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In Sync with Francesca Schuler


To be a successful rower — or “crew” member — there are a variety of qualities an athlete must possess: strength, stamina and a competitive streak, to name a few.

Most importantly, they must be a team player.

“When you row, when you’re in a boat with eight other people, if one person is out of sync — it doesn’t totally work,” said Francesca Schuler, who was on the crew team in college. “But when everyone is in sync, there’s literally no better experience.”

Today, Schuler draws on her time as a rower in her current role as CEO of In-Shape Health Clubs, a fitness brand with 67 locations in California. “I think that notion of working together is absolutely something I’ve taken with me throughout my career,” she said.

Schuler joined In-Shape as chief marketing officer in 2015, and was promoted to chief operations officer in April 2017, before being named CEO in March 2018.   

Prior to In-Shape, Schuler served in leadership roles at a number of lifestyle companies including BevMo! — a specialty beverage retailer — The Gap, Method Products, and Treasury Wine Estates Americas, where she managed a wine portfolio of 50-plus brands. 

While Schuler found each of these experiences rewarding, she ultimately strove to work for a company that had a lasting impact on customers’ lives, and where she could combine her passions for developing people, creating engaging experiences, driving performance and living a healthy lifestyle.

“As a mom of two teenagers who are both athletes and having been an athlete myself, fitness provides such a great foundation for confidence and community,” said Schuler. “The idea of having a role where I could focus on creating places where people could find this confidence and community was inspiring.”

In-Shape provided the perfect opportunity for Schuler to have those desires fulfilled. “The opportunity to join this team, bring some new thinking from outside the category and combine it with the existing knowledge was exciting,” said Schuler.

Currently, Schuler and her team are driven by a relentless focus to fulfill In-Shape’s mission to create places of belonging and connection that motivate each location’s communities to be healthy, fit and happy.

The keyword in this mission is “motivate,” which Schuler acknowledged is a key struggle for many members. As a result, finding ways in which to motivate and engage members — and keep them in a state of positive momentum — is a key focus for the fitness brand.

This starts, first and foremost, with creating a sense of community, achieved through events like family fitness nights, swim parties, member appreciation days and even a dance-based summer workout series called Hot Dance Nights.

In addition, a member engagement program called “Workout and Win” plays a key role by rewarding members with gifts such as water bottles, T-shirts and gym bags for visiting the club and using its services.

Innovation in programming is also vital to sustaining motivation. As a result, In-Shape consistently introduces new classes and programs that keep things fresh for members.

Motivation and engagement are a continual process, said Schuler. “It’s every minute of every day,” she explained. “It’s how you say hello to people when they walk in, it’s how you say goodbye, it’s picking up weights in the weight room, it’s creating an event that’s relevant to a member. We are relentless in our focus of thinking of little and big things that can keep our members motivated, so they come back.”

And even small things — such as a motivational sign members see as they exit the club that says, “Thank you from your body” — can have a big impact. “It’s such a silly little thing, but it actually puts a smile on everyone’s face when they’re walking out,” added Schuler.

According to Kris Mulkey, the vice president of marketing at In-Shape, the brand’s emphasis on motivating and engaging members has created a positive culture that’s noticeably felt.

“My favorite part of the job is knowing what we are doing is changing people’s lives for the better,” said Mulkey. “In my career, I’ve never worked for a company where we’ve had such a profound impact on someone’s health and happiness. It’s inspiring.”

In addition, Mulkey credited the team’s willingness to think outside the box and do whatever it takes to make members happy as an asset. “Our success is directly correlated to our vision and belief that we don’t have to follow traditions and the typical way of running a health club,” she said. “We can make up our own rules and be successful, and have happy and engaged members.”

Of course, In-Shape’s team is central to creating a sense of community and a connection in every interaction with members. As a result, Schuler emphasizes a “One Team” approach that breaks down silos between all departments, to ensure everyone is united in the goal to improve members’ lives.

“Breaking down traditional health club silos is one of the key things we are doing here at In-Shape,” explained Schuler. “Historically, there is always such a divide between personal training, group fitness, operations, the support center. At In-Shape, we want all of our team to reflect the In-Shape attitude, including being passionate and knowledgeable about fitness and helping our members.”

The advantage to the “One Team” approach is that it helps team members explore and learn about new career paths. In fact, a main focus at In-Shape is fostering an environment that treats health and fitness as a career versus just a job.

To achieve this goal, In-Shape has created clearly defined career paths that showcase exactly how an employee could move, for example, from the front desk to general manager down the road.

In addition, Schuler is an advocate for non-traditional career paths or rotating staff throughout different departments. A housekeeper could become a personal trainer, or a personal trainer could pursue a role in marketing.

“I don’t think your career is a vertical progression,” explained Schuler. “I think it’s very much like a spiderweb where you move laterally or diagonally or you try something new. Seeing those visible moves and seeing people be successful, people are now raising their hands and saying, ‘How could I have a career in marketing or human resources or operations or construction?’”

According to Jared Robertson, a regional director at In-Shape, creating career opportunities for staff is a great example of the people-first mentality Schuler emulates as a leader.

“Francesca is an extraordinary leader — she is a visionary but always puts people first,” explained Robertson. “She genuinely cares about her team members and the members at our clubs. She builds great teams and continues to invest in their learning and development.”

Just as Schuler’s time as a rower has influenced how she approaches teamwork and leadership at In-Shape, so have her experiences in other verticals, such as retail and wine.

The key takeaway from those prior roles, said Schuler, is an emphasis on decreasing the intimidation factor customers can feel when purchasing a product.

“When I worked in the wine business, for example, you’d have people who wanted to try a new wine but didn’t know anything about it, so they were self-conscious,” explained Schuler. “So we’d do wine tastings paired with a bit of education that include customers in a welcoming, non-intimidating way.”

At In-Shape, this approach takes the form of free demos or classes that introduce members to pieces of equipment or programming in an inviting manner.

In addition, the brand is cognizant of the language used on tours and in marketing pieces to ensure intimidation is a non-issue.

“I spend a lot of time asking, do you think a member really knows what that means? Do you think that’s making it approachable? Do you think that’s making it welcoming? Do you think that’s making it intuitive?” said Schuler. “When you’ve worked in a category, you don’t realize you’re being intimidating. Take it slow, invite them in and then teach them more.”

As Schuler nears the six-month mark of her tenure as CEO at In-Shape, she is excited for the opportunities that lay ahead.

The goal, said Schuler, is making In-Shape the very best health and fitness destination for members and their families. This involves making the fitness brand the very best place to work.

“It all starts with the people,” said Schuler. “If we can be the best place to work, we can deliver that amazing experience to our members. Ultimately, what makes In-Shape stand out is our people and how every team member in the company has one daily focus — to make a member’s day better.”

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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