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May 2022 Club of the Month, presented by ABC Fitness Solutions:

Powerhouse Gym, est. 1974

Powerhouse Gym is a worldwide, recognized brand founded in 1974 by brothers William and Norman Dabish. The health club chain, which began as a single inner-city establishment in Highland Park, Michigan, has grown into one of the world’s most well-known health club organizations. With 300 licenses in 39 states, Powerhouse has steadily gained global attention by expanding into 20 different countries worldwide. The headquarter office is located in Novi, Michigan. 

Here, Michael Dabish — the son of William Dabish — discusses the family legacy and what makes the Powerhouse name great.

How have you, as an industry leader, adapted to change?

My father, William, is the co-founder of Powerhouse Gym. He applied the same discipline and passion for his bodybuilding career as he did in growing Powerhouse. After graduating from Michigan State University, I knew I wanted to continue in his footsteps. In 2009, I began working at Powerhouse and learned all facets of the gym business, but my passion was in club operations. I started at a 15,000-square-foot gym in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and then took over our 70,000-square-foot flagship location in Novi, Michigan, complete with a swimming pool, racquetball, basketball, multi-group rooms, running track, etc. I currently oversee and run five of our 13 corporately owned clubs.

In my opinion, being a family-owned business is one of our biggest strengths as it allows us to communicate easily and adapt more quickly as trends change, which keeps us one step ahead of our competitors. Another advantage is we’re flexible and open to new ideas. We’re always striving to improve our clubs while not staying complacent.

Networking with hundreds of Powerhouse Gym owners worldwide and networking with multi-club operators all over the country allows us to keep a steady pulse on the industry and implement best practices. Keeping an open mind and being fluid while always striving to improve our clubs is key. Complacent clubs that get old and tired are the first to go down when competition enters the market. Many chains would rather open a new location than improve an existing one, but we take equal pride in improving existing gyms as we do in opening new ones.

Our industry is constantly changing, from adding open space for functional training to incorporating new technology, group fitness leaderboards and boutique concepts within our big boxes. We focus on one main item and execute it when adapting to change. You can have 10 things you want to improve and change, but you’re just spinning your wheels if you’re not executing them. The latest example of change was COVID, which affected and changed everything. I felt like we really went above and beyond in that difficult time. We were the first commercial clubs in Michigan to add AIRPHX Technology to all our clubs. AIRPHX is the world’s most effective and proven air and surface disinfectant technology. It ensures the air and surfaces are being scrubbed 24/7. On top of that, we added nanoseptic wraps in all high-traffic areas and electrostatic sprayers. We were heavily involved in forming the Michigan Fitness Club Association to lobby on the state level, with IHRSA lobbying on the federal level. Many owners learned quickly that most states had zero representation on the state level as an organized group lobbying their Governors to allow them to open.

You are in the process of giving the brand a refresh. What does the rebrand represent for Powerhouse Gym and the member experience?

To me, rebranding is sticking to our roots while changing the perception of Powerhouse Gym. We still pride ourselves on having the best equipment and a large workout floor, but we have evolved and improved our amenities and offerings. Our new larger clubs feature lap pools, women’s only workout areas, basketball courts, group fitness studios, cycle studios, yoga studios, and we just launched virtual classes. We are also in the process of improving our kids programming. 

Our name is strong, and our muscleman logo is stronger, so we don’t want to move away from our base of attracting members serious about their health and fitness goals. A serious member can be a mother of two working out three to four days a week, or it can be a bodybuilder or powerlifter, and we try to cater to all avenues while not forgetting who our base is. Many gyms say that their gym is hardcore, but really it’s old and dirty so we’re moving to high-end finishes. We want a high-end, clean and motivating atmosphere for all members.

We are a family-operated business — a people business at the end of the day. Providing our members with the best service and experience while keeping and maintaining our staff is a huge driver of our brand. We have low turnover with staff and treat them like family.

What role does technology play in adapting to changes in the industry and driving growth?

Technology plays a huge role in streamlining and enhancing a club’s operating procedures while benefiting the member experience. At our newest club, we are piloting the new ABC Fitness Solutions app, IGNITE Engagement. We plan on having everything run through the app, from club and group exercise check-ins to locker usage with Ojmar Bluetooth OCS Smart lockers, our reward programs, etc. Having our members be able to do anything and everything from the app was a huge factor in going through with one. Keeping members engaged and using the app daily will keep them involved in the club.

Virtual group programming allows us to utilize spin and other rooms more often during the day instead of only four to five hours a day. Group exercise leaderboards are a huge reason for the success of Orangetheory, and we are implementing that, as well.

What makes the Powerhouse Gym brand unique?

Powerhouse Gym is unique because the model is not one size fits all. We have different successful licensees and models depending on location size, demographics, amenities offered, etc. The five clubs I operate range from 10,000 square feet to 70,000 square feet. Powerhouse Gyms in China and Russia are high priced and cater to the top 4% of the demographic with high-end hotel décor. Powerhouse Gyms in Japan are more serious with smaller footprints and the more traditional weights and cardio layout. These locations are also doing well in their markets. The main differentiating factor for Powerhouse Gym is that we are a family-owned and operated business and a licensing company. This allows corporate support without corporate mandates. 

What’s a trend you’re seeing in the fitness industry that other operators should keep on their radar?

I would repeat technology, whether it’s an app, virtual classes, online training, etc. Pick one or two items to implement, and once completed, start the next project. Make sure you do those items well and complete the task before moving on to the next project. Many people can relate to a contractor that starts eight projects and has all of them 25% satisfied. We don’t want to hire that contractor just like members don’t want to support that business that is doing things only partially well.

The other popular trend is open space and, more specifically, a functional training space. Our ellipticals and bikes are barely being used, while deadlift platforms, Olympic-style lifting, open turf space, functional training, and high-intensity training are prevalent in our gyms, especially post-COVID. In reaction to this, we’ve expanded our free weights area and open space areas multiple times since 2020.

If you could give one piece of advice to other gym operators, what would it be?

Trust and form relationships with your staff. Staffing is the most essential part of our business, and they are a representation of our brand and company. We continuously improve our staff with training. We started as a family-operated business and still run it like that. We treat our staff as part of our family, which leads to very low turnover. Even after Covid, a majority of our staff, around 90%, came back from key managers and cleaners to member services and sales staff. Retention of our staff helps us grow together while we continuously train and improve.

Created in partnership with ABC Fitness Solutions. Visit abcfitness.com for more information on how they can help your fitness business.

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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