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Club grows with a little help from its friends at IHRSA

Owner: Alan Hanford
Location: Rochester, N.Y.
Employees: N/A
Members: 2,300


If there were two words that could be used to describe Alan Hanford, the owner of the Penfield Fitness and Racquet Club, in Rochester, N.Y., they would be flexible and resilient. 

Hanford, one of the original members of IHRSA, opened Penfield in 1978, and, since then, has added services and renovated and expanded the facility countless times -year, after year, after year - to keep up with the changing market and hold the competition at bay. 

Inspired by the popularity of racquetball at the time, Hanford launched his 15,000-square-foot club with eight racquetball courts. Today, Penfield is a very different animal—a 38,000-square-foot, 2,300-member, multipurpose facility with full fitness offerings, four racquetball courts, a pool, a gymnasium, personal training, and group exercise, as well as a variety of other amenities. The club’s expansion has occurred step-by-step, in response to an evolving market, and informed and assisted by Hanford’s close ties with IHRSA, and its staff and other members. 

He’s succeeded in maintaining steady growth and profitability for more than three decades - no mean achievement. 

“Fitness became popular quickly in the 1980s, and we’ve refined our offering over the years,” he observes simply and modestly. “My IHRSA membership provided a sounding board, and many of the owners of its member clubs validated the notion that a full-service multipurpose club represented the most successful formula. “All my eggs are in this basket, and I’ve tended to this basket very carefully—with IHRSA’s help.” 

Strategic innovation
The first significant change occurred in 1981, when Hanford parked a Tunturi bike and several Nautilus machines in the club’s lobby. The move was prompted by a meeting he’d had with other IHRSA members, during which they’d shared the impressive numbers they were generating with Nautilus circuits. 

“As a result, I put in seven machines, and, all of a sudden, people were buying $99 three-month memberships just to use the fitness equipment,” he recalls. 

The next major reorientation took place in 1983, when the facility expanded to include a nursery, an aerobics studio, a whirlpool, and a second Nautilus circuit. This, Hanford explains, was when the “total-club” concept emerged. By 1988, Hanford had also completed a fitness center addition, devoting 2,200 square feet to free weights and cardiovascular equipment. “I’d say that 95% of what we purchased we discovered at the IHRSA trade show,” he acknowledges. 

The modifications, the changes, the innovations, and all of the other exciting, new, up-to-date touches continued to appear, keeping Penfield comfortably—and profitably—close to the industry’s cutting edge. In 1992: fresh paint and new carpeting, counter tops, and lounge furniture. In 1994: Cardio Theater. In 1996: a 20-yard swimming pool. In 2001: a basketball gymnasium that would also host birthday parties, family activities, and group fitness classes; and a line of Technogym equipment. 

Penfield Fitness and Racquet Club owner Alan HanfordCountering competition
Hanford’s IHRSA membership has served him well in other ways, and at times when he really needed it. A number of years ago, for example, the YMCA threatened to open a $20-million facility just three miles away from Penfield. Hanford, disturbed by the prospect, fought the development - first in the courts (unsuccessfully), and then on the playing field (successfully). 

Initially, with the help of some literature from the association and helpful legal advice from fellow IHRSA members, he filed a lawsuit against the Y. He lost the suit, and plans for the Y proceeded, but, even at that point, he appreciated the benefits of belonging. Hanford felt he wasn’t alone. 

“If you’re the only person out there in the cold, you don’t know if any of your efforts are going to be worthwhile,” he reflects. “Through IHRSA, I met other people who’d fought similar battles. They encouraged me and offered camaraderie.” 

In 2006, a year before the new Y would open, Hanford resorted to the strategy that he’d employed in the past to further his business and frustrate competitors - giving the public even more … and even better. An expansive $2-million renovation introduced a host of irresistible features, including renovated locker rooms with saunas and steam rooms, a 1,600-square-foot fitness studio, a new group cycling studio, and a new lounge for the club’s entrance. 

“The renovation gave us a big bump in membership that year, before the Y opened,” he recalls with clear satisfaction. “I can only imagine how much depletion we’d have had if we hadn’t embarked on the renovation.” 

Now, with annual revenues of $2.2 million and a 14% profit margin, Penfield rests secure in its past and is bullish about its future. “Looking back, it seems to me that we’ve always sought out best practices to improve our sales, service, and attrition,” observes Hanford. IHRSA was where we always went - and where we still go - to find the help we need.” 


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