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This Week in the Fitness Industry: Merritt Athletic Clubs Unveils New Brand Identity 

Merritt Athletic Clubs Unveils New Brand Identity  
Merritt Clubs, formerly Merritt Athletic Clubs, marked its 40th anniversary by launching a new brand identity that better communicates the continual evolution of the company’s fitness facilities and programs. In addition to the new name, Merritt now has a new logo, messaging, website, and signage that is already installed in its nine locations. “Our mission is to change the way people think about fitness,” COO Mark Miller said in a release. “To us, fitness means strengthening your body and mind in the comfort of a place that feels like home, with a friendly staff that feels like family. Our new brand is helping to tell this story and it truly captures our purpose of being the best part of our member’s day and the spirit of our clubs.”   

TRX Named IHRSA Associate Member of the Year
We’re excited to announce that TRX, a leading producer of functional training programs, education, and equipment, is our 2017 Associate Member of the Year! "We are delighted to honor our good friends at TRX for their ongoing support of IHRSA and for their work to grow the industry,” said Joe Moore, IHRSA's president and CEO. “When Randy Hetrick launched the first Travel X, the precursor to the TRX Suspension Trainer in 2004, he foresaw what the future of functional training would be for millions of fitness consumers. Since then, TRX has been a leader in delivering innovative products and programs designed to not only inspire people to be more active, but more importantly, help them achieve their fitness goals.” The Associate Member of the Year Award is presented annually to recognize an IHRSA Associate Member for their significant contributions to the advancement of the health club industry, as well as their support of IHRSA, its members, and its mission through program and event participation, advertising, and sponsorship. The award will be presented during IHRSA 2017 in Los Angeles, CA, March 8-11. Read the full “TRX Named 2017 Associate Member of the Year” press release.

Blink Fitness Offers Amazon Lockers in 7 Manhattan Clubs
Blink Fitness announced Wednesday that seven of its 11 Manhattan locations are now home to Amazon Lockers, which offer members and the community a self-service delivery location to pick up and return packages from Amazon Lockers are cropping up nationwide and there are more than 100 in and around New York City and, according to Blink, this is the first time Amazon Locker has worked with a fitness club. "Blink's collaboration with Amazon is a natural fit to benefit both our members and the community at large," said Blink Fitness President Todd Magazine. "Our member experience comes first, so we're thrilled that members will no longer have to worry or go out of their way to receive a package. Secondly, the Amazon Lockers will help introduce our state-of-the-art facilities to a new audience and hopefully encourage them to make their fitness resolutions with Blink."

Equinox CEO Talks Trump, Company Growth

Last week, Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak spoke to CNBC about how President-elect Donald Trump may affect business, and shared his thoughts on company growth and the SoulCycle IPO.

33% of Canadians Resolved to Improve Physical Fitness in 2017
One in three Canadians said improving their physical fitness and eating habits was their top New Year’s resolution, according to a new Ipos survey that was conducted on behalf of GoodLife Fitness. The survey also found that 21% of Canadians said they would focus on financial goals; 13% wanted to dedicate more time to travel and leisure; 11% planned to put a stop to bad habits, like drinking and smoking; and 10% will try to spend more time with family and friends. “It’s great to see more Canadians choosing fitness and nutrition as their number one resolution for 2017 because it suggests people are making positive choices when it comes to eating well and being active, with the goal of feeling better overall,” said David ‘Patch’ Patchell-Evans, founder and CEO of GoodLife Fitness.


A Homecoming: Augie Nieto Returns to Life Fitness 

September 16 was a warm and sunny day in Franklin Park, IL, when Augie and Lynne Nieto arrived at the Life Fitness factory there.

It had been nearly 16 years since Augie, the cofounder and former chief executive of the company, had last entered the building, which had been its headquarters when he served as president.

Augie stepped down in 2000, when the company was acquired by the Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC). In March 2005, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a muscle-wasting condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Since then, he and his wife, Lynne, have launched and directed Augie’s Quest, which, thus far, has raised more than $50 million to fund research to find a cure for ALS.

