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Entries in Jon Feld (13)


US Fitness Holdings' Executive Team is Ready to Roll

Kirk & John Galiani

Brotherly brand: John, l., and Kirk GalianiThese two brothers, serial fitness entrepreneurs, are employing a multilevel branding strategy to advantage at US Fitness Holdings 

CBI: You’ve made news most recently with your acquisition, last year, ofSport & Health and Atlanta Fitness, but let’s start at the beginning. Backin 1990, you were one of the first Gold’s Gym franchisees, and, in 1999,became co-owners of Gold’s Gym International, Inc. (GGI). What possessed you to leave GGI in 2004?

KIRK GALIANI: It was a very tough decision for John and me—departing from acompany that we’d helped shape and build, and leaving a lot of friends in the Gold’s Gym family. The brand will always be in our soul and in our DNA, but we were really ready for the next chapter.

CBI: And you immediately launched Onelife Fitness. What was different about those clubs?

KG: We created Onelife as a destination club model—a sports club with all the amenities. A typical facility features racquetball, basketball, several pools, extensiveKid’s Clubs, women-only areas, private yoga and Pilates rooms, and group cycling studios, as well as large group exercise rooms. We wanted clubs that would appeal to everyone, and that, at around $30 a month, would offer unparalleled value.

JOHN GALIANI: And we wanted a brand that we could define, mold, and control.It’s much easier and more comfortable for us to be leading a brand. It’s not that Gold’s Gym lacked anything; we just wanted to go in our own direction.

Read more.

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How Companhia Athletica Markets Its Values  

Recently, I spoke with Richard Bilton, the director and president of Brazil’s largest club chain, Companhia Athletica, which has 16 facilities. While much of the interview focused on employees and training issues, we didn’t have the real estate, in CBI, to cover everything that makes the organization unique.

Click to read more ...


Technology and People: Means to a Successful End

By Jon Feld

Recently, we interviewed William Taylor, the cofounder of Fast Company magazine; author of numerous books on entrepreneurship; and a keynote speaker at IHRSA's 31st Annual International Convention & Trade Show on March 14-17 in Los Angeles. Taylor spoke about myriad topics, but we had only had so much real estate with which to work. Among the key areas he discussed in a depth that we weren’t able to fully leverage within the pages of CBI were technology and people.

In the case of the former, when questioned about the importance of technology and its place in a company’s culture, Taylor noted that technology, in and of itself, is merely a tool—a means to an end.

“It’s important only insofar as it helps to turbocharge what makes a company unique and how it relates to its customers,” he explained. “A company like Southwest Airlines, which is one of my favorite companies in the world, has always been an innovator in technology. But it cares about technology only because it helps it keep fares lower for customers and lets customers do things for themselves, which are important pieces of what makes Southwest unique. USAA, the insurance and financial-services company, is among the great technological innovators anywhere, but only because it uses technology to make its services more nimble, more agile, and more accessible for its military customers, which is its unique niche. It’s done amazing stuff with the iPad, with texting, and with other forms of social media, because its customers are scattered all over the world—literally on the battlefield—and these technologies are important to staying in touch with them.”

As regards human capital, we posed a query based on one of Taylor’s many blog posts, “We Is Bigger Than Me.” In it, he questions pushing too hard to let people express themselves, individually, in the workplace. Many business operators believe that self-expression is related to innovation. So where do you draw the line?

“It’s not about expressing yourself at work. It’s about reminding yourself that success is not just about you,” he says. “It’s one of the cultural hangovers of our obsession with ‘Free Agent Nation,’ the idea that we’re all on our personal journey through the world. There’s something to that, but, as a business culture, we’ve taken it too far. The more executives, entrepreneurs, and talented individuals I get to know, the more convinced I become that true happiness, a genuine sense of satisfaction, comes not from ‘finding’ yourself, but from ‘losing’ yourself—in a company you believe in, a cause you’re prepared to fight for, and a commitment to solve a problem that’s defied solution.

