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Cover Story In Print

VASA’s Approach to Uplifting Fitness

Vasa Fitness Executive Team

VASA Fitness was founded in 2014 on the concept of bringing people together to get fit, connect on a personal level and most importantly, have fun. 

Today, the brand is achieving these goals across its 40 clubs in Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Arizona and Oklahoma, supported by an uplifting culture at the corporate and club levels that differentiates it from others in the high-value, low-price (HVLP) category. 

“VASA’s mission is to uplift and improve its members’ and employees’ lives through fun and happy fitness,” said Mindi Bridges, the brand’s chief marketing officer. “This focus on culture is at the forefront of everything VASA does.” 

How is this uplifting culture achieved? Through an emphasis on accessibility and community that is the direct result of an evolved HVLP model, and a dedicated and passionate executive team committed to innovation. 

An Emphasis on Accessibility: HVLP 3.0 

Although VASA as it’s known today was founded in 2014, the brand originated under the Gold’s Gym name. As more and more HVLP brands began entering the marketplace, the company’s leadership team sensed an opportunity. 

Between 2014 and 2015, the franchise group received investment from Silver Oak Services Partners, allowing it to rebrand from Gold’s Gym to VASA Fitness and transition to the HVLP business model. 

According to Rich Nelsen, the CEO of VASA, the move was risky, but ultimately fruitful. 

“A change in brand is very risky, and for us it turned out well,” said Nelsen. “It allowed us to change the pricing model and we became very busy overnight. Maintaining the experience we’d had since the beginning was certainly a challenge, as we had all these new members, but we’ve performed against it.” 

Since 2014, the brand has gone through several iterations of the HVLP model, gradually increasing the size of its clubs and offerings. Today’s VASA gyms are operating under the HVLP 3.0 model — characterized by affordable price points, expansive facilities and robust fitness offerings. 

The HVLP 3.0 model boasts a “mall of fitness” approach to club design that offers members a variety of amenities — such as basketball, racquetball, KidCare, functional training, pools, studio programming and more — to achieve their fitness goals, from beginners to fitness enthusiasts. 

“Every area in VASA locations has a purpose,” explained Bridges. “We want to make sure our employees and members understand the value each area can bring to their fitness journey. These value propositions act as a baseline for how every area in the gym should feel.”

Bridges explained the brand’s goal is to “uplift” its members by providing them with a place where they can get fit and be part of a community. Therefore, every inch of VASA’s locations, which are typically 60,000 square feet in size, exists to motivate and help people feel inspired.

In a country like the U.S., which faces increasing reports of obesity and loneliness, places where members can seek connection and community are more important than ever. 

“With the rates of obesity and loneliness growing in America, we think it’s really important to give people a place where they can come — that they can afford — to get fit and make connections,” said Bridges. “It’s a well-known fact that having a workout buddy or a community of people to work out with makes it much more likely you’re going to stick to your exercise routine.” 

Ultimately, the evolved HVLP 3.0 model stems from VASA’s commitment to accessibility. By providing robust fitness offerings for an affordable price, the brand can have a greater impact on the health of its communities as a result. 

“VASA is in the business of building communities and to achieve this, we make fitness accessible with an entry-level, $9.99-per-month membership, but we also count on our members to use our clubs,” added Bridges. “VASA’s goal is to drive daily usage, and we are constantly looking at ways to get people into our clubs so we can provide great experiences to make our communities healthier.”

From the Top Down 

Another factor differentiating VASA from other HVLP brands is its leadership team, boasting men and women with a variety of backgrounds and expertise, versus strictly fitness veterans. 

According to Bridges, this is a direct result of the brand’s acquisition of Nelsen as CEO. 

“Hiring Rich Nelsen was a critical turning point for VASA,” explained Bridges. “One of Rich’s strengths is surrounding himself with people who are not only experts in their fields, but also passionate about making a difference. The executive team he has built over the past 18 months is a testament to his leadership style and sets VASA apart from the rest with a talented and diverse group of C-level executives.”

These varied experiences and backgrounds have culminated in an executive team that’s open to different perspectives, and as a result, is extremely innovative when it comes to creating the absolute best product for members. 

For evidence of this, look no further than the brand’s proprietary studio fitness programming: Studio Cycle, a premium indoor cycling experience, and Studio Red, a high-intensity small group offering. 

Under the direction of Doris Thews, the senior vice president of fitness and innovation for VASA and IDEA’s Fitness Instructor of the Year for 2019, the brand has been able to offer unique studio experiences that rival that of boutiques — all for an affordable price.  

“Studio fitness is the No. 1 growth area for us, and we’re rolling out Studio Cycle and Studio Red in all of our locations to take advantage of this fitness trend,” said Thews. “Our studio classes feature red lights, high-energy music, state-of-the-art equipment, high-end branding and club design, and certified high-energy coaches to create a fun and inclusive atmosphere. All of our studio classes include cutting-edge, technology-based programming that’s exclusive to VASA.” 

This is where the innovation part comes into play, through the incorporation of performance-based technologies, like Myzone, that motivate and inspire participants — and ultimately, create community. 

“The bottom line is we’re tapping into measurement to motivate people,” said Thews. “We use technology to show performance and create a little friendly competition. But most of all, we’re using technology to create community, and that’s where our studio experience is exceptional.”

According to Thews, these unique studio experiences and innovative offerings are possible because Nelsen has allowed her to have a voice as a member of the executive team — a situation not always afforded to high-level fitness leaders. 

“I’m on the executive leadership team, which means fitness is literally at the table,” said Thews. “You have so much diversity, and the fact our CEO recognizes that the people making the product need to be at the table in all the decisions — it’s phenomenal.”

The Result

Passionate executives like Thews, paired with an evolved HVLP 3.0 model, are paying off for VASA. Over the past year, the brand’s membership growth number has jumped by 40%, and it has doubled its number of employees.

“We’re really proud of this and believe it’s because we give people the opportunity to grow their careers, and we believe we have the most talented and diverse leadership team in the industry,” said Nelsen. “Many of our team members started out as members and we love this because it really creates a sense of community.”

The brand has grown the number of clubs from 27 to 40 since 2017, with more growth on the horizon. “We are planning to continue our rapid expansion through 2019 and beyond with five new clubs to be added by the end of 2019,” added Nelsen. 

Along with growth, creating fun and uplifting experiences for both members and employees will remain a top priority.

“I think we have to continue to grow big and stay small,” said Nelsen. “We have to continue to operate as an innovative, entrepreneurial company that learns from its mistakes and applies those learnings against the future.”  

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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  1. Ky Resh July 6, 2020

    I love vasa. When i go i feel inspired because everyone else is working hard. The staff is reall positive.

  2. Thomas Bastian October 28, 2021

    Vasa, like Planet Fitness and a few other clubs has allowed the financial part of the equation to overshadow all else. If you google reviews about Vasa or Planet Fitness, it’s all about collection practices. Cancelation issues. How hard it is to cancel a membership. Rarely do you see a positive review of the clubs themselves. Sad, but whenever we put financials above positive experiences we are doomed to fail.


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