One of the favorite TV shows in Eric Casaburi's household is "Undercover Boss." The more episodes the family watched, the more Casaburi's two oldest children kept saying, "Dad, you would be so great on this show!"
On Friday night, 12-year-old Carmela and 11-year-old Eric Jr. are going to get their wish. Their dad, the CEO and founder of Retro Fitness, Colts Neck, NJ, is the star of this week's episode of "Undercover Boss." The show airs at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Central on CBS.
This is the series where the CEO or an executive of a company goes in disguise and becomes an everyday employee and learns what really goes on during business hours. Shooting "Undercover Boss" was an eye-opening experience for Casaburi, to say the least.
"The journey is just amazing. It's very enlightening, at many levels," Casaburi said Tuesday from Disney World in Orlando, where he and his family were taking a quick vacation before the big show airs. The family includes wife Kim, 3-year-old daughter Victoria and 8-month-old Drew. You might recall Casaburi announced Drew's birth last year on Twitter.
Before appearing on the show, Casaburi made a few phone calls to people who know people who know people, and a few of those phone calls were returned. He eventually got an interview and learned the show has a qualification process for companies involving certain sales and employee parameters. Casaburi and his success with Retro Fitness passed the test. (For more on Casaburi's personal and professional history, you should really give this Q&A a read.)
The premise of Friday's show is that a film crew follows Casaburi around as he tries to land a spot on a game show. But it's not really Casaburi. In the show, he's Barry Goshe, which happens to be the name of a song Casaburi's high school band wrote.
"I knew I would not forget the name Barry Goshe," Casaburi says.
Casaburi also grew a beard, dyed it and wore a floppy wig, which makes him look more like Barry Gibb than Barry Goshe. (Hey, it is Retro Fitness, after all.) He also wore some padding under his shirt to make him look a little less in shape.
The show began filming in March at Retro Fitness clubs in Easton, PA, and Yonkers, NY, as well as clubs in northern New Jersey, Casaburi says. The whole time during shooting, Casaburi was without a cell phone, laptop or iPad. He face-timed his wife and kids (if they were still up) late at night from his hotel room after a long day.
Casaburi (as Barry) did everything as an employee, from hanging heavy bags to cleaning dumbbell racks to doing a sales tour to making prospecting phone calls. Not only does Casaburi work with an employee who A) doesn't like customers and B) doesn't follow directions, he also meets one employee who credits Retro Fitness for a life-changing experience.
"It's been a long time since I've actually worked as an employee at a gym," Casaburi says. "You're never treated the way you were treated when you were an employee when you are the CEO. Everyone's always on guard. Everyone always wants to be doing their best. No one is going to try to let the ball drop when they're juggling when you're there. But when you go in as an undercover guy…everybody is themselves, and you learn more."
Casaburi becomes the latest fitness club operator to appear on a TV show. The others include Curves co-founders Gary and Diane Heavin and Anytime Fitness co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen. Both sets of co-founders appeared on separate episodes of ABC's "Secret Millionaire." Last year, Jazzercise founder and CEO Judi Sheppard Missett appeared on the A&E network's "Be the Boss."
Ironically, Tony Wells, now of ADT, appeared on "Undercover Boss" two weeks ago. Wells previously served as the chief marketing officer at 24 Hour Fitness.
The exposure Retro Fitness will get Friday night is going to be through the roof, much like what Planet Fitness receives on NBC's "The Biggest Loser" and 24 Hour Fitness received on that show in years past. But the nationwide exposure is only one benefit Casaburi will take away from the show.
"We're at a turning point now where we're closing in on 100 clubs," Casaburi says. "If there's anything I've got to fix in my system, I better fix it now because once you get to that 200-, 300- to 500-(club) level, it's very difficult to fix or change it, especially a franchise (company).
"CBS gave me the opportunity to go undercover, and it was great. I'm thankful and grateful for it. And when you see the show, you'll realize why."