A young family in Sacramento, California, enters the doors at California Family Fitness (CFF) on a sunny, Saturday day.
First, the parents head to the Kidz Klub, where they drop off their two children —one 4 years old and the other 12. Looking at the gym’s child care activities schedule, they know exactly what their kids will be doing while they’re away. The youngest will participate in “Wiggle, Giggle and Shake,” an activity that uses music, creativity and play to introduce preschoolers to healthy, happy and active lifestyles. And the oldest will take part in FirstStep, where a certified personal trainer will teach him about proper weight training, nutrition and cardio exercise.
Their minds at ease, the two parents take off for their own activities. Mom runs to Body Fit, where a trainer puts her through a 45-minute small group workout. Meanwhile, Dad plays basketball with a group of friends he’s known since college.
About an hour later, the parents pick up their kids from Kidz Klub, but don’t leave the facility. Instead, they walk to the outdoor pool, where they spend another two hours relaxing, swimming and enjoying quality time together as a family.
This story paints a picture of CFF’s mission, which is to be California’s premier family fitness center, committed to providing members and employees of all ages a fun, friendly environment.
“We strive to provide a fun, family fitness solution with something for everyone,” said Randy Karr, the president of CFF. “The kids will be entertained in a safe, interactive environment with an emphasis on fitness, games, activities and programs. The parents can feel comfortable to go exercise and focus on their own needs, while their kids are having a great experience.”
CFF was created with families in mind in 1991 by co-founders Larry Gury and Russ Kuhn. The company grew one club per year until 2006, when the founders partnered with private equity firm Bunker Hill Capital.
According to Karr, this partnership brought several changes that ultimately formed the company that CFF is today. “We are more strategic in our thought process, better connected within the industry, and have all metrics identified and measured throughout the business,” said Karr.
Gury and Kuhn remained active in the business until January 2016, when the company was purchased by Perpetual Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount. After the sale, the patriarchs retired from CFF, leaving behind an impressive legacy made up of 19 fitness centers in the Sacramento, California area, with more than 1,000 employees and 100,000-plus members combined.
Karr explained the company’s reach in Sacramento is a part of its competitive advantage. “The number of clubs in the region is very convenient,” he said. “We are a full-service fitness solution, with a family focus.”
Although CFF was founded with an emphasis on the family unit, it offers something for all, including single adults. In fact, before Perpetual Capital Partners purchased the company, it did market research to determine the club’s makeup. It found that there were more memberships without kids, than with: 55 percent single memberships and 45 percent family memberships.
“It’s a friendly, fun, non-intimidating environment, and there really is something for everyone,” said Karr. “As long as you have offerings for [all ages], everybody is happy.”
CFF’s schedule of adult activities and programs is robust, including personal and small group training, swimming pools, basketball courts, and indoor fields for soccer, volleyball and football skills training. All 19 locations boast state-of-the art amenities, top-of-the-line cardio and strength equipment, and open spaces ideal for functional and sports-specific performance training.
In addition, the company takes pride in its group exercise classes, offering more than 1,600 classes per week company-wide. Although the schedule boasts a few licensed classes like Zumba and Lebert Fitness’ LaBarre, the backbone of the program is its “core” classes, designed by Group X director Melissa Thomas. The core classes offer everything from yoga, Pilates and dance to indoor cycling, kickboxing and Tabata bootcamp.
“I’ve always felt that we’re really lucky to have a company that supports our [Group X] program,” said Thomas. “CFF realizes we’re a huge part of retention, so because of that we’re able to run a big schedule and really meet the needs of a lot of different members.”
To determine what classes make it onto the schedule, Thomas relies on member feedback and data analysis. Through Listen360, a customer engagement software, CFF is able to survey, collect and analyze customer engagement and customer feedback in a variety of areas, including Group X. In addition, the company utilizes MotionVibe, an online platform that allows Thomas to post schedules and send instant notifications to members. It also provides insights into popular class times.
“We listen to our instructors and members,” said Thomas. “In some companies, not just in the fitness industry, you have people making decisions about programs who aren’t necessarily in the clubs all the time. CFF is really good about talking to the members, and listening to what the members want.”
CFF also takes pride in its personal and small group training programs, offering personalized coaching in fitness, running, triathlon, swimming, TRX and more.
According to Rob Kram, the director of fitness at CFF, in all of these endeavors education and science-based knowledge are weighed heavily. “One of the things that I love about CFF is that the emphasis on education and production are equal,” he said. “A lot of companies focus on the production of personal trainers selling sessions, but here the focus on education is just as important as production, and their pay scale is reflective of that. The trainers have to have a certain number of certifications, in addition to their production each month, in order to move up in pay scale.”
