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Entries in CBI First Person (19)


CBI: Scholarship Winner Boosts Retention in High-Attrition Market 

Melissa Hall, general manager for Merritt Athletic Clubs’ Fort Avenue facility in Baltimore, MD, won the John McCarthy Merit Scholarship, which enabled her to attend the IHRSA Institute in August. In the December issue of Club Business International (CBI), we checked in with Hall to learn how she increased retention in a high-attrition market.

CBI: How did you manage to increase retention in what’s considered a high-attrition market?

MH: Recent college graduates, who are likely to move after a year, make up a large portion of the membership at Fort Avenue. To keep every client we can, we focus on new customer service initiatives, reboarding trainings, and the use of the Medallia and Net Promoter Score (NPS) platforms to obtain feedback, to help us manage and improve the customer experience. We invite local alumni to use the club for free on First Fridays to remain in touch with them. And our Back on Track program offers complimentary services and programs to cancelling members to encourage them to stay.

CBI: You’ve also converted Fort Avenue into a 24-hour operation. What was the biggest challenge?

MH: Ensuring that the overnight staff is utilized to its full potential, despite the fact that usage may be limited. I’ve created a monthly schedule of duties for them that relate to facility maintenance, auditing, inventory, and retention. This makes their positions meaningful, and their contributions valuable, and connects them to the daytime team. I also meet with them individually, during their shift, so we can initiate projects that they’re passionate about.

Fort Avenue also gets credit for generating the highest revenue per square foot of any MAC location. How have you managed that?

MH: Our club is a 20,000-square-foot facility, and we regard each and every area as a potential profit center. I also meet with our department managers daily, and weekly, to ensure that we’re all on track with respect to our current revenue goals. When it’s necessary, we take action quickly to rein in expenses and close any gaps.

Read the full “First Person” interview in the December issue of CBI.


Pilates’ Premier Couple Illustrate Both Personal and Professional Success

Lindsay and Moira Merrithew are President and CEO, Executive Director of Education, Merrithew, Toronto, Canada

Moira, you were a dancer with major ballet companies, and, Lindsay, you studied at Juilliard, and were an actor. How have your entertainment backgrounds informed your business?

Our backgrounds were instrumental to our getting involved with Pilates, and they shaped our approach and style of education and video production. This, coupled with Lindsay’s business degree, laid the foundation for establishing our business, building a brand, and growing what’s now a global community.

Clearly, much has changed since you cofounded Merrithew more than 25 years ago. Please tell us about that.

We began as Stott Pilates with a singular purpose and focus on the Pilates method of exercise. Then, both our instructors and the facilities we worked with wanted to diversify to remain competitive and cater to a broader segment of the population—people seeking long-term health and lifestyle solutions to improve their quality of life. As a result, our evolution into mindful movement came about naturally and somewhat organically, as we’ve always taken a mindful approach to what we do.

Recently, Merrithew has moved into new programs—Total Barre, Core, Zen∙ga, and Pilates for kids. What’s the rationale behind this brand expansion?

Our fundamental mission has guided us over the years—to motivate people of all ages and fitness abilities to lead healthier lives. Our newest, branded mind/body programs are built on the Stott Pilates method, incorporating the latest in exercise science, as well as newer fitness practices. This helps clubs and fitness professionals expand into new areas, while ensuring that Merrithew continues to remain current and relevant to the evolving needs of our community.

How has Merrithew worked with clubs to drive their success with Pilates and other mind/body programs?

We’ve worked with numerous facilities of all sizes, and have enjoyed the best results when we’ve engaged them as partners, tackling everything from knowing their members and instructor base, to assessing their space, to planning programs—both education and equipment—to maximize their revenue. It’s a matter of understanding the client’s business to help them create the program that best suits their needs.

What are the most rewarding, and most challenging, aspects of working together as a married couple? Who’s responsible for what?

What’s most rewarding is that we’ve taken this journey together, and we have skills that truly complement one another’s. It’s been a team effort that now includes our children … of whom we’re immensely proud.

That said, there are always challenges in any business. We’ve managed to keep them at bay by having distinctly separate roles.

Lindsay, as president and CEO, drives the vision forward and provides the leadership necessary to ensure that the end product, be it equipment, education, or the production of our video content, meets the highest standards.

Moira, as executive director of education, oversees and works with our team to ensure that those who train with us are getting the best, most up-to-date education possible in mindful exercise, as well as effective guidance in the career paths they’ve chosen.

