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Entries in Bill Beck (4)


Lessons in Fitness Leadership: Be Sure to Ask Questions 

The Lessons in Fitness Leadership series highlights IHRSA’s industry leaders and thanks them for their continued commitment to growing, promoting, and protecting the health club industry. By sharing their business expertise, we hope that you will get to know them, what they've learned along the way, and how they view leadership. 

Bill Beck
Club Fit
Briarcliff, NY

What is the most fulfilling part of being a business leader in the fitness industry? 

Far and away the best part of being a leader in this industry is knowing that the work we do every day helps make people’s lives better. We’re responsible for motivating people to live healthier lives, which, in turn, helps them spend more quality time with the people in their lives that matter most to them. 

I’ve always been a big advocate for IHRSA but after having a leadership position on the Board of Directors, I am able to truly recognize and appreciate the great work that we do in the world. I can’t say thank you enough to the Board for this opportunity and for always caring about our members, our people, and the work that we do.  I would encourage anyone looking to take on a more active leadership role to apply. 

If you were able to go back in time, what is one piece of leadership advice you would have given your younger-self about working in the fitness industry? 

I would have to advise myself to ask more questions and listen better. Young people tend to think they know more than they do in reality. It took me a long time to realize that asking questions didn’t show vulnerability or weakness. Rather, it helped me show interest in making things better for our staff and members.

I’m not able to make improvements in our operations if I don’t fully understand what’s wrong. Moreover, as a younger person I thought I understood the effects of exercise on people of all ages when I really only understood how exercise affected me. 

It’s also quite interesting how my opinion of “no pain, no gain” has evolved as I’ve gotten older. We need to be able to teach those around us how to motivate people to make exercise an integral part of their life. Pushing people to work to the point of pain seems counterintuitive to that goal for most sane people. 

What prompted you to join the Industry Leadership Council (ILC)? 

Our industry has so much to offer society yet we still find examples of legislative actions at the state and federal level which seem to work against us as we try to help people live healthier lives. My company isn’t big enough to act alone at solving this. It was easy to see that IHRSA had found a recipe, where I could make a bigger difference by joining the ILC than I could ever make on my own. By combining money from industry leaders we’re able to do much more. I had faith that spending money in this way today would help me avoid spending much more money in the future if punitive legislation were passed. 

The sales tax on health club dues in New York has been a large issue that IHRSA saw well before I did. I wouldn’t have seen it coming. They always keep their fingers on the pulse by reviewing and analyzing legislative action across the country. The action that IHRSA and the ILC took was so much more than I could’ve taken as a small operator.


9 Predictions for the Health Club Industry in 2016 

The health club industry is positioned to expand in 2016, but much remains to be seen.

To gain a clearer outlook for the coming year, Club Business International asked a panel of nine industry leaders that includes five members of the IHRSA board of directors and four IHRSA associate members, to share their predictions for the next 12 months.

1. Sport and fitness applications will dominate the digital consumer landscape.

“My customers and my sales team tell me, simply and straightforwardly, that clubs are looking for equipment, programs, and solutions that attract new customers, while retaining current ones,” said Nerio Alessandri, founder and president of Technogym in Cesena, Italy. “In support of this, this year Technogym will launch new equipment and programs conceived and designed for clubs so they can develop specific business strategies in different areas: functional training, group training, cardio, and strength. The common factor is connectivity—enabling clubs to design engaging experiences and stay in contact with their members both inside and outside of the club.”

2. Personalization will become a key differentiator.

“We’re seeing rapid growth in both the high-volume/low-cost (HV/LC) and boutique fitness club segments,” said Rob Barker, president of Precor, Inc. in Woodinville, WA. “We’re seeing investment by mid-market operators who want to differentiate, and we’re seeing more investment in fitness by verticals, such as hospitality, corporate, and multifamily facilities.”

3. Legal matters will demand club operators’ attention.

“In my view, hot items for 2016 are EFT cancellation policies and overtime compensation,” said Bill Beck, president of Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor, NY. “If clubs haven’t sought a legal review of their procedures with regard to these issues in the last five years, they should do so soon.”

4. Small-group training, active-aging will continue to expand.

“I think we’ll see the demand for small-group training and integrated technology solutions sustain their growth,” said Chris Clawson, president of Life Fitness in Rosemont, IL. “We’ll also see products that are appropriate for the active aging population become more popular, as this exercise-focused demographic moves farther into the senior years. 

5. The Affordable Care Act will fuel wellness program growth.

“Forward-thinking companies are also recognizing that having wellness and fitness embedded into their culture is extremely important,” said Alison Flatley, COO of Corporate Fitness Works in Falls Church, VA. “They’re moving from return on investment (ROI) to return on value (ROV). They’re creating a 'culture of health' by having their corporate and wellness goals and objectives overlap.”