Augie’s Bash, one of the principal fundraisers for the Quest, takes place each year during IHRSA’s Annual International Convention & Trade Show. The recent Franklin Park homecoming coincided with another item on Augie’s agenda. A member of the California Coast Chapter of the Young President’s Organization (YPO), a global leadership community, he’d made plans to attend the group’s annual meeting in Chicago.

“I’ve missed the Retreat for most of the past eight years due to the difficulty of traveling,” he says, “but since we’d decided to go to Chicago, my former home, we just made it happen.”

The visit to Life Fitness’ manufacturing plant wound up being added to the Retreat’s schedule of activities, and several YPO-ers accompanied the Nietos on the tour.

“The morning started out with a great presentation from President Chris Clawson chronicling the history of Life Fitness, sharing some ‘Augie stories,’ and describing the impact that Augie’s had on Chris’ life,” says Lynne. “It was a great opportunity for the members of Augie’s Retreat to gain a better understanding of his business life.”

As the visitors moved on to the plant’s assembly area, about 35 employees who’d worked with Augie when he was president “were standing there clapping and welcoming Augie back,” Lynne says. “We spent about an hour there, touring around, and, as we did so, many employees came up to tell Augie how much he’d meant to them—both personally and professionally.”

The group also had the chance to explore the Augie Nieto Fitness Center, the product showroom that was dedicated to Augie several years ago.

“Although I see many Life Fitness faces at the IHRSA convention each year, there were so many others I was able to get to see and visit with,” says Augie. “I was touched by the current and former employees coming up to me to share their memories of our interactions when I was at the helm of Life Fitness. It was also great to see the Augie Nieto Fitness Center for the first time.

“As you can imagine,” he says, “this was a very emotional return for me.”

The 12th annual Augie’s Bash will take place this year on March 10 at the JW Marriott hotel during IHRSA’s 36th Annual International Convention & Trade Show in Los Angeles.


Why You Should Turn Your Health Club Employees into Followers

This post is part of our Session Spotlight series, previewing just some of the extensive education that will feature at IHRSA 2017, March 8-11 in Los Angeles.

Is your health club staff as driven and productive even when management isn’t around?

If the answer isn’t a resounding ‘yes,’ your employees likely view themselves as subordinates.

“Subordinates may or may not do what you want them to do,” says Chris Stevenson, owner and founder of Stevenson Fitness in Oak Park, CA. “I always hear people say at night [after] the manager leaves nothing gets done. So you can’t be successful with subordinates.”

They key to a more engaged workforce, according to Stevenson, is to turn subordinates into followers by creating a strong culture at your company.

“When you infuse that culture, that’s when you start to create followers,” he says. “People aren’t just going to work—they’re going to a cause; going to something they believe in.”

How to Turn Subordinates into Followers

To turn subordinates into followers, you need to strategically implement and express your culture in everything your company does. That includes:

  • hiring and firing;
  • employee recognition;
  • meetings and communication;
  • print and online marketing;
  • signage in the club;
  • and practically everything else.

“It’s important that everyone buys into core purpose, mission, and values,” Stevenson says. “Great leaders develop other leaders, so that means empowering people to make decisions, providing consistent training, making sure people aren’t only coming to work—that they’re invested in the purpose and mission and they’re becoming better for having worked for you.” 

Putting Theory into Action

Stevenson will share actionable strategies to turn your club’s employees into followers in his Friday, March 10 IHRSA 2017 session, “Stop Managing and Start Leading: Key Elements for Successful Club Leaders.”

His presentation will help attendees:

  • Discover the difference between a manager and a leader.
  • Ensure that your employees go from subordinates to followers.
  • Learn the difference between instilling vision vs. giving objectives.
  • Review specific tools and techniques to coach your staff for growth.
  • Discover the importance of long-term vision vs. short-term objectives. 

“In this presentation, I’m going to give you tangible ways to go about doing this by sharing tactics we use in our facility that I think you can use,” Stevenson says. “I want people to walk out of my session saying, ‘wow, here’s my five action items I’m going to implement immediately.’”