“Randy Nelson, who spent years as the influential dean of Pixar University, loves to talk about what it's like to be surrounded by ‘wildly talented individuals’ of the sort who work at a company as rich, powerful, and successful as Pixar,” Taylor continues. “His message to these individual stars, for whom it’s so easy to strut their stuff and show what they know, is as simple as it is powerful: ‘It's no trick for talented people to be interesting. But it's a gift to be interested’—interested in big problems, interested in the talents and struggles of your colleagues, and interested in the enduring mission of the enterprise and new ways to bring that mission to life.”


Locker Room Design at 30,000 Feet

By Jon Feld

I recently completed an article on locker room design in the July issue, “Locker Room Largesse,” in which we focused on specific areas where design could assist in creating the feel of a larger space. As is typically the case, the architects and designers I spoke with were very forthcoming, offering up a plethora of guiding principles covering everything from lighting and color to furnishings and overall flow. As a result, I had enough material for several articles on the subject.

One question I asked every contributor was: If you had to offer one key piece of advice regarding creating spaciousness in a locker room environment, what would it be? We wound up with a good “30,000-foot view” of what they viewed as core principles in using design to create space. I was able to incorporate some of their responses, but not all. So, we’d like to use this space to pass along those learnings. Here’s what the experts had to say:

An Ohlson Lavoie DesignThe number-one contributor to creating spaciousness is eliminating as many full-height vertical walls as possible. A certain amount can’t be avoided, just due to the need to control moisture, smells, privacy, and the like. But by concentrating on creating a space with continuous planes of flooring and ceilings, it will have a dramatic effect on the spaciousness.

 —Bob McDonald, senior principal at Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative, Denver 

Anticipate human nature, and the willingness or unwillingness of friends or strangers to make use of adjoining facilities, and design accordingly. While a design may technically "fit" all the program components in the allocated space, actual use patterns may demonstrate inefficiencies. Properly anticipating use is just as important as meeting outlined programmatic goals.

Michael Prifti, FAIA, principal at BLT Architects, in Philadelphia

Keep ceilings high--at least nine or more feet if possible. Use up-lighting, leave enough room for comfortable flow, and make sure to allow as much privacy for people as possible.

Bruce Carter, president of Optimal Design, Weston, Florida

BLT's use of light, color, and textureThe most important piece of advice would be proper flow in planning where each functional part of a locker room (i.e., the locker bays, the toilet area, the showers, the steam rooms, sinks, and grooming areas) has adequate and separate space, but flow into one another because of a simple layout and clearly defined circulation to each one of the areas. Good flow coupled with a uniform, indirect lighting pattern and proper color selection will provide a spacious feel in almost any sized locker room.

J. Thomas Seymour, AIA, of PSA-Dewberry, Inc., Peoria, Illinois


Against the Odds

By Jon Feld

In the August issue of CBI, you’ll read about Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer, two young, Harvard-educated entrepreneurs who have created a new type of membership called Gym-Pact. Boiled down, the concept is based almost entirely on member responsibility: members are assessed a penalty fee when they miss workouts to which they’ve committed.Yifan Zhang and Geoff Oberhofer

While that may be a simplification, it is the essence of the Gym-Pact agreement. And, to someone who’s been reporting on the industry for more than 25 years, it almost hearkens back to the days when attrition was a common basis for charging membership fees. But, in this instance, the paradigm is turned on its head somewhat. As opposed to being charged whether you work out or not, you lose money only if you don’t show up when you’ve agreed to and you’re rewarded if you maintain your commitment. It truly does shift responsibility to the member.

It’s a fairly radical concept and, based on discussions I’ve had with veteran industry observers and operators, it could be a tough sell. The underlying message I got was, “I hope these kids can make it work, but similar approaches have failed.” In fact, Zhang and Oberhofer have already had to modify the concept to make it a bit less onerous, but that was a decision informed by follow-up member research.

But just imagine what it was like back in 1947, when Vic Tanny opened the first exercise facility in a Second Street loft in Santa Monica, California. Most people thought of those who worked out as “muscle-heads.” It was a different approach and acceptance was far from immediate. Nearly 40 years later, the movie Perfect put the popularity of Los Angeles health clubs among singles in a negative light. As an industry, we’ve weathered a great deal to become accepted as a mature, mainstream outlet.

