Chantal: Chris, welcome along. Thank you so much joining me today.
Chris: Thank you Chantal. Pleasure to be here. Real honour.
Chantal: Now, of course, you were formerly the CEO of Epic Healthcare. Now, you’re the CEO of 24 Hour Fitness. Can you talk to us about what you’ve learned from transitioning from the healthcare industry into the fitness industry?
Chris: Certainly. When I was in the healthcare business and the healthcare industry, I was thinking I was in healthcare but as I thought more about it, that was sick care. I think what we all do and all the listeners here on the podcast we’re truly in the healthcare space and how we’re impacting health, wellness, and fitness, and the blend of that. The combination there is something I found extraordinarily attractive and a real driver as to why I had the opportunity, it’s been a heck of a lot of fun joining the 24 team.
Chantal: Because of course, you’re just about to come on to 12 months with 24 Hour Fitness. Tell us, what is that inspires you about the business of fitness?
Chris: Gosh, I’ve been a bit of gym rat and the gym goer for years and fitness has been an important part of my life. I had been a member of 24 at different times since 1995. And 24, being an iconic brand, this extraordinary company as a member for years, and when I had the opportunity to join it as CEO, fitting with my personal lifestyle and desire to help people in blending again, fitness, wellness, and healthcare in a prior experience, it was natural, natural fit.
I was really excited when I got the call and I really kind of jogged a little bit down the hall to talk to my wife about it. She’s like, “What are you so excited about?” I was like, “I just got this incredible call and I’m super excited about the opportunity.”
Chantal: I can tell you that I think most of us wake up every day feeling that excitement. We’re so blessed to work in such an amazing industry. I’m so glad that you enjoy it and you’re just as excited as the rest of us.
Chris, I believe that your company’s business objectives includes becoming the premier fitness industry brand of choice, and being a great place to work, and to grow. Can you help us understand how do you bring those objectives to life for your club members but also for your employees?
Chris: Certainly. We’ve got about 420 locations today. With that, we’ve got 22,000 employees. When we think about how we bring it to life every day, we absolutely need to ensure that our clubs are running really, really well. I think that’s the challenge we all have. That execution, day to day, and we’re open 24 hours a day so, that presents its own set of challenges. We’ve gotta make sure our gyms are operating at a very high level for our members every day. That’s been a very, very strong focus of myself and it’s been that way for several years here at 24, which is exciting. That’s all focused on the member and the member experience. Number one.
Then, on the second point, we are nothing without extraordinary people on our team every day whether we’re running one club or a lot of clubs. That focus on the leadership environment, and how we are growing and developing our leaders, and how that manifests into the leadership behaviours that are frontline team members are seeing and feeling, and feeling valued, feeling appreciated. Of course, that translates into a great member experience. That’s been something we’ve been very focused on with 24 Hour Fitness.
Then, ultimately, how we develop or people, we’ll get into a little more detail on that. We spend a lot of time on investments in our leadership team so, that they feel that sense of investment, which then, they are getting better. They can grow with us again, that translates to a better member experience and this overall supports our responsibility and all these communities on how we are impacting all these folks’ lives that come to all of us every day to have their lives possibly impact with fitness, and wellness, and a sense of community.
Chantal: You know what Chris, it just takes one look at your activity online and I can tell that leadership is clearly an area that you’re incredibly passionate about and you just talk them briefly about your team. Let’s dive into that a little bit more. Talk to us about how you’re actually creating strong employee engagement, retention, and also those leadership growth opportunities for your team.
Chris: Yeah, you’re spot on. My passion about leadership and developing others, as myself as well, because we’re all on this journey together, is something that I take a lot of time and energy with. But what we do here from a 24 perspective is, we’re very structured in our communications to our teams, not only in the corporate office but most importantly, in the field with our clubs.
We have a very specific rhythm on number of phone calls and the right number so, it’s not distracting. At the same time, communications out to the field through our internet site. We’ve got monthly videos. I was just in the club this morning after a training session with my trainer, working on that. We do that on a monthly basis as well. That really drives the key member and frontline in engagement level so, they’ve got situational awareness to what’s going on around them. That’s one thing we do.
Then, very formalised with Jill Waite, she’s our leader, our Senior Human Resource leader. She does an incredible job with our learning and development team. We’ve got a very structured leadership development process where folks are coming into different roles. And depending on your roles, we then train you up and we’ve got very specific protocols. On the training, you have to complete successfully before you come up and [inaudible 00:05:35] and you go into those roles. That’s one thing that we do at all different levels.