Finally, you’ve created a very successful company, and each of you, as well as Merrithew, has won numerous awards. If you were to identify one secret to your success, what would it be?

We agree that the secret has been the dedicated internal team we’ve built, and our incredible and inspiring external community. We all share Merrithew’s mission.


IHRSA European Congress Keynoter Explores and Explains the Intriguing Behavior of Consumers

Ken Hughes, Founder, CEO, Glacier Consulting, Ltd. Dublin, IrelandYou’re speaking this month at the 15th Annual IHRSA European Congress in Marseille, France. A little preview?

We’ll be exploring the future. The next generation of consumers is going to demand different things from the brands and services they use. Get it wrong, and you become another casualty of irrelevance; get it right, and you “future-proof” your business.

You describe yourself as a “consumer and shopper behavioralist.” What, exactly, does that mean?

I study the behavior of shoppers and consumers—why and how people buy. This is a social science discipline that combines psychology, social anthropology, and neuro-marketing, a form of marketing research that focuses on consumers’ sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective responses to marketing stimuli. It also involves behavioral economics. Ultimately, it’s about understanding the science of shopping and consumption.

What led you to embrace this particular discipline?

People have always fascinated me—not only what they do, but also how you can nudge them to behave differently. If we understand enough about consumers and their needs, there’s virtually nothing that you can’t sell them!

What’s the connection between this and Glacier Consulting, its clients, and the services it provides?

Glacier started as a market research agency, but the focus soon shifted to consumers. Today, we help firms bridge the gap between what consumers really want and how our clients can most efficiently and effectively design and deliver those products and services.

One of the topics you focus on is personalization, and, in a recent blog, you critiqued Disneyland Paris on the basis of your own experience.

Yes, that’s right. Personalization really is the key to succeeding today. Disneyland Paris offers an app for its visitors, but fails to ask them who they are. Some visit the park for family rides; others, for the thrill rides; and others, for the shows and entertainment. If they had simply captured the ages of my kids, they could, for instance, have suggested rides with short queues close to where we were. Similarly, they could have pushed offers to me to eat at a nearby restaurant. They did none of this, so, as a user, I was left with what was essentially a digital map of the park. It could have been a personalized app that delivered added value, but, in fact, it would have been of as much use to me at my home in Ireland as it was in the park.

What lesson can health clubs draw from this example?
Thinking about, wrapping your mind around, the individual rather than the masses is really important. Sometimes the “personal” in personal training, or the “individual” in individual instruction, wears thin. If a member ever feels as though they’ve just become another “body” in the club, their usage and loyalty will also wane. At every moment, every aspect of their club experience should be personal—from entering the locker room, to working out on the fitness floor, to snacking in the cafe. The product has to be tailored to the individual.

You’ve talked about the high expectations of millennials. What are their successors, the members of Generation Z, going to want?

They’re going to want even more! These are the A.G. (after Google) consumers. They’ve grown up in a world of instant information, entertainment, and feedback. This is the “Swipe Card Here” generation. They’re demanding and unforgiving. Getting your product Gen-Z-ready is critical. Companies that fail to do so are going to get caught with their pants down!

Learn more about the 15th Annual IHRSA European Congress at


Garrett Marshall

Director, Fitness On Demand Chanhassen, Minnesota

An update, please, on Fitness On Demand’s progress since it was founded in 2011.

We’ve been growing steadily. Today, Fitness on Demand (FOD) has 1,500 active locations serving more than two million end-users. While our international markets are emerging —our platform is now used with five languages—our roots remain in the English-speaking parts of the world.

During the past year, we’ve made the greatest progress in the area of product development. In March, we introduced the industry’s first universal delivery platform, and by doing so, consolidated our portfolio of hardware options within one single device/kiosk.

How many classes, from how many different sources, do you now offer? How often are they updated?

Today, we offer over 1,200 titles from more than 40 providers, with unique update schedules, resulting in nonstop releases, samples, and new music. Additionally, because we employ an open platform model, many of our customers augment these programming options with their own content.

Any resistance from clubs or instructors who fear that virtual classes will replace traditional offerings?

Early on, there was skepticism. However, sometime in Q1 of next year—if not sooner—one out of every six fitness facilities in the U.S. will be using virtual. So I think operators are now recognizing that it’s not a replacement, but, rather, a supplemental tool.

