Ask the Expert: Greta Wagner on Growth

This month we spoke with the executive director and executive vice president at Chelsea Piers Connecticut about growth.

Chelsea Piers has grown a lot since it was founded — what are the biggest keys to success?  

GW: The principal owners of Chelsea Piers had a strong vision and mission when the first Chelsea Piers was built in 1995, which involved teaching children through sports and helping individuals young and old live a better life through sports and fitness. Keeping that vision and mission at the forefront of everything we do has kept us on track. Other keys to our success have included creating and sustaining a positive company culture filled with smart people who care about what they do and each other, and never forgetting why we’re here. Our top consideration in every business decision is “how will this help or affect our members and staff?

What are the biggest challenges to growth you’ve had to overcome? And how are you overcoming those challenges? 

GW: Competition is the biggest challenge. We just built a 3,000-square-foot Ninja and Parkour gym and right before we opened, we found out another gym was moving into the area. Competition provides the greatest incentive and inspiration to be the best.

Blending tenured employees with institutional knowledge and new employees that bring fresh or new ideas and perspectives can also be challenging. Communication, respect and an appreciation for each individual team member’s talents and contributions is the key to ensuring productive, positive organizational change and growth.

How important are strong systems and processes when seeking to grow? 

GW: Strong operational systems are the key to success. You don’t want systems that need constant tinkering, or that are unintelligible to everyone but a few, or dependent on one person. You need processes that are sustainable and supportive of your growth objectives. Members expect a consistently positive experience with respect to facilities, programs and customer service. You can’t achieve excellence consistently without good systems in place.

What are some tips you can share for growing sustainably?

GW: Write a business plan for the expansion and stick to the plan. Don’t depend on your existing business to fund a new location or expansion — have enough capital on hand. You can’t do everything yourself. People will share their expertise or experiences — you can learn from their failures and successes. Listen to what your members are asking for. Lastly, work hard and have fun.  

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