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This Place Really Is Third Place

We've all heard the phrase that we want our fitness facilities to be “the third place” in people's lives — right behind home and work. Unfortunately, only a few fitness facilities can actually claim to be that third place for their members. I've written in the past, however, about one club company that I think really is the third place for many of its members. And when I was in Boston last month for Club Industry East, I actually visited two of its clubs.

Healthworks Fitness Centers, Boston, first came to my attention in 2003 when I wrote a story about clubs bringing fitness to the inner city. The club company had set up a nonprofit foundation that built a facility for women located at the St. Mary's Women and Infants Center in Dorchester, MA. St. Mary's is a home for pregnant teens and homeless women. The company has since opened a second nonprofit facility in Dorchester in partnership with Codman Square Health Center.

However, these two nonprofit facilities, which are partly supported through dues from members at the company's five upscale and for-profit women-only facilities, aren't the reason I would call Healthworks the third place for many of its members.

Instead, Healthworks' for-profit clubs have become such a hit with its members because management, led by owner Mark Harrington, seems to listen to the members and respond with programming and services that make members stick around. In fact, one reviewer on the company's Web site summed it up by saying, “It's kind of like a full-service women's club more than just a gym. A lot of the young women seem to hang out here for several hours a day.”

The clubs offer an upscale but comfortable atmosphere. The amenities include spa services, food services, discounted rates and special offers from partner businesses throughout the city, corporate memberships, computers for members to use, an updated blog about healthy living/eating, contests (including $500 in club cash to the member who is the one millionth check-in for the year), parties, pre- and post-natal classes, and member clubs, such as a book club and a running club.

Also, in response to members' demands that they offer recycling for water bottles (and in an effort to reduce paper costs), the company went green. (For details about other green club companies, read this issue's cover story.) Healthworks now recycles bottles, cans and papers, turns off equipment at night and uses green cleaning products. They also changed light bulbs to more energy-efficient models, installed sensor lights in the studios, installed low-flow shower heads and replaced cut flowers with potted plants. They now do much of their marketing by e-mail and put class schedules online instead of on sheets of paper at the front desk.

This club company does much to meet its members' needs. And part of that is listening to and responding to requests and trends. Because Healthworks members know they have a say in their third place, they seem to feel empowered to ask for more, do more and be there more.

So, although the desire to be a person's third place may not seem obtainable, examples of this happening are sprinkled throughout the industry. In this day and age, any extra resources you have to expend to make your club the third place is worth the effort.

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