During the construction phase of Stafford Hills Club in Tualatin, Oregon, founders Jim and Marla Zupancic hit a roadblock in the club’s development. But it had nothing to do with the construction of the building. It had to do with Jim’s health.
In 2011, Jim suffered a heart attack. He had a 99 percent blockage in his lateral descending artery, nick-named the “widow-maker” by physicians. He fought through several surgeries and ultimately had five stents inserted in arteries surrounding his heart.
With Jim’s health at the forefront, the Zupancic family had to make a decision: Should they continue to pursue the construction of Stafford Hills Club, or postpone the project?
Stafford Hills Club was a dream of Jim and Marla’s. The couple had wanted to establish a club that could serve as a family-friendly place where community members could stay active, come together and have fun.
Ultimately, the Zupancics decided that dream couldn’t be threatened. So they decided to move forward with the project, with help from Jim and Marla’s fourth child —of five — Evan.
“I was living in San Diego at the time and it was all the reason I needed to start making plans to move back to Oregon and help out,” said Evan. “Initially, I did not know my involvement in the club, but after a short while I knew they needed my presence and help more than I had originally planned.”
With Evan’s support, Stafford Hills Club was completed and opened its doors in December 2012. What was once a rugged piece of land was transformed into a world-class campus featuring a resort-style outdoor pool and aquatics center, seven indoor and three outdoor tennis courts, and one of only a handful LEED-certified health clubs on the West Coast.
When Evan first began helping out at Stafford Hills Club, he wasn’t sure exactly what his role would be. But he soon became more and more involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, and was presented the opportunity to become COO.
“It is a blessing beyond description to have a son, or any child, unselfishly come home to help family in time of need — and Evan answered the call willingly,” said Jim.
Under Evan’s management, and Jim and Marla’s guidance, Stafford Hills Club has established itself as a cornerstone of the Tualatin community. Beyond amazing facilities, the club’s key differentiators are its culture, excellent staff and tight-knit relationships among employees and members.
Jim used the passing of a Stafford Hills Club member as an example of this culture. “We had one of our members pass away from cancer a couple of years ago, and the entire club grieved because of the relationship that we had with this particular person and their family,” he said. “We feel it is such a close-knit group of people and that we are truly a community that cares about one another. That’s what makes us much different than a lot of other places that don’t have the personal connection with people.”
The foundation to Stafford Hills Club’s differentiators is the club’s five-point pledge — a commitment to the principles of support, honesty, cleanliness, respect and improvement. The pledge serves as the compass for all decisions made concerning the facility, and originated from the Zupancic’s personal family values.
“One of the things we’ve always felt as a family was being very clear about who you are and what you stand for,” said Jim. “We raised our family that way and have always felt that way in business, too. When we started Stafford Hills Club, one of the first things we did was we wanted to make sure everybody knew that this is who we are, and this is what we stand for.”
The pledge is displayed on the club’s walls and is ingrained into the club’s culture through employee onboarding and continuous training.
To further reinforce the five-point pledge, in 2016 Stafford Hills Club launched Stafford Hills University, an in-house leadership institute taught by Jim. The class is voluntary, and provides an opportunity for club management to learn about the importance of the five-point pledge and hone their leadership skills.
“We are creating leaders within our organization and asking them to use these principles within the organization, which basically helps us establish a very strong culture,” said Jim. “If there’s one thing I have learned throughout the years, it is a responsibility of my generation to pass on to the younger generation some of the things I have learned along the way about leadership.”
A great example of the five-point pledge in action is Stafford Hills Club’s “Make it Right” campaign. If a member is unhappy or in need of support in any way, each employee is empowered and encouraged to find opportunities to give members a positive experience and outcome.
“It gives our employees the opportunity to take each situation and make it right for the individual member or guest,” explained Evan. “We don’t hold them to any limitations when it comes to making it right for our guests and members. Because of that, they feel empowered to make a good and right decision. Therefore, they feel supported. That support helps with the culture overall.”
Kelsey Hofmeister, the director of business at Stafford Hills Club, testified the impact this empowerment has had on the club’s culture. “The creativity is very organic and has allowed the employees to feel like they have some real ownership in how they do their job,” she said.
Another example of Stafford Hills Club’s five-point pledge, particularly the commitment to improvement, is the recent development of the new XCEL Performance Training area. Featuring Queenax equipment from Precor, it will serve as the primary space for small group training.
“We believe small group training is the future of personal training,” said Evan. “Queenax is a wonderful and versatile piece of equipment. It allows the instructor or trainer to change their modes of training in a snap of a finger. It is built on quick transition and creating the most out of the space you have.”
To further enhance the member’s experience in the XCEL Performance Training space and other areas of the club, Stafford Hills Club recently invested in the MYZONE heart-rate system. According to Evan, this will allow trainers to provide deeper insights into their client’s training, furthering their results.
Because Stafford Hills Club is independently owned, Evan explained making the investments the club requires, and empowering staff to make key decisions, is easier than if the club was beholden to investors.
“I think Portlanders and the local community seek after independently owned businesses,” said Evan. “It’s something about Portland — the local stores, the farm-to-table restaurants, the microbreweries; rather than large chain companies. It’s something we are proud of and it has definitely helped us, because when it comes time to make critical decisions, we have the flexibility and the autonomy to make rapid and meaningful decisions.”
With autonomy, a great culture and stellar staff, Evan believes Stafford Hills Club is well suited to continue to build on the strong foundation it has already established in Tualatin.
Of course, this independently-owned business would not be possible without founders Jim and Marla. At the end of the day, their dream for Stafford Hills Club was to create a place where like-minded people could come together and get the support they needed to achieve their goals. Through the encouragement and help of family, four years after the doors opened, that dream has been realized.
“I’m so thankful that’s exactly what happened,” said Jim.