The point? Just because the Gym-Pact concept may be contrary to the way in which membership currently works (e.g., responsibility for performance lies mainly with the club), that doesn’t mean it can’t succeed. When I spoke with Zhang and Oberhofer, I was bowled over by their enthusiasm for Gym-Pact, even when they knew they had to adjust the concept to make it more palatable. And even though long-timers in the industry are still suspending judgment, I did interview several people who thought Gym-Pact was right on track, including members who took part in the trials, each of whom met their commitments over the long term.

So, as you’re reading the story, don’t judge Gym-Pact immediately. Remember that, just because a concept is unique and doesn’t have a proven track record, that doesn’t mean it won’t work. Just ask Vic Tanny, Jack LaLanne, Joe Gold, or any other industry pioneer.


The Keys to Building Community

By Jon Feld

In a recent post, I mused (briefly) about the choices IHRSA makes for its International Convention & Trade Show keynote speakers. While I mentioned my discussions with CEO Tony Hsieh, author of Delivering Happiness, I never really delved into my thoughts about why he was uniquely qualified to present at the event.

In comparing the ways in which Zappos and clubs serve their customers, Hsieh  says, “In a lot of ways, we built our brand around customer service through the phone. With the face-to-face contact that clubs enjoy, you have a bigger advantage in creating a personal, emotional connection than through telephone or e-mail.”

In that previous post, I discussed the passion most entrepreneurs share for what they do and for those they serve. Hsieh takes it a step further with Delivering Happiness. Certainly, creating the best possible experiences for customers is the driving force behind what Zappos does and what club operators seek to achieve. But Hsieh’s vision has taken root and he’s beginning to achieve what we in the club industry already have: a community growing around his service ideals.

One point he makes in the book is that you need to have the mindset that you will “seek to change the world.” And that point has taken life beyond his pages. The Delivering Happiness Movement has raised funds for charity and more. “We wanted the book to be the spark that caused Delivering Happiness to take on a life of its own,” Hsieh related. “We’ve heard that there are physical communities around the world and we want to continue to build out multiple communities online.”

In my view, that’s the strongest link Hsieh has to the club industry: He’s found a way to spread the gospel and have a positive impact on lives outside his business. It’s a goal we’ve spoken to with regard to reaching the deconditioned and other markets for several years now. To that end, his presentation may unlock some secrets to building community that we can put to work for the long term.

Check out the full interview with Tony Hsieh in the March issue of CBI , available next week.


The More, the Merrier!

By Jon Feld

The club industry always seems to have room for one more. Soon, dance-exercise programmers like Les Mills and Zumba will be moving over to welcome a newcomer, Batuka: The Beat of Life.


 If there’s one thing writing for CBI has taught me, it’s that industry innovation can come from anywhere—and anyone. I’ve talked to manufacturers who started in areas far outside the fitness realm, but found applications in exercise; actors who developed unique workouts; and more. Enter Cali, Colombian-born Batuka founder Kike (pronounced “kee kay”) Santander. In the upcoming February edition of CBI’s “Value Proposition” article, we talk about his TV show—Operación Triunfo—and how it led to an exercise program geared toward helping contestants endure the grueling telecast schedule.

We also discuss his credentials as a top Latin American music producer, working with the likes of Carlos Santana, Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Lopez, and more. But that was about as far as we went. Often, we don’t have the opportunity to expand on some of the amazing things we unearth when we speak with people, and why we ultimately believe they’ll succeed. In the article, Santander comes across as a professional musician, but his transition is much more impressive than that. He’s a master of reinvention.

While he loves music, he chose to launch his career as a doctor, spending seven years in school to complete his degree. After his first year in practice, he decided he missed music so much that he moved to Bogota, Colombia, and started singing in a bar. As time passed, he became a master of “hooks,” writing more than 1,500 commercial jingles and mastering the craft of producing, arranging, and engineering. Since then, 42 of Santander’s songs have reached Billboard’s “Hot Latin Song” charts, including 11 No. 1s and 29 top 10s. 