Learn more about IHRSA 2017, March 8-11 in Los Angeles.


Answers to Your Pressing Gym Design Questions

The success of your health club depends in part on making the most of your available space. Here are some tough questions you need to ask yourself before remodeling or designing your next gym.

Q: How often should I freshen up my health club's design?

A: Hervey Lavoie, architect and president of Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, recommends that every health club maintain a five-year plan and re-examine it every six months. Lavoie offered that the most important thing is to not paint yourself into a corner.

"You should think ahead, and embark on each group of enhancements with the next wave of improvements in mind," he said. "This approach minimizes the chance that this year's carpet replacement project will be undone by next year's expansion of the childcare area. Looking beyond your current needs will also allow you to allocate your capital improvements budget more effectively."

Q: How much space should I devote to locker rooms?

A: "As a rule of thumb, the quick answer is in general about 12-15% of the overall club size, meaning if you have a 20,000-square-foot club, the total size dedicated to both locker rooms may be between 2,400-3,000 square feet total, or about 1,000-1,500 square feet each," said Rudy Fabiano, architect for Fabiano Designs.

"Likewise, a 60,000-square-foot facility may have between 3,500 and 4,500 square feet for each locker room," he added. "These are base numbers that should get modified depending on the various factors." If your health club has a pool, for example, that would increase the need for locker facilities.

Q: Should I devote equal space to men's and women's locker facilities?

A: That depends. "If there is a much larger percentage of either of the sexes, the size of the changing areas should reflect that difference," said Fred Hoffman, M.Ed., owner of Fitness Resources Consulting Services. Health clubs can save additional space by installing unisex bathrooms.

Q: How much should I budget per square foot?

A: Again, that depends. Fabiano said that costs can run anywhere from $35 per square foot for a basic CrossFit studio to $200 per square foot for a group cycling studio. You also need to factor in membership fees and your club's anticipated capacity. Then do the math.

Q: What's the biggest design mistake that health club owners make?

A: Not providing enough storage space. Mats, partitions, basketballs, kettle bells—you need to put them somewhere when you're not using them. If you don't include enough storage space, your health club will look cluttered and disorganized.

As designer Bryan Dunkelberger told Club Business International, "No client has ever said, 'I could have used half the storage you provided.'"

Related reading: 


More Money, More Problems? How to Avoid Growth Pains in the Health Club Industry

This is an IHRSA featured post, brought to you by ABC Financial.

You’re in business to make money. That doesn’t mean that an inflow of cash solves all your problems, especially in the health club business, where volatility is the norm. Membership fees, employee turnover, equipment upgrades, and servicing—these are just a few of the unpredictable cost variables of health club management. 

Tracking cash flow and managing funds for growth in the midst of ongoing market disruptions requires special expertise. A bookkeeper with a QuickBooks account isn’t going to cut it. 

Meticulous Planning Is the Key to Expansion 

Ask Spencer McDaniel, vice-president of ATC-Fitness, a Memphis-based business that owns and operates 18 locations in Tennessee and Mississippi. ATC-Fitness began as a single family-owned club 25 years ago, and cautious, meticulous planning was the key to expansion. 

“We are a family business and can grow only so fast,” says McDaniel. “We have expanded at a rate of about a store and a half per year in the last 12 years. We’ve retrofitted as we’ve grown, so we have had to stay at the forefront of new technologies and trends.” 

McDaniel lists a few of the responsibilities involved, including:  

  • membership management;
  • point-of-sale systems;
  • tracking of key performance indicators (KPIs);
  • credit card processing;
  • telephone collections.  

And that’s only a partial list. It’s enough to keep any health club owner’s medicine cabinet stocked with antacids and painkillers. 

Finding Help: Locating the Expertise You Need for Success 

The key to handling all the responsibilities of running a health club is knowing what you do well and knowing who to hire for essential operational tasks. ATC-Fitness will open their 19th location next spring, and McDaniel believes that this steady growth would not have been possible without their support from ABC Financial, who has been with them for almost 25 years. ABC Financial provides billing and club-management software, but McDaniel says they do much more. 

