability to understand how to make a gym member-centric, while supporting the sales team with a gym that delivers the wow factor on all new sales tours,” said Sedlack. “He is able to deliver this support by the fact he spends more time in the field, in the clubs, talking with members and team members, with the end objective of staying ahead of all needs.”
When asked why he spends so much time on-site in the clubs he’s helped create, Feeney stated that if he didn’t need to have an office, he wouldn’t. “If I had it my way … I’d be in the clubs all the time,” he said. “The office is the worst place for me.”
This is because being on the fitness floor is the best way to get true member feedback, explained Feeney. “I go into a club as a member, I use a membership card, and I walk in and people don’t know who I am,” he said. “I just walk in and workout. You listen to other people because they’re going to say what they really feel. You’ll get more insight out of watching people in your clubs or on equipment than anywhere else.”
Even at trade shows, Feeney keeps an eye on how those in the industry experience a piece of cardio or strength equipment.
For example, Feeney recalled a time at IHRSA’s annual convention and trade show when he witnessed an industry professional struggle to get on and off a newly-released piece of equipment. “The sales guys came in a couple hours later and asked, ‘What did you think of our booth?’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll be honest with you: I’ll never buy that piece of equipment because no one knows how to use it.’”
The fact that industry veterans were struggling with the equipment was extremely revealing as to how the members would perceive it. “Every salesman wants to explain how to use a piece of equipment and the first thing out of my mouth is, ‘Please don’t tell me. Let me figure it out,’” said Feeney. “If I can’t figure it out, guess what: the members can’t figure it out.”
To Feeney, no other approach to equipping gyms is more important than keeping the member in mind. “I use [equipment] like a member,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The Vendor Whisperer
Feeney has also earned great respect in his relationships with industry vendors, which are nothing if not honest.
A few years ago, Billy Kim, the president of HOIST, asked NeV for its opinion on the company’s new ROC-IT line, which was in the development stages at the time. NeV sent Feeney.
“He basically butchered it,” recalled Kim. “He [told us], ‘I want to be able to walk into the club and see everything. [The line] is too high.’ He told us to cut it down, make it a little sexier. I think it took us about two months to make the changes … and [the line has] been our biggest hit.”
Feeney feels as if it’s his duty to give his true opinion when asked for it. “The relationship that all of us have with the manufacturers has got to be a win-win,” he said. “If I spend time with a manufacturer and they build a good product, it helps everybody.”
Feeney explained the HOIST ROC-IT line is a perfect example of this mutually beneficial relationship. “It’s a good product and they sell a lot of it, but it’s a benefit to the members [as well],” he said. “When you go into a club and somebody uses it, they smile when they get off of it or they almost laugh because they’re having fun. It’s a fun workout with good movements.”
Dennis Lee, the CEO and president of Octane Fitness, said he loves Feeney’s candor. “As a manufacturer, I really appreciate Mike because he takes the time to help create something that’s going to be great for him as a club and great for us a manufacturer,” he said. “He contributes to the process so we’re both beneficiaries.”
In fact, Feeney does a product review with Octane Fitness each year. “So whatever we have in our pipeline, we run him through it,” said Lee. “These products have come to market and they all have Mike’s wisdom put into it, way back in the design stage. The last few projects we’ve come out with, whether it’s LateralX, Zero Runner or XT-ONE — all of those products have some Mike Feeney DNA in them.”
“He has a work ethic that puts the Amish to shame and he is constantly driving to be the best,” said Kevin Einck, the vice president of key accounts for Star Trac.
Einck explained that many industry veterans become stagnant after being in the industry for a certain amount of time, refusing to step outside of their comfort zone. In his experience, that hasn’t been the case with Feeney. “Mike is constantly evolving, which is great,” said Einck. “I think his work ethic, his quest for knowledge and information, is unprecedented.”
To Feeney, there’s no other way to do business. “It’s kind of my style of management,” he said. “I won’t ask anyone who works for me or with me to do anything I won’t do myself.”
A prime example of Feeney’s work ethic occurred in 1999, when 24 Hour Fitness was renovating one of its first locations, and things were running a bit behind schedule. The grand re-opening was scheduled for 5 p.m., and things just weren’t coming together.
“It was one of those jobs where anything and everything that could go wrong, was,” recalled Dominic Simonetti, the CEO of Mass Movement. “Trucks were late, equipment wasn’t showing up.”
According to Simonetti, instead of panicking, Feeney stayed calm and collected, doing whatever it took to get the job done. “He never worried, he just worked harder and made sure all of the holes in the dam were plugged,” he said. “At about 4:59 there was a line of people outside of the door, including the owners … and everything came together literally at the last moment. Mike just had a smile on his face the entire day and was just absolutely unflappable.”
To this day, Simonetti said Feeney hasn’t changed. “He is still hands on and heavily involved,” he said. “He’s really a joy to be around on a project because he is friendly with all of the rank and file. He doesn’t consider himself any better or more important than the people that are actually bringing in the equipment and moving everything around. He’s just a joy to have onsite ’cause he’s just a regular guy.”
Although Feeney didn’t enter the industry on a hot air balloon, he has still made a major impact on the brands he works on and those he works closest with.
At the end of the day, that wouldn’t be possible without Feeney’s three strengths that constantly come to the forefront: his member-centric attitude, solid relationship with vendors and strong work ethic.
A love for the industry doesn’t hurt. “My wife says I’ll never retire,” said Feeney.