How to Grow from a Single Health Club to a Chain

The Sansone brothers opened their first club 30 years ago. Today, The Edge Fitness Clubs have 16 fitness centers, with number 17 expected to launch in February.

It’s the dream of every entrepreneur who opens up a health club: make that first gym a success, then expand into other locations.

That’s what happened with Vincent and James Sansone, brothers from Connecticut, who launched a single health club almost 30 years ago. Today, The Edge Fitness Clubs have 13 fitness centers in Connecticut, with three new clubs now open in New Jersey with a fourth expected to launch in February. “Vin” founded the first club and is currently president. “Jimmy” is the senior vice-president of operations, and the man responsible for running the day-to-day business of what’s become a thriving chain with more than 150,000 members in Connecticut alone.

As is often the case in the fitness industry, the success of The Edge Fitness Clubs begins with passion. “This is our 30th year in the business, and we love what we do,” says Jimmy Sansone. “We’re a part of the community, and we can't see ourselves doing anything else.”

But while passion drives work ethic, it’s not going to magically provide the business acumen needed to run a successful club. You need to have a strategic plan to organize, strategize, and grow your business.

4 Guidelines for Success

When you’re putting together your strategic plan for growth, you should follow the advice of industry experts who suggest four priorities:

  • Find out where you fit in the health club landscape. Figure out what you do best and what you’re providing to your community.
  • Stay focused on the big picture. Don’t get sidetracked by distractions and short-term trends.
  • Stay flexible. Be willing to revise your strategic plan as events dictate.
  • Use KPIs (key performance indicators) as your yardstick. Stay on top of financial reports and other data.

Keeping track of the data that fuels KPIs is crucial and requires detailed reports and analysis. With no shortage of options for increasing revenue—for instance, see IHRSA’s report on “10 Exciting New Revenue Streams for Health Clubs”—gym operators need powerful software that compiles and organizes all financial information. And you need help understanding that data.

“You need a partner that sees what's happening out there nationally, that’s a resource for you to help you with your data,” he says. “You need to really understand the breadth of the industry, especially if you have aspirations for adding other locations.”

Bringing a Personal Touch to Tech Solutions

Billing, payroll, nondues revenue—staying on top of these fiscal responsibilities is essential. You need a data system and software that can help deliver efficiency and consistent reports to keep you on a path to growth. Every single transaction in a club tells a story, and you need to know how to make sense of it.

According to Sansone, what you don’t need is a company selling you club management and financial software and then saying, “Good luck,” and walking away. You need a true partner.

“It has to start with trust,” says Sansone. “Not only do you have to trust that they are professional and on their game, but you have to trust that when there is an issue that they'll take ownership and fix it.”

About 25 years ago, Sansone found that partner in ABC Financial and their comprehensive billing, data tracking, and club-management software. Sansone believes that their guidance has been an invaluable element in growth of The Edge Fitness Clubs.

“They have an incredible breadth of knowledge of the industry. They know what works and what clubs can do to save themselves from mistakes that you're going to make,” says Sansone. “We could not could not imagine doing business without them. They’re integrated into so many areas of our business, not just as a software provider. Literally every single transaction a member has and all of our employee payroll data is done through ABC. And as our business has evolved over time they have evolved with us.”

ABC Financial services over 6,700 clubs throughout the world, but to Sansone’s corner of Connecticut, it feels like they’re in the office next door. “Our employees don't think about them as a vendor,” says Sansone. “I mean it's even strange to use that word. We think about them as a partner and as a friend.”

For more on ABC Financial and their range of products and services, visit abcfinancial.com.

Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org