“They are a one-stop shop for any size gym: small mom-and-pop clubs; middle-of-the-road family businesses like us who have multiple locations; or massive franchise models,” says McDaniel. “They’re able to handle pretty much everything you can throw at them.” 

Besides all the tasks listed above, ABC Financial excels at customer service, says McDaniel, whether it’s billing issues or other questions that on-site staff may not be able to answer. 

“They handle the phone call based on the procedures we supply them,” says McDaniel, who stresses the collaborative nature of their relationship with ABC Financial. “They want the same thing we do, which is a happy customer.” 

ABC Financial's ability to scale their services to any size business includes careful monitoring of operational cash flow, according to McDaniel.

“Their reporting doesn’t stop at the end of the month,” he says. “They can provide you key performance indicators whenever you need them. 

“We consider them part of our family. I don’t have to call customer service and go through an account executive. It’s an open door.” 

Learn more about ABC Financial on their website. And don’t forget to look for them at IHRSA 2017 in Los Angeles, on March 8-11.


The Health Club Industry Owns January

Whether you’ve worked in the health club industry for a long time or just stay up-to-date on current events, you probably know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (you cannot miss the bright pink everywhere, on NFL players, etc.) and February has become synonymous with the Heart Foundation’s Heart Health Month.

Well, I say these worthy causes can have their months and the other 11 months of the year, because our industryat least from a PR and media perspectiveowns January.

Consider this: I was alerted on Facebook by Lynn and Victor Brick to check out the New Year’s Eve festivities in New York City’s Times Square. Planet Fitness sponsored the ball-drop and Times Square was brilliantly plastered with Planet Fitness’ gold and purple signage.

Then, just a day later, I turned on the TV just in time to see a gorgeous 24 Hour Fitness-sponsored float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Their float, depicting energy and movement, earned the innovation award. It was so beautiful, I had to take a picture of my TV so I could social media the heck out of it.

It won the award for CROWN CITY INNOVATION”Best use of imagination & innovation to advance the art of float design with the slogan "Do More with Your 24."

And then on January 3, Nerio Alessandri and Technogym were highlighted on 60 Minutes SportsThe next day, I arrived home from the IHRSA office just in time to catch my husband watching an episode of Mad Money with Jim Cramer interviewing Rick Stollmeyer, CEO of MINDBODY. Yesfor the second time in two days I had to drop everything but my phone to capture a photo of my TV.

Really, I didn’t watch much TV over the holiday breakbut it seems every time I tuned in, I was seeing some brilliant, incredibly positive coverage for IHRSA members and our industry. 

I also saw the same trend of positive coverage of our industry in more traditional news articles, like the following:  

All in all, 2016 was a great year for the health club industry, its staff, and its members. And now is the time to keep building upon this momentum. So what do you say? Let’s make 2017 another unforgettable year.

Have your local news outlets shared any positive coverage of your club or the health club industry this year? If so, please share.


5 Ways Wearable Devices Can Turn Your PT Staff into Supertrainers 

This is an IHRSA featured post, brought to you by EXOS.

Knowing your heart rate is so 2010. Today’s wearable fitness technology delivers data points that far exceed anything that’s ever before been made available outside of medical clinics. But what good is all that information if it’s not used to improve health outcomes and fitness levels?

When personal trainers and performance coaches are trained in analyzing data from wearable devices, they can provide tremendous benefits to novice and serious clients in reaching their goals. And that means happier members and improved retention.

Here are five ways wearables can take fitness training to the next level.