And now it’s time for Santander’s next reinvention: Batuka. When the series was introduced in Spain in 2005, it sold more than 1.5 million DVDs, resulting in initial revenues of over 30 million Euros (more than $40 million), and spawned five top-10 hits in the country.

Like so many before him, Santander is bringing a clearly prodigious talent to the club industry in the U.S., and—again, like his predecessors—it’s his energy and vision that will help him succeed.

Look for the U.S. debut of Batuka at the upcoming IHRSA International Convention and Trade Show!  





Closing the Loop on the Circle of Passion

By Jon Feld

Each year, I have the distinct privilege of interviewing keynote speakers for the upcoming IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show. This year, for example, I had the opportunity to spend time with Tony Hsieh, author of Delivering Happiness and CEO of, and Phil Keoghan, author of No Opportunity Wasted and host of the show The Amazing Race (among an array of other programs). Both are speaking at IHRSA’s 30th Anniversary International Convention & Trade Show in San Francisco, coming up in March.

When I get the assignments, the same thought runs through my head every year. “What do these guys have to do with the club industry?” Usually, I shake my head and start crafting questions, never answering the question.

This year, when I told my wife, Susan, who I was interviewing, she asked: “What do those guys have to do with clubs?” It forced me to face the question directly. I could answer with only one very hackneyed word: Passion. We use the term so much in connection with the industry that it’s almost lost its luster for me.

But in this case, it might just be at the heart of the issue. (It’s worth noting that I have no idea how the organizers of the event come to make the selections they do, but the speakers are always intriguing.) Invariably, the speakers I interview have exhaustive energy and an array of business and personal interests. And they all share a passion for what they do, but, more importantly, for who they serve.

When I asked Phil Keoghan about his favorite moments from the hundreds and thousands of shows he’s hosted, he said: “I love watching people push way beyond what they think they’re capable of. This is a show where so-called ordinary people do extraordinary things and where you can see a deaf person like Luke win the first leg of the race with his mother. Telling them—actually, I used sign language to tell them—that they had won the first leg…definitely a favorite for me.”

Tony Hsieh put his passion for serving others into Delivering Happiness, a book whose message he says is about “making everyone in a business happy—customers, employees, and even vendors.”

The intersection here, again, is the P-word. Club owners got into the business, for the most part, based on a passion for health and fitness and a strong desire to serve others. Where many businesses are products of innovation or an idea that no one has had before, operating a club starts with an old, time-tested tenet: The need to serve.

Innovation in the club industry is about the ways in which you do that, the techniques and tactics you can use to differentiate yourself from others in your market. And that’s where the IHRSA Conventions come in (you knew I’d get to my point eventually).

In its passion to serve the fitness community, IHRSA offers a wide range of tools and resources, not the least of which is its annual Convention and Trade Show. It’s where you’ll find the latest education and thinking regarding industry trends.

But, as any successful business owner can tell you, learning from sources outside your own industry is a very powerful way to help transform your own thinking—it forces you outside what you “know” about your segment. It helps you view your business—and the way you serve others—in a different light. Hence, the value of keynotes from top businesspeople in other verticals.

The presentations put you in a unique position: to hear about improving your business from unexpected, yet proven sources, and to hear about how leaders in their own fields maximized their business opportunities, taking their passion and desire to serve to new heights.

Trust me, this is not a pitch for IHRSA or the show—I have no need to do that. I’ve simply learned a tremendous amount from interviewing these folks and want to pass the benefits along. As a writer, that’s my passion. If you close the “passion loop” yourself and see any of the IHRSA Convention and Trade Show keynote speakers, I promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, you might just look at your passion—and your business—in a brand new way.


I Don’t Like Massage—I Need It

By Jon Feld

For the past 30-plus years, I’ve been working out on a weekly basis in some way, shape, or form. At one time or another, I’ve been addicted to free weights, circuit training, running, or cardio, often in combination. Along the way, I’ve pulled or strained various muscles and, a couple of years ago, had to deal with a double hernia. (What can I say? One just wasn’t enough for me.)