Additional to that, we’ve got very structured curriculum with the books that we requirement our folks to read and invest in themselves, which we provide. Then, we also draw upon some Harvard business school curriculums as well to overlay that on top. Again, our leaders are very emotionally intelligent, very strong, understanding who they are and how they need to lead within the context of who they are as a person so, there’s authenticity, et cetera. All that creates and translates to an operating environment that when you think about our workforce, they’re super excited. We trust them, we’re investing in them, they love to win, they wanna grow, and they can do that with us, and all these other amazing that this company’s [inaudible 00:06:21] growing as well.
I mean, it’s a great industry and we’ve gotta be great stewards of all these people that are with us. We spend a tonne of time and energy investing in them so, they can do amazing things every day to serve our members.
I could go on for hours about this but I won’t.
Chantal: I know. I can tell, I can hear the passion in your voice. As you were saying, that you give your team all these resources, of course, top of my mind is, we’re going to give you some podcasts to add to all of those amazing resources that you’re sharing with your team.
Chris: It’d be awesome. No, absolutely. Again, it’s all about our people. Whether we’re running one club or we’re running 400 or any point in between. It’s extraordinary. Our reliance on them is so important, we’re only as good as every one of our members. Our responsibility is to make those investments and they’re watching our feet as leaders so, how do we role model, and how do we behave, how do we speak, how do we communicate, how do we provide that affirmation of the hard work that they provide every day?
That translates then, to just that extra smile or that extra thank you with the member. Then the members are having a great experience and then, great news is, they continue to come to our clubs and all of our clubs so, we can continue to serve our members and or engage with them from a digital perspective in the community wherever they are. That’s what we wanna do. We wanna be their in-club provider as well as their provider no matter where they are. With 24GO, they can do that. That’s where we’re focused on that strategically as well.
Chantal: Chris, tell me a little bit more in regards to your leadership development programme. Is that available across the board to any of your team that wanna take part? Or is it only select people that can become involved in that?
Chris: It depends on different pieces. There’s a complicated answer in there. But we do have some resources that are available to everyone. Depending on their role, for example, a general manager, or department head, and or district manager, there’s a very specific track and very specific curriculum that we provide those leaders so, that we’re raising if you will, the acumen of the entire organisation. That’s when they’re coming into position.
Then, we routinely have national meetings where we bring our leaders together, and we’ll have speakers or authors come in, following up on some of the books that we’ve assigned. Then, have them come in and speak to our leadership team and it really brings to life those leadership lessons, watching some of these incredible authors who are just extraordinary.
It’s a combination of both yes, a lot’s available but then, depending on your role and responsibility, we bifurcate those things around those responsibilities.
Chantal: Wonderful. Chris, I was reading online that 24 Hour Fitness are actively involved with supporting like the active and retired military personnel. Can you talk to us about how your recruitment efforts with those groups and with their families have actually contributed to your business?
Chris: I’d love to. Chantal, the last part you just talked about, the families are so extraordinary. We think about the responsibility of our spouses that support our military members, it’s difficult for a lot of those spouses to find employment because of all the responsibilities at home when their loved one’s away, deployment. Having that flexibility and recognising that spouse or military veteran no matter where they are around the world, it’s critical.
But with that, we’ve got a very structured approach on recruiting and going after very aggressively, veterans. The reason why, as a former veteran myself, these men and women, as they’re going out on deployments, when you think about someone who’s a 25-year old in our clubs and they have perhaps, four or five years of military experience previously, they are showing up with life experiences that’s generally 5, 10 years beyond their peer group because of what they have learned through their military experience with leadership, communication, delegation, responsibility, accountability. All those things are vitally important.
When you think about multi-site operations where those leaders are vital to have a consistent brand presentation and be responsible for our companies, it’s very important that we’ve got leaders in place that are able to bring those skills in.
With that, we’ve hired now, about 28 … 2,900 veteran so far. We’ve got a very specific programme called Boots 24. Our recruiters are actively working on that and we’ve got a national strategy based on where the military posts are as well as our online efforts to recruit and attract both younger veterans that are coming out after perhaps a four, five-year term and or retired veterans that are coming out after 20 years. We also hire injured veterans. That is also extraordinary where we can provide a great environment for these men and women to be able to come into another supportive environment with other veterans and they thrive.
That’s just part of a much broader recruiting strategy around everything we’re doing with … We pursue a lot of professional athletes on our team. We have Olympic athletes that are on our team. It just creates a great community across the company. It’s a lot excitement, and energy, and amazing people that we get the privilege of working with every day.
