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Ahead of the Curve

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Technology

Travis Shannon’s love for technology started at an early age. As a teenager, he began tinkering with computers, a passionate hobby he discovered alongside some of his closest friends.

Naturally, Shannon chose to pursue this passion in college, earning degrees in biochemistry and computer science from Hobart College. Around this time, the dot-com bubble hit, jump-starting the growth of the Internet sector and related fields.

As a result, Shannon chose to focus more on the technology side of his education, versus science. “And that’s the path I’ve been following ever since,” he said.

In 2005, Shannon took his interest in technology further by earning an MBA from Babson. He explained earning this allowed him to better align technology with business, and understand what the strategic implications of that alignment could be.

That decision proved to be integral to where Shannon is today, as the vice president of information for Leisure Sports. There, he drives the strategic use of technology at the company, a position that not all health club companies boast.

According to Shannon, this gives Leisure Sports some strategic advantage. “It does allow us the ability to play around with different types of technology, to try things out, maybe go a different direction,” he said. “I think it does keep us a little bit ahead of the curve.”

Shannon and his tech department are working on a number of key technology innovations to keep Leisure Sports on the cutting edge. Currently, wearables such as MYZONE are a key focus, in addition to redesigning websites for better user interactivity.

But not everything tech-focused is “sexy,” said Shannon. For example, his job also involves figuring out how to bring reliable and fast WiFi into older buildings.

“Infrastructure makes the world go around,” said Shannon. “We’ve had [one club] for 40 years, well before anyone even thought of [WiFi]. So getting the new fiber in there [for WiFi and cable] through a large parking lot is sometimes difficult. But we’re really trying to get an infrastructure that will get us through the next 10 years, as everybody keeps wanting newer, better, faster access to entertainment.”

Ultimately, herein lies the dilemma — technology has proven it’s here to stay, but in what form? What technology should you make an investment in, and which should you overlook as a fad?

For Shannon, any technology that allows Leisure Sports to better communicate and interact with its members is worth considering. “Some people want to be communicated with via text, some want email, some want a phone call,” he said. “We need to build in some of that ability to have the members choose certain things and the business adapt to interacting with them — whether it’s for a confirmation on a spa appointment or just for general communication.”

Other technology worth considering will also allow Leisure Sports the ability to better interact with, and attract, prospects. “With technology, there’s the ability to go beyond the brick and mortar, specifically to reach a segment of the population that might not have been inclined to join a fitness club before,” said Shannon.

“I think there’s also great opportunity to keep in touch with people as they go through their life,” he continued. “Not everybody stays a member their whole life. If we can use some bits of technology — whether it’s an app or wearables or just social interactions — to keep in touch with those individuals, so when they are able to come back into the fold, we’re there for them and it’s an easier transition.”

At the end of the day, Shannon hopes the health club industry continues to move forward in adopting, or at least considering, new technologies. In addition, he hopes to see it place a greater emphasis on the importance of positions like his.

“The head of the technology department can be a training ground for other positions, whether it’s operations or even CEO-level stuff, because it’s one of the few parts of the business that touches everything,” said Shannon. “The head of technology needs to know about everything, whether it’s accounting, operations or childcare. So you do start to see a lot of importance being placed on that position in companies, I think appropriately so. It would be great if we do get to a point where more companies in our industry do put people through the technology world, to gain a deeper understanding of how the business operates.”

With a person like Shannon at the helm of technology, it’s no wonder Leisure Sports has been able to stay on the cutting edge of everything that encompasses information and technology.

However, Leisure Sports hasn’t invested in Shannon or an IT department in order to be “cooler” than the other clubs in the market. The point is always to better communicate and interact with members.

“I think one of the keys for us in our industry is how do we tap into that and use that to help drive membership within the fitness industry,” said Shannon. “We should be about overall health and wellness goals for our members, whether they’re in our four walls or outside of our four walls.”

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Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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