I’m by no means a gym rat, but I do feel it’s important to balance the horrible diet to which I’ve subjected my body over the years by at least giving it a fighting chance, and I’m not without a certain level of unfounded vanity.

During the past few years, my body and its systems have been helped by Susan, my wife of the past two years. After the first physical I had following the inception of our serious relationship—say, three years ago—she saw my cholesterol numbers and openly wept for my aorta, renal system, and every other osmotic organ in my body. She immediately sent out several letters bearing my picture and a “Do Not Serve This Man” legend to every local fast food outlet and forbade me to ever shop alone again. If I wanted a Dorito, it would have to be found on the floor or between the seat cushions of my car.

All this to say that, over a couple years later, I’m in better shape than ever and in fine fettle every day. About a month ago, I took my lithe self for a workout and, with a 36-pound Body Bar on my shoulders, began doing side-to-sides in the vain hope of reducing my recalcitrant love handles. I then proceeded to do a set of crunches and, just before finishing up, felt a slight twinge in my shoulders. Ignoring the omen completely, I went home and spent a few hours working on my motorcycle—hunching and crouching the whole time, removing and re-attaching little pieces.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I sensed a pain in my right arm. When I moved it, I realized that I had pain radiating up all the way through my shoulder. Wait, it was both shoulders. And my lower back hurt. As the sun came up, Susan found me in the fetal position, clutching a pillow to my chest, mewling softly. Well, I wasn’t really clutching the pillow; it simply got caught up in the slow course of my curling up.

“Are you OK?” Susan asked gently.

“Yes. I’m fine,” was my terse reply. “Please go away for just a few minutes.”

Good sport that she was, she did my bidding, returning only after hearing what she thought was the screaming of a little girl. Naturally, she was puzzled, as our 11-year-old daughter was at a friend’s house.

Sitting on the bed, she watched me slowly and painfully uncurl. Everything hurt and I had no idea why.

“You’re 51 years old,” Susan pointed out.


“So you’re not a kid anymore. You can’t keep doing that stuff without giving your body some help.”

At this point, I started thinking, rather than speaking. Because my thoughts were, “You’re wrong. Everything I do helps my body. Go away, you crazy woman.” I knew I couldn’t speak it because, as is typically the case, she was right.

I’m not a big fan of doctors (once a year is fine, thank you) and hadn’t had a lot of luck with chiropractors. Susan said, “How about getting a massage?” That appealed to me. I didn’t think it would work, but I loved the thought of falling slowly asleep while someone pretty rubbed oil on me for the better part of an hour. So I called my club and booked a massage.

It’s been at least 25 years since I had a massage at a club, so I was surprised at the intake process. It was close to being a doctor’s appointment. Stew, my massage therapist, was not pretty, but he did focus on where I had pain, taking detailed notes.

He started the session off by gently probing the affected areas and letting me know that he found significant knots, etc., in key places. For the next 45 minutes, I was literally reduced to tears—rather than napping and covered with exotically scented oils, as I’d hoped—as Stew pulled and prodded, slowly unkinking my various lumps.

At the end of the session, he asked me how often I’d been getting a massage. “Today,” I replied meekly, sitting and panting, trying to regain some composure. “Stand up,” Stew commanded. I thought briefly of disobeying him, but I had no fight in me. “Turn your head left and right,” he ordered. Oh my god! I had real range of motion for the first time since the Patriots last won the Super Bowl! If someone asked me a question, I realized I could simply turn my head in response and not have to lever my entire body around!

“That’s why I asked,” Stew said. “Once you get older, you often don’t even realize you’re slowly becoming restricted over time. Massage can really help you maintain your range, ease arthritis, and keep you limber.” I wasn’t happy about the arthritis crack, but I had to agree. I felt like I had my body back—or at least a modicum of control.

I’ve been to Stew twice since then and my plan is to stick with it at least twice a month. Where I once saw massage as a “nice to have,” now I know it’s a “need to have.” 