This creates that day to day momentum that we all need in our clubs to be able to win for our members every day.
Chantal: Thank you so much for taking us through that Chris. Now, earlier on you briefly touched on technology. I would love to chat about that in a lot more detail. Tell us about how technology has impacted the fitness industry, 24 Hour Fitness in particular obviously, because it appears as though it’s had very favourable impact. It’s created this large growing community or engagement with club members regardless of where they are. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Chris: Absolutely. We have seen a similar trend where technology is something that is just the future and it’s here and now, it’s not even the future. It’s something that is relevant in our lives personally as well as our members because we are members of all these clubs ourselves.
With that, we launched a strategy or a couple of years ago to develop an app called 24GO. That’s been central to our technology efforts. There’s a tonne of technology that we have behind the scenes that’s supporting the infrastructure and all the other technologies that we employ. But specific to what is out there relative to what our members can engage in around technology, 24GO recognises where our members are and depending upon how much information they put in.
I can just talk personally for example. You set your profile up. What equipment you have in your home. When you’re in our clubs, it knows you’re in our clubs and it brings you very, very specific workouts based on what your fitness goals are as well as where you’re at in your fitness journey. It integrates music as well based on the music that you like, that you already have on your phone.
It’s super exciting how adaptive it is. I’m on there daily as well myself. I’m also a user. It’s been quite a successful launch. We’ve got a lot of users right now. Probably some people listening to this podcast are already user of it.
But it’s everything from working out and it provides videos when people do not understand specifically how to do a specific movement. We apply that as well. Then, we’re also providing some nutritional information and some other insights around fitness, and wellness, and just well-being. We’re thinking about mind, body, and spirit when we think about how we help and use technology to support our members. Whether you’re a member or not, at least our approach is, we wanna help our communities so, we allow folks that aren’t even members to be able to access what we’re providing and take full advantage of our application.
Chantal: Wow, that’s absolutely fascinating. I love the holistic approach that you’ve got with that app and utilising the technology to its full advantage. I mean, I think it’s important for us to all to recognise that technology is such a wonderful supporter of what we do in the fitness industry. It sounds like 24 Hour Fitness has absolutely embraced that.
As I said, I love that you’ve taken it outside of just the facilities into the communities. It’s such a beautiful message. Thank you Chris.
Now, when I was doing a bit of research and having a look at what you’ve done and what 24 Hour Fitness are doing, of course, I stumbled upon some great videos of you at Pyeongchang recently. How was that?
Chris: Oh, it was spectacular. We’ve had a 16-year relationship with US Olympic Committee so, that’s been central to a very strong and important partnership. What we did was at all the different Olympics, we’ve been able to bring 24 team members to the Olympics as well.
We went there with the team of 24 team members. We had the Opening Ceremonies which were off the chart. It was extraordinarily cold as all the media pointed to. We didn’t see all the lights and everything that everyone was watching on TV, we had to go back and watch that.
About a week after we came back, my wife and I watched that and it was just incredible from seeing where were watching it and then to watch the entire event. All the lights and the drones, and everything was terrific.
But the community around the Olympics was extraordinary. Just watching the world come together and being there from all over was amazing. Then, we were at Opening Ceremonies, figure skating, snowboarding. As well, we did a trip up to the DMZ.
We had the opportunity to spend a lot of some of our US athletes and USA House. That was just amazing. Hearing their stories and how they’ve overcome all types of odds. They’re there supporting the country but all the athletes we met, no matter where they were or what country were just great mind set, focused, there to win. At the same time, a lot of appreciation for everyone that’s supported them to get there.
It was superb. Now, we’re looking forward to Tokyo and we’ve got a lot of things going on already inside our organisation to support the USOC and all of our new existing and future Olympians that are coming through to have a great games in Tokyo in a couple of years.
Chantal: How wonderful. What a fantastic story, Chris. Of course, your relationship with the United States Olympic Committee is just one of a number of partnerships that I believe 24 Hour Fitness have. You’ve also got Les Mills, and Zumba. Is it [inaudible 00:17:00] Health? Have I got that right? SilverSneakers?
Chris: Yes. Yeah, it’s involving our SilverSneakers. Yup.
Chantal: Right. There’s a whole lot of these partnerships that exist with the 24 Hour Fitness business. How do you find that those relationships contribute to the company’s overall growth?