Company wide, CFF boasts more than 200 personal trainers and 300 instructors. Due to recent growth in membership, Kram explained the biggest challenge is finding both trainer and instructor talent to meet the needs of its customers.
“We’re at a situation where the growing number of members is disproportionately far greater than the growing number of trainers and fitness professionals that we have here in this marketplace,” explained Kram. “But it’s a welcome challenge to have.”
Like its adult programs, CFF’s youth offerings are also robust, accommodating kids from infants through pre-teens, with programs divided by age group. Employees in this department are CPR-certified and trained in the basics of child development.
An advantage CFF’s youth programs and childcare have over other clubs is the emphasis on engagement. According to Scott Hollitz, the company’s co-vice president of operations, parents trust in knowing their kids will participate in age-appropriate activities that entertain them, while simultaneously stimulating their minds and bodies.
“One of the things that’s important to us is that there’s not any downtime within the day,” said Hollitz. “It’s not just that we’re four walls with a playscape and video games — we have planned activities throughout the day that are posted within the locations and on our website. The parents can see, ‘For the next two hours, my kid is going to be involved in these activities,’ and they’re all set up age appropriately.”
CFF’s Kidz Klubs offer activities like arts and crafts, face painting, crab soccer, indoor play areas, kid-friendly boxing, basketball, air hockey, dodgeball, team-building exercises and more. In addition, the club plans special activities surrounding holidays. For example, this past Mother’s Day, staff worked with kids to plant flower pots, which they then wrapped and presented to the moms.
Parents Night Out, hosted once a month, is another popular activity. It gives parents the option of leaving their children at CFF for up to four hours, while they enjoy a dinner or movie.
Nick Gury, the co-vice president of operations at CFF, explained family activities can be expensive. As a result, the company has positioned itself as a valuable service by offering multiple activities and programs for kids and families to participate in, all for the price of a family membership.
“Retention is really big for our business, and our members need to see the value in what they’re paying for,” said Gury. “So it’s important for us to offer as many activities as possible. We would like members to be there for the whole day, open to close.”
At CFF, the emphasis on the family unit extends to employees. According to Karr, the company makes it a priority to hire from within, as well as ensure staff feel valued. For example, they recognize birthdays and milestones.
“I felt [appreciated] as an employee, and I continue to focus on that in my current role,” said Karr. “We want to make sure that everyone enjoys what they’re doing, because that really relates to the service that they provide for the members. At the end of the day, we care as much about them personally, what their goals and their aspirations are, as much as we do their role in the business.”
This year, CFF will celebrate 25 years in business. Looking toward the future, Karr hopes to welcome even more employees and members into the tight-knit family atmosphere the company has cultivated during its history.
“I want to make sure that people understand that whether locally or within the industry, we’re proud of the business that we run,” said Karr. “We’re very focused on the local communities that we serve. Our growth goal is to continue to add locations and start to move outside of the Sacramento, California, region, where we can offer the same kind of connection and service.”
Insight into the CFF Family:
Melissa Thomas, director of group exercise. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 18 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? I actually used to do sales for another company, and I decided that I didn’t want to work 15 hours a day when my son was little. I went back to teaching [Group X] at CFF. They support us having and doing things with our families, so that’s really allowed me to spend time with my son.
Tom Deimler, senior vice president of sales and marketing. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 7 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? I wanted to move to a growing company, so took advantage of the opportunity to join CFF. It’s really the team that I love. There’s a lot of longevity, which is unique in the health and fitness industry, in my opinion.
Rob Kram, director of fitness. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 1.5 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? I made the move 3,000 miles to come here because I saw they were doing something special. It’s a wonderful time in the history of CFF — we’re able to really have a significant impact on the communities that we serve.
Randy Karr, president. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 19 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? They approached me about actually running the whole club. It is fun, collaborative, innovative and we prefer to promote from within. The employees like their flexibility and that they have a voice in the organization.
Nick Gury, co-vice president of operations. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 21 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? I started back in the kid’s area at a very early stage, before it evolved into something much bigger. I fell in love with being around people all the time and realized, this is really neat to every day get to talk to new people and see everyone truly enjoy the gym.
Scott Hollitz, co-vice president of operations. How long have you been a part of the CFF family? 16 years. How did you get involved and what do you love most about your job? I completed an internship here for the university I attended, and I never left. I just fell in the love with the business. Every day is different. The people that we come across are fantastic — both the team that we work with and the members.