Zumba Bonus!

By Jon Feld

Chances are, you’re probably very familiar with—if not already a huge fan of—Zumba, one of the fastest-growing group fitness programs in the industry today.

In 1999, celebrity fitness trainer Beto Perez brought Rumbacize—a dance fitness class that he created based on salsa, merengue, and other Latin music—to the U.S. from his native Cali, Colombia. Perez quickly teamed with entrepreneurs Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion and, in 2002, they re-branded the program Zumba and secured a deal with a large infomercial company to launch the concept nationwide. The exposure resulted in the sale of hundreds of thousands of videos to the U.S. market through its parent, Hollywood, Florida-based Zumba Fitness, LLC.

“The Zumba program reached mass awareness as a use-at-home videotape and DVD set sold via television infomercials,” says CEO Perlman. “When members started asking for it at clubs, we started training instructors. As consumer demand continues to grow, so does our instructor network. Currently, we’re in 60,000 locations in 105 countries, and 7.5 million people take Zumba classes every week.” In contrast, in 2006, the Zumba program was in about 2,000 locations in just three countries.

CBI spoke with Perlman about the company’s mission, its evolving programming and growing culture, and more.

And, if you haven’t yet experienced the Zumba phenomenon yourself, check out Mia’s Mother-Daughter Zumba Party!

CBI: How has Zumba’s mission served your long-term growth?

Alberto Perlman: Our mission is to make our instructors successful by keeping their classes full. Our goal is to get to 100 million Zumba students worldwide. It’s achievable because Zumba has created an entirely new category of fitness—a category that caters to the people who don’t usually work out. It’s easy to bring fitness people into the club, but we’re in the business of bringing in all types of people, including non fitness-oriented people, into our classes.

CBI: It seems as if there’s a growing Zumba culture out there—not just around the programming, but around building community. Are you seeing this? 

AP: Zumba is all about community. The objective of a Zumba class is to have a great time; fitness is almost a by-product. Both our instructors and self-proclaimed “Zumba fanatics” are passionate about the Zumba program.

Zumba strikes a very deep chord in people. Some people even tattoo the logo on their bodies. Zumba is not about how a member looks after months of working out (although they do look quite good); it’s about how a member feels in the moment, while they’re working out. It’s social. The Zumba program brings people together because the workout feels more like a party. People have fun, make friends, and laugh at parties—the same is true for a Zumba class. Zumba builds retention by building community.

To support our community, we recently launched Z-LIFE Magazine, a lifestyle magazine focusing on the passion, energy, and vibrancy that bring our amazing community together.

CBI: How have your specialty programs helped expand your market base?

AP: We created these programs because people were asking for them. The active older adults don’t want to do bicep curls; they want to dance and have a good time. So we created Zumba Gold—which adds rhythms like cha-cha, jive, swing, and tango. We’ve heard some incredible love stories about older couples meeting at their Zumba Gold class. It’s amazing. Zumbatomic is our answer to kids’ fitness offerings that are boring and/or competitive. Zumbatomic is exercise in disguise for kids. Zumba Toning targets our current base and helps those consumers who want to focus on toning arms and shoulders without counting reps. Aqua Zumba…well, let’s just say we are heating up the pool party.

CBI: What’s new at Zumba?

AP: There’s a lot going on—as always. In the fourth quarter of this year, we’ll be launching our first Zumba video game. The really cool thing about the game is that, like all our at-home products, they help get people prepared to take a live class at a gym.

We’re also working on several strategic initiatives, such as figuring out how to get more men into the group exercise room and growing our relationships with major club chains around the world. We don’t charge the clubs any licensing fees, but we literally offer them full-service support free of charge. We’re also more than tripling our advertising spending to get our gym partners more members. And we still have a long way to go outside of the U.S. Currently, we’re working on licensing more and more new instructors in Europe and Australia, and building infrastructure to support them.

More than anything, as we grow, we take measures to protect the essence of the Zumba spirit. We want people to literally feel the music. As we continue to expand, our chief goal is to ensure that the magic remains the same.