We can draw a parallel to the development of automated checkout in the grocery industry. Early on, premium grocery stores resisted automation because they thought it didn’t provide a needed personal touch, or because theft would be too high. These grocers have come to the realization that they must accommodate both the self-service and the conventional shopper. Many club owners and operators have arrived at a similar conclusion.

How are club members responding to the product?
Any studies or anecdotal feedback?

Increasingly, group fitness participation is the crux of our value proposition. If we weren’t able to deliver this on a regular basis, then our product would become little more than a short-term trend. In fact, it’s driving participation in several ways.

First, FOD can target traffic outside of the hours when traditional fitness classes are offered. In one case study with Desert Sports and Fitness, in Tucson, Arizona—which offers approximately 40 live classes per week—it’s helped attract an additional 10,000 participants per annum.

Second, the low cost of operation allows for small class size. People find large class size to be the single biggest deterrent to taking part in group fitness.

Third, a virtual platform can expand the profile of who takes classes. In a research study with Ultimate Fitness, which has four locations in South Dakota, the operators said, “We’ve seen the spectrum of people involved in group fitness broaden.” This is partly due to the diversity of options available, and to the ability to consume the content when and how you want. So it’s no surprise to see new faces in the studio.

Finally, we seem to hear about a new virtual exercise
concept nearly every day. What sets yours apart?

There are lots of great ideas and products out there. But one aspect that separates FOD from the others is our exclusive emphasis on the commercial market.

We think of ourselves as a fitness company with a technology solution that allows us to realize our vision, rather than a tech company focused on fitness. As a result, we focus on only those objectives that will be truly meaningful to the commercial fitness operator, and avoid frivolous development. By doing so, I believe we’ve created a unique niche.


First Person: Cecil Spearman

You’ve been a successful club operator since the 1970s, and now own and operate three large multipurpose facilities. The reasons for your success?

We carefully select each location, and own the property, as well as the club. We try to offer something for everyone, train our professional staff to treat our members well, and constantly work to add value to our memberships.

Obviously, tennis has played a major role in your life. In your view, what’s right, and wrong, about the game today?

One good thing is that clubs can use social media to spread the word about tennis in an affordable way, and a growing membership provides economies of scale. One concern, though, is that baby boomers, who made the sport popular in the late ’60s, are giving it up because it’s hard on their bodies. And, for Millennials, playing tennis costs too much.

Clubs must offer affordable memberships and services that appeal to families, including quality tennis lessons for boys and girls. We welcome players of all ages, and encour- age reentry for people who haven’t played for years.

You’ve been an IHRSA member since 1984. What one thing has surprised you about the association the most?

I joined the day I met John McCarthy, IHRSA’s executive director emeritus, at a tennis trade show in California. With him at the helm, I was confident that what was then IRSA had a great future, but its tremendous growth has been a pleasant surprise. The industry, and the association, will grow even more as club attendance becomes established as an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

In 1985, you launched women-only clubs. Your thoughts on the current trend toward market segmentation?

I thought they’d require a smaller upfront investment and deliver a good return on investment (ROI). But they couldn’t match the performance of a multisport club. My sense is that today’s small specialty club operators may experience too much turnover for an acceptable ROI.

Technology is here ... What’s been the effect on your clubs?

Currently, 70% of our new members come from referrals, and, clearly, the Internet plays a significant role. Many people learn about us from our Website, so we’re upgrading it so they can tour a club and make a decision to join. Tech- nology is critical to success. We can change with the times, or risk becoming a statistic. Because we expect our referral rate to eventually drop to 50%, we work to keep members happy, so they’ll keep referring their friends.

Over the past 30 years, you’ve sold a number of clubs. Any suggestions for owners about buying or selling?

It’s important to plan for your exit before buying. For example, I built my first indoor tennis club in an upscale industrial park, reasoning that, if it failed, I could then convert the building into a warehouse. The club did well, but I sold it because it was twice as valuable as a warehouse.

Yours is a family business, and you’ve been transferring duties to your children. How’s that’s going?

Jean, my wife of 56 years, as vice president of operations, oversees cleaning and renovations. My three sons run the business day to day. I serve as CEO, and when we do strategic planning, I settle any disagreements. My son, Steve, a CPA, is CFO. Scott, who’s skilled at management and fitness, is a general manager. Mark, a former all- American tennis player, handles all tennis matters.

Consultants are helping Jean and me decide what to do when we can’t handle our duties any longer. We hope that our sons and grandkids will work together as well in the future as my wife, sons, and I have in the past.


