5 Health Club Operators Speculate on What's to Come in 2018

As the New Year begins, a group of IHRSA's newest health club members set their sights on the next 12 months and beyond.

Attend any IHRSA event, be it a convention, trade show, institute, or congress, and you’re bound to hear a variety of perspectives from a variety of very smart individuals.

That divergence of opinion in many parts of the industry—and, often, many parts of the country, or even the world—is something that makes an IHRSA membership invaluable. It provides food for thought and impetus for action.

In search of these fresh insights, we asked five new IHRSA members what they foresee for 2018 and the next few years, what they bring to the association, and how they’re benefiting from the new affiliation.

Don’t be too surprised if you hear something completely new. Or that you happen to share some of their thoughts, opinions, hopes, or dreams—because that’s what “Success by Association” is all about, isn’t it?

Don Allen, Territory Director
Tampa Fitness Partners (TFP)
Tampa, FL

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Orangetheory in action

Tampa Fitness Partners, founded in 2011, is a fitness franchising and management company that owns 13 Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) facilities, including development locations; manages 16 units for other franchises; and owns the OTF development rights for West Florida.

“Our business is benefiting from Orangetheory Fitness’
incredible strength at this time,” says Allen. “OTF corporate is an excellent partner, always pushing the business to innovate and stay ahead, without losing the ‘magic’ that got us where we are.

“However, there are smart and capable individuals who want a piece of our pie. So we’re aggressively ‘hardening’ our business to resist their attempts to grab market share.”

Like others in the industry, Allen sees lots of competition coming from studio and boutique operations. “They have been, and remain, all the buzz. But the boutique experience can only be hyper-successful if it’s in someone’s blood. You can’t treat it as a side business, and hope to succeed. I’ve met very few people who are willing to go all in.

“What I always say about competition is ‘Jump on in, the water’s fine!’ But you’d better be a strong swimmer, because the businesses with the best people will win every time.”

On joining IHRSA: “I plan to expose my team to all of the tremendous learning opportunities that IHRSA offers. In addition, I support the association in its important national and international initiatives. Being involved with a trusted international brand is valuable, but it’s also important to consider if you’re leveraging your partnership with IHRSA in the best way possible.”

Bruce Burchfield, CEO
Sportscenter
Concord, NC

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Sportscenter's strength offering

Sportscenter is a 37-year-old, family-owned, 60,000-square-foot, multipurpose facility situated on an 11-acre site.

Sportscenter, founded by Burchfield’s father in 1981, managed to rack up 33% in growth in 2017, and Burchfield expects to average about 20% to 30% annually for the next few years—extraordinary for a mature business. One contributing factor, he says, has been the strong economy, a definite plus for the club.

“Because we’re nearly 40 years old, we have lots of repair and replacement costs,” he explains. “We embarked on an extreme makeover in 2006, but we’re still paying down loans. Fortunately, interest rates have been favorable—fixed at 4.5% since 2012—and should remain so next year, which will support our continued growth.”

On the competitive front, he considers the high-volume/low-priced (HV/LP) model—which many operators regard with dread—as something of a feeder system for his club.

“Plenty of people come to us from the $10- to $20-a-month clubs,” he says. “Those facilities offer weights and cardio equipment, but it’s our amenities, and overall value, that win in the long term.”

On joining IHRSA: “We value the resources that the association provides, especially the reports it produces. We found Netpulse, Inc., and TAG Digital Marketing through IHRSA, and we’re using both of them to bring our sales and marketing into the 21st century.”

Greg Bienvenu, Owner
Southern Oaks Athletic Club
Baton Rouge, LA

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Southern Oaks Athletic Club

Southern Oaks Athletic Club (SOAC) is a 3,500-member, 13,000-square-foot fitness, tennis, and aquatics club.

Currently, SOAC, which opened in 2005, is
striving to stand out among its competitors, which now include boutique clubs and small studios.

“We work hard to offer something more than big-box gyms and tennis-only clubs do. At the same time, we need to compete with an increasing number of specialized studios,” Bienvenu says. “It’s always a concern that, since we don’t specialize in one area, we may lose people who want that focus.”

In response, the club offers a wide range of classes, and recently added a new level of membership geared specifically toward personalized, narrowly focused training.

Bienvenu points to another major trend that he believes will manifest itself in the coming year and beyond: More people taking control of their health.