6. New trends will drive the fitness experience.

“A big trend will be on-demand digital fitness apps,” said Missy Moss, general manager of Nike Athletic Centers in Beaverton, OR. “These programs can be done anywhere––in your office, hotel room, outside, etc. People don’t have to walk into a health club to perform a fitness activity. On the flip side, members are coming to clubs to use their mobile devices and apps.” 

7. Health club members will become more selective.

“We’re seeing less spending on ancillary services such as personal training, food and beverage, and children’s programs,” said Mark Stevens, regional director of The Houstonian Clubs and Spas in Houston, TX. “Retention still remains high, but we have to do business differently—focus even more on retention, service, programs, cleanliness, and improving relationships.”

8. The commercial market will grow, with a higher level of fragmentation and specialization.

“Commercial facilities will continue to focus on promoting greater levels of variety and programming for a discerning customer base,” said Kent Stevens, executive vice president of sales for Matrix Fitness Systems in Lake Mills, WI. “Successful club operators will combine superior products and services in a way that gives their members a sense of community in a purposeful environment.”

9. Multipurpose clubs will “boom or bust.”

“Those that are willing to press the limits of opportunity will thrive,” said Jim Worthington, owner of Newtown Athletic & Aquatic Club in Newtown, PA. “Medical wellness, member feedback, and tracking mechanisms such as Medallia and MYZONE, along with well-designed spaces and programs that are competitive, will boom. Operators who do little or nothing to capitalize on trends, or who ignore the competition, will bust.”

Read the full "Industry Outlook: 2016" article in the January issue of CBI.


Championing Independence

CBI: As the president and general manager of an independent, family-owned, two-club business, you’ve said that you have to fight every day. Meaning what?

BILL BECK: We see two distinct areas of conflict, if you will. First, there’s the global obesity situation, which is basically an inactivity epidemic. We work hard to get people in our community up and moving because, for some reason, human nature inclines toward the sedentary, despite the fact that physical activity is so good for us in so many ways.

CBI: And the second?

BB: The other fight has to do with competition, which has exploded for us over the past 10 years. Our competition comes from several of the same large industry players that many independents face, as well as from some regional operators. We also have a lot of studios and low-cost providers in our market. It’s a bit of a battle to get people to understand that they have to exercise, and, beyond that, to appreciate why certain clubs are at certain price points. We still don’t have the most health-club-educated consumers, so they don’t always recognize the difference between $10-a-month clubs and $130-a-month clubs, such as our own.

Together, our two facilities encompass some 230,000 square feet, and serve more than 14,000 members.

So part of the battle is internal, ensuring that members are striving for their own personal health, and part of it is external, fighting the forces of competition.

CBI: You’ve been involved in the industry, now, for some 25 years. How have you seen small independent clubs change over that period?

BB: Early on, the independents seemed to be united, principally, by their opposition to the YMCAs and other nonprofit fitness providers, and I suspect a lot of them still are. But that concern has shifted, dissipated a bit, because of the dramatically increased competition from so many club companies representing so many different business models. It’s really the level and quality of the competition that’s changed the most.

Twenty-five years ago, we’d be competing with someone who loved to work out, and, because of that, would decide to open a club. “I’ll build a place, and I’ll have all of my friends come in to exercise.” Well, it doesn’t work that way anymore. Now, we’re competing with people who, while they may still like to work out, are much more sophisticated and focused on sound business principles. There are more smart businesspeople in fitness than ever before, which, quite frankly, makes things more fun. It also makes all of us a little sharper.

CBI: So, how does Club Fit manage to compete successfully in this new world? With, say for instance, the national chains?

BB: Fortunately, in terms of competing with them, one thing hasn’t changed for the operators of successful independent clubs: we’re rooted in our communities and regarded as a valuable part of them. Our laser-like focus on our “neighborhood” is a great differentiator. It’s hard for a big company to move into town and acquire the recognition, depth, and penetration that a small regional business enjoys. They don’t have the time or resources to access all of the nooks and crannies that constitute a community, so they take shortcuts. They build nice facilities, and assemble a good staff, but they don’t work as hard as we do to be a part of (Thornton Wilder’s) Our Town.

CBI: Okay, a strong commitment to community—how does that play out in the case of Club Fit?

BB: In our case, we say “Yes” to any request from any community cause. Our members are involved with schools, churches, and other groups, so we make our name, our facility, and ourselves available to them. That might mean offering space in the club to hold a meeting, sponsoring a golf outing, raffling items for a church event—whatever! We do everything we can to support what’s important to our members. We’re also active participants on the boards of many local community groups. My mother, Beth, has worked with the Westchester Association for Retarded Citizens; my sister, Ellen, has served on the county parks board; and I’ve contributed time and effort to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. These local groups are important to the place where we live and work, and we want to be a part of that.