CBI First Person: Perrey Reeves

You were born in New York City, but raised in New Hampshire. How did rural life affect you?

We were always doing something outside, skiing, playing soccer, etc., even in cold weather; in school, I was a gymnast. As a result, I love anything that involves movement. My parents always said, “You’ll stay young forever if you remain active.” And the mental health benefits are huge.

Speaking of mental health, we’ve heard that you’re very serious about meditation and yoga. A few details, please.

Yes, I started a meditation practice in 1992 and a yoga one in 1994, before they were cool. I like a simple, mantra-style meditation. You focus on something, and, when you drift off, you come back to the mantra—it’s very gentle, restful, and rather effortless.

As for yoga, it’s a Hatha practice. I first started with Ashtanga, since, having been an athlete, I wanted something really active. But I realized that I already have enough energy—I needed to calm down. So, today, my practice is a series of standing and balancing poses, plus stretching. I do what my body needs from day to day.

You’ve established the Sanctuary at Two Rivers, a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. How did that come about?

I wanted something beyond a career in Hollywood. I love acting, but have a lot of other interests. Because nature, health, wellness, and yoga are my passions, I thought, “I want to create a camp for adults.” Costa Rica is a beautiful country. And Sanctuary is situated between two rivers, with waterfalls, not far from the ocean. We built 15 structures—a little village with a spa and pool, on 40 acres in the jungle. We’re 100% solar, with luxurious tree houses—very Asian. We offer weeklong programs, with yoga classes and three meals a day. It’s restful, rejuvenating, and fun.

Life is draining, and nature helps restore one’s energy.

How do you attempt to motivate people to pursue a healthy lifestyle?

If you’re overweight and haven’t been eating properly, it’s hard to do things to get better. When, physically, you don’t have much energy and, psychologically, may be depressed, you’re more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors—it’s a vicious cycle. So I advise people to do something simple, initially: for instance, commit to just walking around the neighborhood—something realistic that they can do.

Say, “I’m going to do 15 minutes a day, three days a week, for 21 days, and I’m not going to let myself down.” It’s remarkable how happy that can make a person feel.

You also stress the importance of eating correctly—right?

Yes, if you’re not providing your body with the proper fuel, you’re not going to feel great. I’ve been a vegetarian much of my life, but I’m sure if I was doing a movie on location, living in a hotel, and a grilled cheese sandwich was the only thing I could get—I’d eat it. But if I’m not eating well, I don’t feel well. Health is a lifestyle—all of the different factors have to fit together.

All of this sounds like a far cry from Melissa Gold, the character you play on Entourage. Do you resemble her in any way?

Well, Melissa is devoted to her family and really loves Ari; all of their behavior comes from her desire to guide him, because he’s so out of control. So I’d say that we’re both strong women ... and both of us also talk fast.

After Entourage, what’s next for you?

Something will come along. I’m sure of it. That’s the great thing I’ve learned with meditation and yoga. I don’t stress over those types of thing anymore. There’s a calmer way to exist.



Ex-Marine, Owner of Three Gold's Gyms, Is Loyal to IHRSA

Gordon Johnson heeded the words of IHRSA in the 1990s when it said it was smart to hook your health club wagon to a brand that is recognizable and stands for something.

That was 1996 and he opted to convert his gym to the Gold’s Gym brand. Now he has three locations in Georgia and is entering his fourth decade in the industry.

CBI magazine sat down with Johnson for its First Person question-and-answer feature. 

Check out CBI magazine online to see how he got into the business, how being a Marine got him to where he is now, why he has stuck with IHRSA, and more.


CBI First Person: Annemarie van Gaal

CBI magazine’s First Person feature is Annemarie van Gaal. The founder of van Gaal & Company, she is an author, investor and media consultant in Amerstam, The Netherlands.  And, she is one of the keynote speakers at next month’s 14th Annual IHRSA European Congress.

Read on as she answers questions about the subject of her talk, her businesses diversity, her opinion on social media and more.


CBI magazine spends 10 minutes with Nick Coutts

Nick Coutts, left, and Brent Darden at the 2013 European Congress.Nick Coutts is the founder of Fitness Hut - a small chain of seven clubs and around 30,000 members.

But his innovative ideas, market growth and success are some of the reasons he garnered the 2013 IHRSA European Club Leadership Award at last year's IHRSA European Congress.

CBI magazine recently published its First Person feature on him. Find out how he has succeeded, his newest venture in fitness clubs and more.

For more on European Congress, which is less than six months away, visit

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