Anytime Fitness Leaders Aim to Make Work a 'Wonderful, Rich Experience'

The company’s CEO praises employees who cry at work, and the president hams it up as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in satirical videos.

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The company’s CEO praises employees who cry at work. The president hams it up as Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk in satirical videos. Both men wear kilts—for no apparent reason—when speaking to mass audiences at major industry events.

And, oh, by the way, over the past 15 years, they’ve also built a very successful and highly regarded franchise—Anytime Fitness, based in Woodbury, MN. The brand now boasts 3,600 clubs in all 50 states, and in 25 countries on five continents, which serve some three million members. The firm’s system wide sales have topped $1 billion.

Now, CEO Chuck Runyon and President Dave Mortensen, the cofounders of Anytime Fitness, have released a book, with Marc Conklin, that shares their formerly secret, and somewhat unusual, formula for success.

Love Work: Inspire a High-Performing Work Culture at the Center of People, Purpose, Profits, and Play—now available at Amazon.com—serves as a functional “how-to” manual for business leaders, managers, coaches, and others who are attempting to develop a high-performance team. One major message that Runyon and Mortensen strive to convey is that work is meant to be a wonderful, rich experience that raises people and companies to new heights.

It all starts, they contend, by creating a healthy and thriving workplace environment.

Runyon and Mortensen believe that the key to creating a high-performance culture is achieving a high level of employee engagement.

“When your team members find fulfillment in their jobs at multiple levels, then they truly begin to love work,” says Runyon.

Central to the authors’ leadership philosophy is the concept of ROEI: the return on emotional investment produced by an emphasis on “the 4Ps.”

  • People—Proper hiring, onboarding, and feedback will draw the right people to your team. Then, if you focus on their individual development, you’ll have highly engaged team members who’ll work together to achieve common goals.
  • Purpose—To ignite passion in others, you must first become clear about your own purpose in life.
  • Profits—You need to develop long-term strategies, know your company’s numbers, and remain curious about both your business and the industry in order to meet the needs of a constantly changing clientele.
  • Play—The average person works 2,100 hours a year, so, Runyon and Mortensen ask, why not make work fun? There are a variety of workplace activities that can wake up a disengaged workforce. When employees are engaged, their productivity, creativity, service, and collaborative levels increase significantly.

Each chapter in Love Work explores and amplifies these concepts, offering practical advice managers can employ to inspire others to love work as much as the founders of Anytime Fitness clearly do. The following excerpt, for example, examines the power of music, and how the rapport required for a band to play well is similar to that required to create a successful corporate team.

“Culture is the personality of your business. And, in recent years, the concept has become highly scrutinized because everyone wants to identify, study, and copy any behavior that yields an extra edge. Workplace culture has shown itself to be a powerful competitive advantage across all industries.”

Chuck Runyon, CEO

Anytime Fitness

Love Work: A Musical Excerpt

In the never-ending “Beatles vs. Stones” battle, Chuck is more of a Stones guy, while Dave favors the Beatles. Why do we mention this? Because we’re going to start this chapter in an unlikely place: music.

How do you explain our universal emotional connection with music? You can’t, really. It’s completely subjective and impossible to quantify with data. Our tastes are influenced by the era we grew up in, our friends, and the discovery of a melody, musician, or lyrics that align with life’s most significant people and moments. Our iTunes playlists are probably as unique as our fingerprints. Yet, everybody likes music on some level. It can crank up our energy or soothe our souls, and it alone has the power to make us dance, sing, laugh, cry, and transform ourselves into air-guitar-playing idiots.

Most importantly, when we discover a band we like, what do we do? We start to think of them as ours. We download their songs, share them with friends, go to their concerts, and buy their T-shirts. The music we love becomes a part of us. And, if we’re truly fanatical, we might even get a tattoo of a band’s logo in a prominent or discreet location.

Can being at work be like being in a band? It sounds like an absurd comparison, but why not? They’re both collaborative processes in which people blend their talents to produce something to share with the world. If enough people like the product, it can be monetized through various channels of commerce. And, like a band, your company can metaphorically move from playing coffee shops and small clubs to headlining sports arenas and major outdoor festivals.

But for any of this to happen, you have to do two things: Speak to the heart, and speak from the heart. When Anytime Fitness member Pat Welsh gave his heartfelt speech at our first conference about how our company had saved his life, another remarkable thing happened later that night: Mike Gelfgot, a Russian immigrant and Anytime Fitness franchise owner, became such a fan of our purpose that he went out and got a tattoo of our “Runningman” logo on his left arm.

Now that we know Mike better, it’s not surprising that he was the first person to do this. We’ve visited him dozens of times over the years and have never seen him have a low-energy day. He’s a “heart-first” guy who feels his way through life, and everyone who meets him can instantly feel his passion for helping others. But, back in 2005, no one (including us) suspected that Mike’s literal “branding” of Anytime Fitness would go viral.

Today, more than 3,000 Anytime Fitness fans and “band members”—including our employees, franchisees, members, vendors, personal trainers, and, yes, founders—now sport Runningman tattoos. These aren’t just crazy Americans. The group also includes people from Canada, Mexico, Chile, the U.K., India, Japan, Australia, and Qatar. Each person customizes their tattoo, and, like an iTunes playlist, no two are quite the same.

Outsiders are always fascinated to learn about Anytime Fitness’s tattoo fandom, because it’s highly unusual for a corporate brand (other than Harley-Davidson) to elicit this kind of passion. Some people even view it with a dose of cynicism. When someone asked Anytime Fitness member Levi Landry why in the world he had a Runningman tattoo on his calf, he looked them straight in the eye and said, “Two-and-a-half years ago, I was in a car accident that killed my wife and kids, and, frankly, the only thing that keeps me alive is coming to this gym.” Enough said.

We actually do know why most people get Anytime Fitness tattoos, because we reimburse anyone who gets one, so long as they tell us why they did it. Each reason is unique, but there’s a pattern: No one has ever inked themselves with our logo because they thought we had the best treadmills, because we’re open 24/7, because we offer good benefits, because they saved money during a membership sale, or because they’ve managed to make a good living by operating one of our gyms. Instead, their “whys” fall into two main categories. For some, the tattoo is a symbol of the person we helped them discover inside themselves. For others, it honors a person that they helped transform.

Since 2002, Runyon and Mortensen—and their unique club concept—have made an indelible mark on the global fitness industry. Likewise, Love Work, which is infused with stories like this that are filled with humor, passion, and pathos, as well as practical advice, is destined to stand out in the world of business books. Any CEO or senior manager who’s determined to see their business succeed—fitness industry insiders included—is sure to enjoy it.

Proceeds from the book will benefit the HeartFirst Charitable Foundation, Anytime Fitness’s official charitable giving program. This first-of-a-kind effort is designed to help military veterans open and own their own gyms and provide employment opportunities for fellow veterans.

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Kristen Walsh @IHRSACBI

Kristen Walsh has worked for IHRSA for more than 20 years, and is currently the Associate Publisher. She writes and edits articles, e-newsletters, and research reports, among other things. When she’s not at work, you’ll find Kristen vacationing with her husband and daughter, volunteering for a local 5K, or attending a Boston Celtics game.