Be the Leader Who Shapes the Future of the Fitness Industry

The industry is in a state of change unlike anything Healthplex Sports Club General Manager Dennis Mathias says he has experienced—making it an exciting time to be a business leader.

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.

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A Body Pump class at Healthplex Sports Club.

Dennis Mathias
General Manager
Healthplex Sports Club

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

The industry is in a state of change unlike any I’ve ever experienced in 35 years. How we come out on the other side will define the new version of our industry for years to come. It’s exciting to have been doing this as long as I have and be a part of identifying the new version of our industry.

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?

Make it more about the members and less about the business of the business. Avoid the pitfalls of trying to be the next new thing and focus on the client in the way a physician does their patients. Even though you get into this business to change the world, don’t lose sight of the people you came to change.

What prompted you to join the Industry Leadership Council?

To offer my experiences to help redefine the industry in this time of change and work with some of the greatest minds this industry has ever had and learn from those people. You can always learn something from every discussion no matter how long you have been doing this if you go in with an open mind.

“Make it more about the members and less about the business of the business.”

Dennis Mathias

Healthplex Sports Club - Pennsylvania

What has been your most memorable experience as part of the ILC?

Just the consistent passion and focus of the group to better the industry, this is an unbelievable group of talented and experienced individuals that I am privileged to work alongside—and yes, a group that has some strong opinions, but no opinion is not worth considering.

The Personal Health Investment Today Act, or PHIT, is legislation that would make access to physical activity more affordable. How will the passage of this bill help America get fit?

If we can expand the 18% market penetration number, that’s how we get started on the road to getting America PHIT.

One way to have any impact on America’s health through the PHIT Act [is] we need to change the perception of the non-18 percent'ers of what a health club is. Right now we are still seen by many prospective non-club users who want to “shop a club” as something akin to buying a car. We need to get the general public to look at a visit to a health club like a visit to a physician. It’s not about buying a membership but a consultation of what it will take to get healthier, and it should be the first place they think about going when told they need to initiate a healthier lifestyle.

IHRSA does a significant amount of advocacy work to Grow, Promote, and Protect clubs across the country. How do you feel that work benefits your business or the industry at large?

Without IHRSA, this industry would be some version of what it was in the ’80s. I can’t imagine the fitness industry being as sophisticated as it is without the efforts of IHRSA. I’ve been a part of a number of sales tax expansion battles as well as the locker room privacy issue. These are two issues among many we would not have addressed if we were an industry of independent owners/operators. Not to mention the lack of standards we would be presenting. IHRSA is a huge reason this industry exists in the form that it does today.

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Kaitlynn Anderson Fernandez @IHRSA_Advocate

Kaitlynn Anderson Fernandez is IHRSA's Advocacy Content Manager. She uses her experience as a multimedia journalist to tell the story of IHRSA's advocacy and public policy efforts. Kaitlynn spends her free time watching sci-fi movies, boxing, or working towards her goal of being able to do five pull-ups (a skill that would come in handy in the event of a sci-fi-like apocalypse).