  1. Improved recovery. Few elements of fitness success are as important as exercise recovery. Today’s wearables can measure sleep quality, metrics that provide insight on stress loads to different systems in the body, efficiency of regeneration strategies like soft-tissue management programs and other therapies, as well as other important factors that determine what’s going right or wrong in a client’s program.
  2. Accurate MAS data. A cornerstone of baseline fitness, the MAS (maximum aerobic test) measures a person’s fitness level in a staged assessment protocol of intervals in two-minute stages. Today’s wearables can provide more accurate numbers to give trainers a clearer picture of their clients’ capabilities.
  3. “Energy systems development” optimization. By utilizing MAS results and other data points, you can use wearables to create “energy systems development” zones for clients, which can be used in a variety of ways to optimize performance.
  4. Improved individualization. A growing movement in exercise and nutritional science is individualized programs that replace the traditional one-size-fits-all routines. Wearables allow trainers to bring individualization to the health club setting, even for those in group training programs.
  5. Improved safety protocols. Part of recovery is knowing when somebody is in a fatigued state or whose vital health markers aren’t where they should be. With data from wearables, well-trained professionals can understand when it’s time to pull back to keep the client safe and healthy.

Learning How to Crunch the Data

Of course, you won’t get very far if you don’t know how to apply the data from wearables to your clients’ goals. Knowing how to administer the MAS or to create more efficient “energy systems development” programs require specialized training in applying data to individuals. 

EXOS, a human performance company, realized the great opportunity that fitness wearables created for the fitness industry and got to work on developing education courses for trainers. To do so they teamed up with tech giant Intel to deliver courses that provide expert training using a variety of wearable devices. These courses are geared toward physical therapists, personal trainers, and performance coaches, and cover a wide variety of performance metrics. 

For a limited time, EXOS is offering a brand-new three-course bundle at a special price. The first course explains how to use data from wearables to help facilitate recovery, the second teaches you how to create “energy systems development” programs that help clients reach their performance potential and the third was created to help fitness professionals make sense of wearable devices and use data to track individual clients’ progress more efficiently even after training sessions end. This improves group training and gives clients personalized experiences more akin to those of private training sessions. 

Sign up now on EXOS’ website and get a discount using this code: IHRSA15OFF. Be sure to take advantage of this offer and find out more information about other courses in human performance training offered by EXOS.


Ready for a New Career in 2017? IHRSA is Hiring!

IHRSA—the trade association serving the global health club and fitness industry—is growing its team.

Our mission is to grow, protect, and promote the health and fitness industry, and to provide our members with benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members (health clubs and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs, and industry suppliers) are dedicated to making the world healthier through regular exercise and activity promotion.

IHRSA’s headquarters, located in Boston’s desirable Seaport District, has two full-time job openings.

The Digital Advocacy Content Coordinator will coordinate the communication of IHRSA’s advocacy activities that grow, promote, and protect the health club industry. This individual will work with a team to create and deliver content through IHRSA’s website, blogs, social media, and video channels.

The Global Membership Representative will work to proactively increase member value, usage, and satisfaction with the aim of retaining current club members, recruiting new club members, building relationships and communities, and meeting and exceeding budgeted revenue goals.

IHRSA offers a business-casual environment, and a generous full-time benefits package, including: 

  • 401(K) with employer match
  • Health insurance
  • Dental insurance
  • Flexible Spending Account (medical and dependent care)
  • Life insurance
  • Long term disability insurance
  • Employee assistance plan 
  • Paid time off 
  • Paid holidays
  • Access to on-site gym

Visit our career page to learn more about these positions and about working at IHRSA. Not a fit but know somebody who might be? Please spread the word by sharing this post!


IHRSA’s 5 Top Fitness Tech Posts of 2016

Back in December, we looked at our overall most-read blog posts of 2016, which provided some interesting insights about the news and topics that dominated the past year.

One common thread that seemed to be present in most of the stories was technology. So we decided to dig a little deeper into our analytics and pull out our five most-read tech-related blog posts from the past 12 months. 

5. 7 Steps to Create a Powerful Social Media Strategy for Health Clubs

The fact that a social media-related post takes the fifth spot on this list demonstrates that a growing number of clubs are beginning to leverage digital marketing. This is great news, as social media can be an incredibly powerful marketing tool.

