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Club Preparedness: Lessons from Sandy

The startling images of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy have prompted many a conversation in health clubs across the country. The topics: what can a club do to remain open, and up and running, during any kind of a disaster … or, conversely, at the very least, recover as quickly as possible?

What lessons are there to be learned?

Eric Casaburi is a good person to ask.

Eric CasaburiAs the CEO of Retro Fitness, a franchise company based in Colts Neck, New Jersey, he oversees 87 Retro Fitness health clubs, most of which are located in the Mid-Atlantic region. All told, 33 of them lost power or suffered other storm damage, and had to close temporarily early this month after Sandy devastated the area.

However, most of the facilities were open for business within a week, in part because of steps that Casaburi had taken before the storm hit.

For one thing, he had redundancy—the company’s headquarters had both cable Internet and DirectTV satellite Internet services. The satellite access, which remained functional after the storm, enabled the company's 10 employees to retrieve and send e-mail, obtain information about damage, and communicate it to others by making use of the company’s social media pages. Casaburi had also installed an $8,000 generator at the home office before the storm because the area tends to lose power.

He and his staff provided franchisees with storm-preparation tips and e-mail advisories. As Sandy approached and, then, arrived, headquarters kept in touch with franchisees, and regularly updated a status spreadsheet indicating when each club was expected to open. The team also assisted with e-mail blasts and automated calls to get information to gym members.

Post-storm, Casaburi and his team answered franchisee’s questions about insurance and employed some corporate muscle to cut through red tape on their behalf.

Now, he’s thinking about adding generators to Retro Fitness’ existing facilities, and to future franchise build-outs, and studying how he and his team can communicate even better in the event of a future disaster.

“If you don't learn from an experience like this, shame on you,” Casaburi says.

- Patricia Amend is the executive editor of CBI and can be reached at

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