Little Town, Big Club
Portland, home to roughly 640,000 people, is where you’d expect all the best health clubs to be in Oregon. If not there, you might check Salem, with roughly 167,000 people, or even Bend, with 91,000 people.
One of the state’s best health clubs, however, is a little off the beaten path.
If you were to travel 22 miles northwest from Bend, up Highway 20, you’d come across Sisters, Oregon. It’s a small town with a lot of personality and a population of just 2,038.
A lot of that personality is owed to the presence of Sisters Athletic Club, one of the premier clubs in the country, and winner of The Outstanding Community Service Award for IHRSA 2018.
“We started off in a small rental to build up the clientele and see if my grandiose ideas would actually work in such a small town, and luckily, they did,” said Tate Metcalf, the owner of Sisters Athletic Club. “The town embraced us, and we embraced the town. From there, we opened up what is currently Sisters Athletic Club. We built it on what we thought are the needs of the community.”
After 10 years at the Athletic Club of Bend in Bend, Oregon, Metcalf and his wife decided to strike out on their own, and the results have been staggering. Offering an abundance of aquatics programming, mind/body classes and strength conditioning, Sisters has carved out a place as a staple of the community and beyond.
“The population is 2,038 people — we have 1,900 members,” said Metcalf. “Obviously, we reach beyond the city limit.”
In a small town, businesses are built on trust, and Sisters has certainly earned the trust of its local patrons. The club built this trust by valuing the treatment of its members and its staff above everything else.
“We don’t issue membership cards — from day one, we have to learn everyone’s name,” said Metcalf. “It’s that important to us. We work incredibly hard at knowing everyone when they walk through the door.”
Operating in a such a small town has proven to be a benefit to Sisters and certainly has a Mayberry kind of charm to it, but doing so doesn’t come without its share of challenges.
“The challenge is we don’t have the population base like a big city, so if we lose one, that hurts us a lot,” said Metcalf. “Every month, if we lose 10 memberships, that’s a lot to us.”
Metcalf also discovered shortly after moving to Sisters that finding the right employees would be difficult. “The other really big challenge for me is staffing,” he said. “I’d love to get super creative with some [trending] group classes. We just don’t have the population base to find those really quality people who are certified and can teach a great class — they’re just not available in smaller towns.”
In spite of these challenges, however, Metcalf and Sisters Athletic Club have flourished, becoming an essential piece of the community. At the core of the club’s existence is its commitment to community service and the importance of giving back.
“I think it’s a good business practice and probably a morally good practice to live by, helping those in need,” said Metcalf. “We do something cool where anyone over the age of 90 gets a free membership here. Surprisingly, we have six members over 90 who come in on a consistent basis, and man, talk about inspiration.”
Between being involved in and hosting various fundraisers in the community as well as sponsoring community events, Sisters also makes sure to provide assistance to those with medical issues.
“If someone is referred from any physical therapist or doctor locally, we give them 30 days free to come in and continue their rehab,” said Metcalf. “We feel it’s our duty to help people carry their rehab through a little bit further.”
This commitment to being more than just a health club to the community is what has driven the success of Sisters Athletic Club in a small town where a health club wouldn’t be expected to succeed.
“We have two mantras,” said Metcalf. “One is ‘know everyone by name’ and the other is ‘we’re always cleaning.’ I think those are the two hallmarks for a successful club, and having that personal connection.”
Staying true to its values is what sets Sisters Athletic Club apart in the state of Oregon. It would make a trip to a small town of 2,038 people well worth your time.
“I’m pretty confident there’s not another club like us,” said Metcalf. “In a town of 2,000 people, you’re typically going to throw up the cheapest building you can and just scrape by. We took a bolder approach of trying to be high quality, almost be a big city club in a really small town.”