4. Going Digital: The Disruptive Opportunity for the Global Health Club Business

“The gym or health club is no longer just a place,” said Marcos Eguillor, managing partner of BinaryKnowledge_ and professor at IE Business School, in a blog post previewing his IHRSA European Congress keynote presentation. “Technology has made us independent from the infrastructure being a specific location or exercise machine or personal trainer—we are more autonomous and more knowledgeable about what to do and how to do it. 

3. From WiFi to Community: What Millennials Want From Their Health Club

What do millennials want from their health club? Free WiFi and smart exercise equipment, according to our third most popular tech article. 

2. It’s Not ‘If’ Technology Will Impact the Fitness Industry—It’s ‘How’

Technology was a popular topic at the Motionsoft Technology Summit in Baltimore, MD, this September. Speakers at the CIO Roundtable discussed how health clubs should budget and plan for impactful new technology projects. And IHRSA Board Chair Rasmus Ingerslev cautioned, “It’s not ‘if’ technology will impact the fitness industry—it’s ‘how,’” during his keynote address.

1. Randi Zuckerberg Talks Facebook, Streams Live from IHRSA 2016

Facebook Live launched to all uses in April, but Randi Zuckerberg—former Facebook exec and sister of founder Mark—had early access to the live-streaming function. She put it to good use during her IHRSA 2016 keynote address in March, and thus set the stage to become the top-ranking tech post of 2016.

Related Reading: 


Train Your Group X Staff to Create a Boutique Studio Experience 

This post is part of our Session Spotlight series, previewing just some of the extensive education that will feature at IHRSA 2017, March 8-11 in Los Angeles.   

Ask any boutique studio member what they like about the experience and they’ll likely tell you the same reasons: the classes feel personalized, instructors foster a sense of community, and the workouts deliver results. 

And it doesn’t hurt that they’re trendy. 

Improving Group X Experience Will Boost Retention 

“There are a lot of different aspects to boutique studios’ popularity, but I think the first and foremost is they provide a real social [and] community aspect to the experience, and people are really looking for that these days,” says Marisa Hoff, general manager for Stevenson Fitness in Oak Park, CA. “We’re not a big-box club, but I’d imagine the bigger gyms have a hard time providing that personal experience. When people seek out Soul Cycle and Orangetheory, they’re in a place that feels like home and it’s really appealing to a lot of people.” 

While creating that level of personalization may be a challenge for traditional health clubs, it’s a worthwhile goal to strive for. Creating a boutique experience can raise retention and revenue at your club, Hoff says. And your group exercise program is the perfect vehicle to deliver that boutique-style experience.

“Doing whatever you can to provide a great experience is going to help with retention, period,” says Hoff, who will present on the subject at IHRSA 2017 in Los Angeles this March. “So the more you can get members involved in different programming—whether it’s group X or small group training—the better.”

Train Your Group X Staff to Create a Personalized Experience

So, where should you start? With your fitness staff.   

The number one core value at Stevenson Fitness is building real relationships with members, and leadership instills that in their staff in order to create a more personalized group exercise experience.

For example, instructors are encouraged to:

  • Friend and interact with members on social media
  • Acknowledge when members work hard in class
  • Participate in group X Facebook groups (e.g. the morning bootcamp group)
  • Engage with members before and after their group X class

“We build mini-communities within our community,” Hoff says. “To do so, we train our instructors to enhance that community feel and make sure they’re always interacting with people.”

Hoff will go further in-depth on these strategies and more during her Thursday, March 9 IHRSA 2017 session, “Creating the Boutique Experience in Your Group X Program.” Her presentation will help attendees:

  • Learn why the trend in boutique experiences has been so successful in the industry.
  • Discover how using the boutique experience can raise retention and revenue at your club.
  • Identify key elements to creating a boutique experience – regardless of club size.
  • Review what specific practices can be used by instructors and staff to craft an amazing experience.
  • Learn which tools are critical for designing and implementing the boutique experience for your group X program.

Learn more about IHRSA 2017, March 8-11 in Los Angeles.