CBI: Going back, for a moment,
to the point you made about disruptive industry developments, such as the emergence of $10-a-month memberships, CrossFit, boutique studios, virtual training—how do they force you to change your perspective?

BB: If nothing else, they oblige you to acknowledge what they do well, and to recognize where holes might exist in your own offering. But you can’t be everything to everybody—it can be dangerous to try! Sometimes, it’s 
wise for us to concede that there may be a chunk of the market that we shouldn’t try to serve, and just let it go. For example, when a Planet Fitness opens its doors, there’s a part of the community that belongs there, and that probably doesn’t belong at Club Fit. And that’s okay. It challenges you to validate why your dues are $130 a month versus $10. If your members don’t understand the difference, well, you’ve got some work to do.

CBI: Speaking of challenges, what do you consider to be the greatest one facing independent clubs today?

BB: I can’t speak for other independents, but, for us, it’s community turnover. As much as we’d like to think that everybody in town knows us, the local population does turn over. People move in from other areas, other parts of the country, and, in many cases, they’ve had some experience with another club brand—often one of our competitors. So how do we get them to give us a try? How do we get them to step through our doors?
 We do it by going to every event we can, and by encouraging our current members to bring their friends. A lot of us with smaller, independent clubs need to remain acutely aware of the fact that new residents don’t know about all of the great things we might have done in the community in the past. They only know what they know—and, in many cases, that’s the big brand names.

We can’t rest on the work we’ve done in the past to maintain name recognition. Remaining visible in the community is a constant, ongoing job.

CBI: On the other hand, given your longevity, understanding of the market, and clear sense of how local demographics are changing, are you in a better position than a chain to react to shifts?

BB: Absolutely! In fact, we’ve actually come to like the lower-cost competition that’s moved into our area. A small number of our members left to give them a try, but most of them have since come back. At the same time, that club has served as a learning ground for some individuals who‘d never exercised before; they’ve found a place to dip their toe in the water, learn a bit about fitness and exercise, and, then, looking for a deeper experience, some of them have come to us.

Like the late clothing retailer
 Sy (Seymour) Syms, the founder of the Syms Corporation, once said, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

CBI: Are there any other independent operators who, in your opinion, really get it right?

BB: Joe Cirulli, the founder and owner of the Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers (GHFC) in Florida is just killing it! (See “A Locker Room to Love!” on pg. 62.) Blair McHaney, the owner of Gold’s Gyms in Wenatchee, Washington, and John Captain, the chairman and CEO of the National Fitness Centers, down in Knoxville, Tennessee, are two other great examples. They’re people who “get” both the business and fitness side of this business—it requires a different mindset.

CBI: What do you mean by that?

BB: Any business has to make money, of course, but in our industry, there has to be a solid awareness that the goal, the mission, is to help people become healthier, allowing them to enjoy longer, better, more rewarding lives. The business is really just the engine driving that process. Which doesn’t mean that revenues and profitability don’t matter: they do.
If you stop making money, you’ll never achieve your objective. Money is a means to the end—but it isn’t the end. Club owners, especially independent operators, clearly understand and embrace the mission of improving people’s health and having a positive impact on society; as a result, they tend to be long-term players.

CBI: If you had to identify, sum up, the rewards that are unique to perating an independent, family-owned club, what would you say?

BB: Personally, my reward is simply seeing people succeed. In that sense, it’s about helping family, friends, and members become healthier, avoid chronic disease, and remain active, vital, and happy. That’s what the work we do every day is all about. That’s what we give to people. I really believe that, and that’s what gets me up in the morning.


Panel discussion touches on many subjects

Jay Ablondi, left, IHRSA VP of Global Products, was the moderator for "Leading by Example: Best Practices on Club Success." Panelists were, from left, RIck Holder, Bill Beck and Kim Manocherian.The beauty of a panel discussion at an IHRSA event is that many of the topical subjects relating to our industry can be touched on, giving attendees a wide array of information to take back to their clubs.

On the first day of the NEHRSA/IHRSA Fall Conference & Trade Show yesterday at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, the panel of three industry experts came from clubs that boasted a combined 120 years of operating.

Rick Holder, owner, Hampshire Hills Sport and Fitness Club in Milford, N.H.; Kim Manocherian, CEO, New York Health & Racquet Clubs in New York City; and Bill Beck, president, Club Fit, Jefferson Valley, N.Y., answered questions from both the moderator, IHRSA VP of Global Products Jay Ablondi, as well as from the crowd, during "Leading by Example: Best Practices on Club Success."

To see what was discussed, read on.