Two guys from separate backgrounds spent half of their lives pursuing excellence and eventually reached one common denominator – CLUB ONE. Jim Mizes, the CEO, and Bill McBride, the COO, have structured Club One for growth across multiple business channels including health clubs, community centers and corporate fitness centers. Their alignment on key business principles of hiring great people, supporting them with systems and culture, listening to the many voices of their customers and clients and focusing on results is definitely a formula for success.
In the brisk early morning hours, Mizes was cycling around the San Francisco Bay Area, developing Club One’s next successful move. “I’ve always been challenged to be the best,” Mizes admitted. “I think that shapes Club One because we are always raising the bar.”
Taking the bar to the next level has been Mizes’ and McBride’s aspiration. When the two came on board almost a decade ago, they found a business that had the foundation for even more success. In 1991, John and Jill Kinney had developed a health club concept in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District and continued to grow the Club One family with club purchases over the next 10 years. Some of those purchases included clubs with corporate fitness management accounts. By 2002, Club One was ready for the next step in its brand development and expansion into other channels.
“We see some sweeping changes in the world of clubs,” Mizes said. “The biggest change coming is that health and wellness is 24/7. It is not the three or four times a week for an hour at your club. Clubs have the opportunity to play a bigger role in the lives of members and the communities they serve.” Physically, Club One has created a warm and inviting atmosphere that has relaxed its members throughout the experience. Furthermore, they have implemented technology to reach members on a more personal level. Mizes has tuned in his corporate ingenuity to move Club One forward and help them strategize for community growth.
McBride, on the other end, has moved his team deep within the communities and clubs to learn about members and the employees that drive all the functions of club management – taking systems and best practice processes to deliver on a personal level for the individual member. The goal is to deliver a high level of service, excellence and personalization with scalability.
“The core is to operate with integrity,” McBride said. “It sounds so boilerplate, but the question I talk to my staff about is member issues. If a member has an issue, regardless of rules or policy, you listen to them and you treat them the way you would want to be treated. Most people have a good competence, and if you were in the same situation, you know what you would want done.” One of McBride’s mentors, Mitch Wald, the former president of Sport & Health, always told him, “people first, product second and then you will have profit – in that order.” McBride continued, “I think a lot of clubs get lost with that. Focusing on features and their products, they can lose sight of their employees’ interaction with club members.” After all it’s your team and your members that will determine if you succeed or fail.
Customizing the Experience
For McBride, the next step is about “balancing the fundamentals and raising the bar of the core business,” while also “looking for opportunities to innovate and focus your attention on the future.” The future for Club One may be like many clubs – unclear. However, the difference between Club One and many others is a clearly designed strategy and focused goal.
Through the development of Club One-managed Jewish Community Centers around the Bay Area and the West Coast, the team has gained insight into the desires of American communities. The marketing team at Club One has started looking into future ventures with modern technology. Mizes believes in a customizable club experience. He said members may attend the same club, but they aren’t looking for the same experience.
“I’m an avid cyclist and I really don’t like to swim,” Mizes explained. “Sending me communications about swimming programs, I’m going to tune them out. But, if you send me more and more information about cycling programs, I’m more excited.” Club One aspires to customize its member communication through a members-only portal to fit the desires, goals, lifestyle and other psychological factors of each individual client.
If a person is more into group exercise, they will get information on group exercise classes and won’t be bothered with weight training and personal training sessions. However, as the club learns more and more about each individual member, it will be able to adjust and readjust the member’s site to their growing fitness needs. It also serves as a recommendation engine to further support the member in being successful.
“When members log on, the look and feel will be different for each person,” Mizes said. “Ultimately, satisfaction with achieving goals is the most important. Once we get better with personalized information, we believe it will improve our retention, word-of-mouth buzz with programs, social networking, building net membership and having a greater meaning in the communities we serve.”
Club One has been built to receive information from members and react. “It’s retail, and in retail your general manager makes or breaks your success,” McBride said. “We hire very competent general managers that are consistent with the brand. The key is focusing on each individual site. They all have individual markets and they all must build a reputation within that market. You put together a relatively small staff, but one that focuses on the members.” Mizes explained, “We keep investing in technologies to help us understand our members and prospects. We want to help them lead a healthier, better life and find a way to enjoy their journey.”
Controlling Multiple Arms
Today, Club One has 19 branded clubs, 10 community centers (including medical fitness) and 50 plus corporate health and fitness centers. Each of these entities gave Club One a new perspective on fitness. “What we have found in the corporate and community centers is we have to find leaders that can check their egos at the door and fit in with the employees and members,” Mizes said. “We must do so in the name of what is best for our partners and developing our brand. In the club business, Bill (McBride) and his team are always in the clubs making sure we are on top of the Club One values.”
