September 2022 Club of the Month, presented by ABC Fitness Solutions:
Evolve Fitness, est. 2015
Evolve Strength was founded in 2015. Since then, the franchise has grown to seven locations. A stand-out feature of each is the variety of health professionals under one roof, providing a one-stop shop for health and wellness.
Below, Jon Cheung, the owner of Evolve Strength, shares more on this comprehensive wellness model approach and how technology and trends are impacting the future of fitness.
How did Evolve Strength come about?
Evolve came about by seeing the lack of a full-spectrum strength and wellness facility offered to the public. Years ago, when I worked with the professional football club here in Edmonton, our medical staff was multidisciplinary in skillset which sped up recovery time immensely. Injuries that would need six months to rehabilitate would be handled in three months, and I found the only viable way to receive this type of treatment was to either be a professional athlete or have a severe enough injury to be within the hospital system. The rest of the public who tweak their knee over the weekend or have been dealing with back pain needed to build their treatment team themselves, which can be quite difficult.
This led me to create a facility that would have all the health care professionals one would need, including a gym, in one place. My goal was to create a “one-stop shop” for health and wellness where anyone could walk into the facility, have a workout, go see a chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist, mental health therapist, and others without the need to drive across the city or find their own healthcare team by themselves. Now, every Evolve Strength has a high-performance gym and large medical staff to provide a holistic approach to health and wellness.
Our gym component in Evolve Strength is also quite different from a typical big-box gym as we emphasize strength training equipment. We fitted our facilities this way to address the concerns we continually heard from the feedback we sought out. We asked hundreds of gym goers what their biggest complaints were in a traditional big-box gym, and the results were consistent: there are not enough squat racks, benches or machines, and too much of the equipment we don’t use. They said, “This delays our workouts and makes coming to the gym more of an issue if we have to continually change our workout based on the availability of equipment.” We listened to the feedback and equipped the gym with very high quantities of strength equipment and specialty equipment, and significant amounts of turf to grant more freedom of movement to our members. All these changes help create the environment we’re seeking for our members: a facility that does not limit their training.
Evolve Strength offers a comprehensive approach to fitness by providing healthcare services such as mental health and chiropractic care. Tell us more about how these services work together within the club/gym model.
Working out and training is simply not the only component when someone is living a healthy and active lifestyle. It only addresses one small component of health, leaving out the rehabilitation, prehabilitation, recovery, nutrition and mental health components that are just as important to the overall health of an individual. We bring all these components under one roof to provide a truly holistic approach to health for any member to experience. At Evolve, you can go for a workout, get a massage, see your personal trainer, meet with a mental health therapist, be rehabbed by a physio, and so much more, all while having communication between each professional so they truly understand the whole picture — something that they would not get if they were across the city from each other. On the gym floor, chiropractors and physical therapists work with their patients while other gym members are using the facility. The members can see and experience the level of service these practitioners provide and have the opportunity to ask them questions on the gym floor to see if they would be a great fit for their needs. It creates an incredible health environment as our members have access to these professionals who welcome the conversation and enjoy engaging with the members and showing just how they can help.
How do your services differentiate your club from others? What inspired you to create a club that offered more than just exercise and fitness?
All gyms sell the same product, access to gym equipment, and personal training. We wanted to evolve the gym industry by changing the model of what is being offered. The integration of medical and fitness elevates the end user’s experience as we can now follow the member through their entire fitness journey. Injuries happen and are one reason why members will look to cancel their membership or delay enrolling with a new gym. Now, we can lengthen the duration of the client by having the services they require in-house. There is no need to seek care outside of the facility or to delay the enrollment into the gym as the health care professional can guide that client through the process to show them how beneficial the gym can be for their rehabilitation and can show them the exercises they need to improve their health without being limited by equipment. Usually, home exercises are prescribed for treatment but are limited in effectiveness given the lack of fitness equipment available at the clinic or at the client’s home. Now, a health professional can show the exercise within a gym setting and can prescribe the proper exercises for the client to rehabilitate the injury on their own. Many rehabilitation clinics are incorporating small fitness areas into the space. Still, it does not compare to having a fully dedicated gym, nor has the selection of equipment necessary to improve the effectiveness of rehabilitation.
What inspired me to create this model was the multidisciplinary approach to treatment we did with the pro football team. Seeing how effective treatment can be when you have the right people and equipment was shocking. Observing how necessary the integration of medical and fitness is really opened my eyes to the opportunity to bring this to the general public. Rehabilitation is strength training just with small weights, so it only makes sense to incorporate this form of treatment into the gym as you increase the lifetime value of a client given you do not need to split care between multiple facilities.
How has technology enabled you to provide these experiences at Evolve Strength? How has it improved the member’s fitness experience?
The technological advancements in healthcare, such as JaneApp and Trainerize for personal trainers, have allowed small businesses in both fields to operate seamlessly with less overhead and complication. With as many as 130 health and wellness professionals within Evolve Strength, simplicity is the key to keeping everything moving, and these platforms have made the client experience amazing. Having the ability to book online, see chart notes easily, view programs and exercises on any device, and handle the payment processing more efficiently allows a lot more time and energy for the professional to dedicate to their client. By removing the hurdles of business administration, our team can provide a much better product and we see it through customer feedback.
How has the pandemic and closings affected Evolve Fitness? Have you noticed a consumer shift post-pandemic towards the comprehensive wellness model?
The pandemic showed the vulnerability of the fitness industry. With a stroke of a pen, gyms were forced to close their doors with little to no notice, operators had to scramble to communicate to their staff, freeze or cancel members, and have difficult conversations with themselves on the viability of their business. With Evolve, it showed our strength as we are classified as medical use that was exempt from closures. We were the only fitness provider in our area that saw strong revenue due to our medical use and business model. While all other operators were required to close their doors, we kept ours open given how we situated ourselves in the market. Landlords saw this as well given we continued to acquire new locations throughout the pandemic as we needed to grow our footprint with the demand for our offerings. We have seen a consumer shift towards a more comprehensive wellness model as many want to reduce the number of stops and facilities visited and want to consolidate their appointments to one location. At Evolve, they can do that. For us, we’ve seen the shift and will be adding more medical components into our facilities, such as pharmacy, given the demand from our members and patients. The pandemic has shown the need for the fitness industry to be more holistic and to provide more services than just a gym.
What’s a trend you’re seeing in the fitness industry that other operators should keep on their radar?
The increase in demand for strength equipment and strength sport. There is an incredible surge of post-secondary institutions offering Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate programs in the strength and conditioning realm that have been producing a great amount of research on the benefits of strength training for all populations. As more and more evidence becomes published on the effectiveness and need for strength training for adolescence, the elderly, prevention of injury, elevation in physical performance, and overall benefits in daily life, there will be a large demand for strength training from the consumer standpoint. I would suggest operators analyze their client’s needs from an equipment standpoint and allocate the necessary footprint of their facilities to this. Strength training is here to stay and it’s beneficial to adjust the footprint to satisfy the needs of the client.
If you could give one piece of advice to other gym operators, what would it be?
Continually test and retest your ideas until you find more effective ways to grow and generate revenue. The Lean Startup model provides such a great concept that forces businesses to find new ways to innovate which is definitely needed in the fitness industry. Begin to push the envelope of services, offerings and strategies to shift your offering out of discretionary use and into required use. We all know gyms and improving one’s health is necessary, so it’s time to place our industry more in line with medical so we can’t be so easily shut down.
Created in partnership with ABC Fitness Solutions. Visit abcfitness.com for more information on how they can help your fitness business.
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