Chris: Absolutely. The USOC is certainly central, it’s been a long-term relationship. But the Zumba and Les Mills, when we think about the quality of those programmes and we do over a million group exercise classes a year … Got about 8,000 group exercise instructors. The team there just does an extraordinary job. So with that, we bring those relationships in and just the quality of that programming to our members so, it keeps it interesting. Again, just bringing the best of the best in. That is real value for our members and their experience. It’s been very important.
Here, recently last year as well, we added a relationship with Spartan. You’ll see a bunch of stuff coming out from 24. Our team’s super excited. A lot of our team members were
already out and involved in Spartan racing. We’re gonna be kicking that off here and very active.
Again, it just fits in with our members. We’ve got a lot of team members out in our clubs that are OCR obstacle course racers. Recognising that and then, we’ll be training and getting our trainers certified to be Spartan trainers. As well as, we’re going through a three-level process to get our trainers Olympic certified. They’ll be the only ones in the world that’ll be US Olympic Certified at multiple levels and then, ultimately, we’re gonna send our trainers to Colorado Springs for a very specific training. From there then, they will go to the Olympics and be staffing the Tokyo Olympics as trainers for the athletes.
When you think about how we use those partnerships is trying to create a better set of solution for our members through those relationships and through the programmes again, whether it be Les Mills or Zumba.
Then, ultimately as well, so we’re taking a complete community approach with SilverSneakers and we’ve got a very vibrant senior community inside of our clubs. I mean, it’s amazing. I met one gentleman who 102-years old. Incredible.
Chantal: No way.
Chris: Yes. Yes. It was beautiful man. Oh, it’s just extraordinary. But it’s such a vibrant crowd. As we’ve got Aqua Aerobics, we’ve got all kinds of programming for seniors as well. Again, it’s the totality of how we get children 12 and older engaged in fitness and movement all the way through seniors that are looking at having a vibrant, just exciting if you will, senior experience with us.
We bring them in and we’ve got potlucks with them. We sometimes have art classes with them in addition to our really great wellness programmes [inaudible 00:19:55]. It’s that holistic and how we use the relationships with these different organisations to bring that all together for the total experience. Our members are feeling extraordinary value and most importantly, whatever their goals are, we’re able to be a part of them so, that they’re successful in whatever their endeavours are.
Chantal: I love the sound of those partnerships Chris. Thank you for explaining those to us. Now, I have a big question to finish off on today. A big one. I’d love to hear your predictions on what you think the fitness industry of the future looks like.
Chris: Gosh. I think the only thing with the future prediction, it’s gonna continue to change and that change is going to be accelerating. I think ourselves included and all of us, have to remain relevant into everything that’s going on right now with technology, inside society, perceptions real and perceived, and what the solutions are that our members need all over the world. We have to be relevant in that conversation, and with those different solutions and continue to evolved, and have [inaudible 00:21:02] a lot of agility in our models and our messaging in the technology in apps. How we’re bringing fitness to our folks all over the world.
But I think the convergence of fitness, and wellness, and healthcare is something that is here and now. Most recently, there was a quick article that came out talking about the importance of fitness and core strength training prior to an operation and how that is clinically proven to reduce hospital stay, improve recovery. Those are the types of things that create and make our industry much more relevant in the broader conversation. We think about population health and how we can impact the world, and world fitness, and world health.
That’s how we’re thinking about it. But then, we’ve gotta translate it back down to the here and now on how we’re relevant to our members and how are we being a great solution for what their needs are. Whether it be a wedding, whether it be general fitness, or whatever else is going on in their life, an injury, recoveries. I think you’ve gotta keep both the telescope and then, the microscope relevant to the conversation because you have to be able to move rapidly. Otherwise, you’re gonna get lost in the here and now won’t be happening either. We’ve gotta be here and present and then, we’ve gotta be thinking about how we’re relevant the next 3, 5, 10 years. I think all of us are working on that but I think we absolutely have to stay focused on that.
Chantal: Chris, I’ve gotta tell you, it’s such a privilege to hear you talk and to hear about what has happened with 24 Hour Fitness even in the short time that you’ve been there. But also, really exciting because I know you got such a broad a background from the health industry side of things and it’s so clear in the way that you speak, that the future is much more along the combination of where health meets fitness and what we can do. I’m so excited and thrilled to hear that.
I wanna say thank you so much for joining me today, from the other side of the world. It’s been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to chat to you. I wish you all the very best. Thank you Chris.
Chris: Thank you. Thank you for having me on the show. I sincerely appreciate it. Thank you.
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