“We’re seeing a stronger emphasis on wellness, so it will become an increasingly strong part of our programming, technology, and in-house nutritional planning. As such, we’ll be able to leverage that desire to connect more individuals to our SOAC community.”

On joining IHRSA: “We’ve always made an effort to stay connected to our industry, and learn how we can serve our members in new ways. Joining IHRSA was a next step in doing that. It’s been very helpful to have access to more reliable, authoritative industry information. We also see the opportunity to participate in future IHRSA events as a huge benefit.”

Robin Colangelo, Owner
Athlete’s Addiction
Manassas, VA

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The Athlete's Addiction training team

Founded in 2012, Athlete’s Addiction is a 15,000-square-foot club that emphasizes sports and performance training.

As always, Colangelo will be focused on safe exercise in 2018.
Her trainers strive to help both young people and adults develop their full potential carefully. That includes offering a Functional Movement Screen, which allows them to identify dysfunctional movement patterns, and, then, create a plan to restore proper movement patterns to reduce the chance of injury.

“First and foremost, we want to protect our clients according to industry standards,” she says. “We accomplish that with direct supervision—having more eyes on the areas where we see the biggest issues. We also tackle it through implementation of safety protocols.”

Colangelo foresees growth in programming and revenues this year and beyond, aided, in part, by new technology.

“It’s true for us, as well as for the industry as a whole,” she says. “Advances in heart-rate training—and in smart devices and the connectivity, instant data, and results they offer—will have an impact on every- thing we do.”

On joining IHRSA: “The association is a great resource for business owners in this industry. IHRSA gives us data to support the decisions we make, and has helped us to solidify the processes and procedures that we’ve put in place.”

Bryce DeHaven, Owner
Achieve Fitness
Orange Park, FL

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Achieve Fitness' sports performance area

Achieve Fitness recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by expanding from 18,600 to 22,500 square feet in size, and adding a sports performance area.

The anniversary notwithstanding, both Achieve—and fitness itself—are new to DeHaven, who bought the club in 2017. Having done so, his main concern is competition.

“Our market is saturated with national gym chains and niche studios,” he says. “But our recent renovation, which includes the addition of new equipment, services, and programming, and our renewed focus on customer service, have helped us, this year, to reverse a three-year trend of declining memberships.”

Five years from now, DeHaven suggests, the fitness delivery model will be shaped by the desire and need for wellness.

“Technology will undoubtedly play a role in the way we connect with our members, but long-term, Achieve will be positioned to be a key provider in lowering healthcare costs by encouraging healthy lifestyles,” he says. “We realize that this change in how people live their daily lives will be brought about by many different factors. However, a customer-focused wellness or fitness center like ours can serve as the hub for positive lifestyle change.”

On joining IHRSA: “As a new entrant into the fitness business, I needed to quickly gain access to information, including best practices and benchmarks. The many resources that IHRSA makes available are helping me to understand, and evaluate, possible approaches to many of the challenges I’ve faced this year as a first-time fitness business owner.”

George Yiasemides, COO
Fitness Master Franchises UFC GYM
Middle East

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UFC GYM debuts in Dubai

Fitness Master Franchises, formed in
2016, owns the UFC GYM Middle East
 master franchise. The group currently
operates two clubs in Dubai, one in Oman, and UFC GYM debuts in Dubai one in Bahrain, with three more in the pipeline.

While Yiasemides has been involved in the fitness business for about 34 years, this is his first experience with franchising.

“As we’re in our infancy, there’s been a huge learning curve,” he says. “Fortunately, we’re continually seeing progress; every day we’re learning why the UFC GYM concept is so unique.”

One challenge, Yiasemides says, has been learning to deal with preconceived notions of his business.

“People naturally align the UFC brand with the MMA world, and that’s a misconception,” he explains. “So, we’ve worked hard to create a presence at community and industry-specific events. We’re also building a strong social media presence outside standard UFC channels, and that’s helping to position our brand as much more community-oriented. For example, UFC isn’t typically viewed as kid-friendly. However, we have children as young as four using our clubs for physical conditioning, discipline, and self-defense.

“As a result, as the industry continues to move toward boutiques or low-budget gyms, our model has been competing extremely well, attracting millennials and families.”

On joining IHRSA: “We joined IHRSA to keep tabs on what’s happening within the international scene, and to have access to the latest concepts and ideas for our personal development. We’re very new members, but we’re confident that what IHRSA has to offer suits our needs.”

Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.