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In Print

The Houstonian Club: An Oasis in the City


Walking onto The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa’s campus is like stepping into a different world. 

Located in Houston, Texas — the fourth most populous city in America — the unique property serves as an oasis, where movers and shakers come to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. 

“The Houstonian was created by two visionaries, Jack Grayson and Tom Fatjo, in 1980,” explained Cher Harris. “They envisioned successful business men and women coming to The Houstonian to relax and learn how to develop their bodies and minds through wellness programming. At the time, this was an extremely novel concept.”

Although novel, the concept proved to have staying power. The Houstonian is on the cusp of celebrating 40 years in business thanks to a number of key differentiating factors, including its staff, location, dedication to constant improvement and unique position in the marketplace.  

These factors and more drew Harris to The Houstonian after a stint in campus recreation at Florida State University, Indiana University and the University of Florida. In November 2007, she accepted the position of fitness director for The Houstonian Club, and seven months later was promoted to assistant general manager. 

In 2017, Harris was named general manager of The Houstonian Club, and now serves as the first female general manager since the club opened in 1980. 

“I’m proud to be a leader of The Houstonian because it’s such a prestigious and well-known property, and because of our people we work with and the members we serve,” said Harris. “That makes it special first and foremost.” 

In fact, of the key differentiators previously mentioned, Harris considers The Houstonian Club’s people, or employees, to be one of its greatest assets in achieving lasting success. 

“Our club has a very high employee retention rate compared to any of our competition,” explained Harris. “Our work culture and employee benefits are considered the best in our industry.” 

Employee benefits at The Houstonian range from vision and medical to dental and 401Ks with 6% matching, in addition to out-of-the-box bonuses like college scholarships and subsidized dining privileges in the employee cafeteria. 

Tenured staff also earn up to four weeks of paid vacation, plus nine paid holidays and a handful of sick and personal days, in addition to a $500 educational benefit that can be put toward their continuing education. 

“Happy employees treat our customers with amazing experiences,” said Harris. 

And ultimately, providing members with an amazing experience is the top priority at The Houstonian Club. Being located on campus with a four-star hotel and spa, the fitness arm strives to maintain similar hospitality and service standards. 

“We have the benefit of having a hotel and a spa that work to achieve a Forbes five-star rating every year,” explained Harris. “We developed our own standards that were applicable to the club, to provide similar service and hospitality to that of the hotel and spa.” 

These standards extend to how The Houstonian Club’s staff answer the phones, uniform requirements, how members are greeted, the way towels are folded and more.  

According to Harris, it all comes down to the details. “For us it’s about the people we have, the experts we have, and the service we provide everyone,” she said. “Anyone can have a great facility, but it’s the people that count.”

Another key differentiator for The Houstonian Club is its location in the city of Houston, centered on 27 serene wooded acres.  

According to Kelley Bettis, the assistant general manager for The Houstonian Club, although the campus is within city limits, the unique setting provides a true refuge for members. 

“We’re definitely a destination facility where people want to come and stay for a period of time,” said Bettis. “They come here to escape from the hectic pace of the city, and the environment is something you would never expect in a city like Houston. It’s not a ‘park your car, run in, workout and leave’ experience. It’s a destination that becomes a very important part of their day and overall lifestyle.”

This leisurely vibe has led to members forming long-standing friendships with both members and staff as they chat over a cup of coffee, lounge by the pool or take an indoor cycling class

“I would say we’re not just a fitness club,” added Harris. “The members want to be with people like themselves who are successful in business, who they can network with. You can ride a bike next to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company in a comfortable, relaxed environment and strike up a conversation. You can’t do that anywhere else. A lot of members tell us their membership pays for itself because of the relationships they’ve built here.”

Ultimately, these relationships provide The Houstonian Club with its true value — a value that has continued to grow over time. 

“When we opened the club the initiation fee was $3,750,” said Harris. “Today that membership is $29,500 and has only increased over the years.” 

Another factor contributing to The Houstonian’s staying power is its affinity for continuous improvement. According to Colleen Kennedy, the club sales director, the company’s owner is committed to enhancing the campus year after year through capital upgrades and the implementation of new ideas. 

“The owner encourages us to travel to see other places and bring back the best of the best,” said Kennedy. “The property always feels fresh, and our ideas are consistently heard and implemented. That embracing of continuous improvement is pretty special, and part of the reason why staff stay for so long.” 

A great example is The Houstonian’s pending $60 million renovation — $18 million of which will be dedicated to The Houstonian Club specifically. 

The three-phase project will kick-off in January 2020 and result in complete renovations of the hotel, club and spa. In addition, a new indoor and outdoor full-service restaurant will be added to the property, among other capital improvements. 

According to Bettis, the project will further enhance The Houstonian Club’s ability to forge relationships among members, by creating a more open environment and spaces for socializing.

“We were lacking in spaces for people to socialize and gather,” explained Bettis. “It will be wonderful to reward members with spectacular places for them to just be together.”

Regardless of the scope, any successful renovation or implementation of change requires a clear vision from leadership. The Houstonian Club is no different. 

According to Kennedy, as general manager, Harris serves as a guiding light for The Houstonian Club, both in setting the example and garnering support from staff to implement changes that will benefit the organization as a whole. 

“She’s very visionary,” said Kennedy. “She’s thinking two steps ahead all the time.” 

As an example, Kennedy shared that recently, Harris made the decision to no longer offer bottled water on The Houstonian Club’s campus in an effort to be more sustainable. At the time, the organization had been offering around 4,800 bottles of water per month. 

“We had bottled water for years, and we knew we were going to get hit pretty hard from the membership — but Cher felt very strongly it was the right move to make,” explained Kennedy. “She educated all of us about the why behind the change, gave us talking points to use in discussions with members, and ensured we were committed to knocking it out and getting it done. She’s not afraid to tackle those challenges. She’s our fearless leader.” 

Harris views this win as a team effort, stating that implementing change wouldn’t be possible without the support of leaders like Kennedy and Bettis. 

“It helps to have leaders with me when I make those tough decisions,” said Harris. “It is all about teamwork.” 

Ultimately, this foundation in teamwork will be vital as The Houstonian celebrates its 40th anniversary in January 2020, and kick-offs a renovation that will carry the brand into the future. 

“From the vision of our founders to the vision of our current ownership, The Houstonian is really a business that has continued to thrive and be successful,” said Harris. “The best is yet to come.” 

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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