Although the many channels may seem to conflict with a central goal, Club One has created a management team that influences each branch individually, but with a common interest – excellence in service, programs, results and creating a friendly, comfortable experience. “Some of our clubs are in the San Francisco financial district,” McBride explained. “They are very corporate and structured. Then you have Frog’s Fitness (a fitness club purchased by Club One in San Diego) that is basically on the beach. They are on the same payroll and purchasing systems, but the flare and personality of the employees and members is completely different. It’s about having a core structure, but having a club with its own personality.”
“We always say quality over quantity,” Mizes said. “Of course, we would like to expand our presence as I’m sure we will, but we are looking for business partners that are willing to partner with us as management partners – the last couple of sites opened that way and have worked well. In the world of community centers, we expand because we show that we can add value to the communities that we serve.”
Reaching the Top
In 2002, when Mizes was brought on at Club One, his mission was to develop a sound team for strategic growth. “I spent many years at PepsiCo,” Mizes said. “The advantage of working for a large brand like PepsiCo is you learn all the systems and requirements to bring things to scale.” Eventually, Mizes worked in the food industry before he transferred to health and fitness clubs. “If you think about my career in food, which includes Denny’s, Winchell’s, Taco Bell, Noah’s Bagels and Jamba Juice, I’ve gone from less healthy food, to more healthy food, to now actually helping people with their lifestyle. I was hurting them in the earlier days, so now I’m on a journey of redemption.”
Unlike Mizes, McBride knew from the beginning he wanted a role in fitness. Initially, he enrolled at East Carolina University to pursue sports medicine. However, during his freshman year he found a love of health club management. “I majored in business administration with a concentration in marketing,” he said. Throughout college, McBride spent summers working at clubs in his hometown of Fayetteville N.C. as well as working during the school year in his college town, Greenville, N.C.
After McBride graduated at 20 years old, he worked for a few years at one of his early mentor’s first clubs, VIP Fitness in Fayetteville, N.C. He then moved to Northern Virginia and worked with Bally’s Fitness near Washington DC. Following the two years at Bally’s, he found himself climbing the sales and management ladder for The Skyline Clubs – now Sport & Health Clubs.
Over the years McBride’s passion for the industry has increased with his experience. Now, his wife and two children – with another child due in May – are his motivation. “I have more of a drive now than I ever had before,” he expressed excitedly. “We have the highest percentage of people participating in clubs than pretty much anywhere in the world, but we are still ridiculously low. It doesn’t make sense that people who care about getting people in shape and own health clubs can’t connect the dots.”
Center for Jewish Life, Palo Alto, CaliforniaMcBride’s drive to help people and communities came from working alongside Wald earlier in his career. “By being known as a place in the community that cares; a place that truly gives back, the perceptions of people about what a health club is will change,” McBride explained. “It’s about being able to successfully tell the good story about what clubs provide.”
McBride said one of the biggest challenges in the industry is delivering consistently for all of your stakeholders (members, associates, investors, partners and communities). This can only be accomplished through a strong team of talented, committed and focused individuals working together with integrity and authenticity as one team. One thing McBride is most proud of is the team that Club One has assembled to make a difference. “We share a common purpose and support each other every step of the way.” For the team it’s not just about getting it done, but doing it the right way and for the right reasons.
Mizes’ drive was developed by his parents and his team experience playing football. As an offensive lineman, his coach and future mentor, Dale Collier, taught Mizes to lead from example. “He taught me about leadership from within,” Mizes explained. “Leaders don’t have to be out in front, sometimes they have to be in the back of the pack pushing it along. Dale taught me about leadership through actions, not words.” Mizes eventually took his leaderships and athletic ability to Dartmouth College, where he received his undergraduate degree. Although football ended in his freshman year, many of the leadership skills learned on a team have translated to his career and direction of Club One.
Center for Jewish Life, Palo Alto, CaliforniaWhat drives Mizes is success and significance. “Success is achieving goals, and significance is about having a positive influence in the world,” he said. “The blend of those two is the ultimate for me. Club One allows me to achieve goals and help others around the world, such as challenged athletes and other charities we support.”
Over the last several years, Mizes has reconnected with Collier and his business mentor Rakesh Kaul, who he worked with at Hunt-Wesson. “The last thing you want to do is to tell people how grateful you are for what they taught you on their death bed,” he said. “I wanted them to know they made such a difference in my life. I tell people all the time to tell mentors what they mean to your life – they will appreciate it so much more.”
Community involvement was impressed in Mizes’ and McBride’s lives at an early age – an impression that has lasted throughout their careers. Now, the community awareness has elevated the success of Club One. They are using their community knowledge to reach out to the unfit population and provide a new look to the old fitness way.