Interview with Tim Miller, CEO of Crunch Fitness

With almost 20 years of experience in the hotel industry, Tim Miller is at your service with hip, cosmopolitan Crunch Fitness.

Q: Why did you accept the job of CEO of Crunch?

A: The thing that attracted me about this job was that Crunch is such an undeniable brand in the marketplace, and I saw that it was exciting and that it was outside of the box. And I thought that has very much to do with my whole career of sort of doing the same thing in the hotel business. And I thought that it would be interesting to come in and shake it up a bit the way that I’ve done in my past career. The fitness business is so exciting. It’s all about service at the end of the day, and I just think that Crunch is the brand that I wanted to be aligned with.

Q: How does your past work experience in the hospitality industry help you in your CEO role at Crunch?

A: A big part of my career was spent actually working in the brand arena for hotels. So figuring out what made hotels tick and how to make them appealing to the consumer and how to really to create an audience and a fan base. We also spent a lot of time working on loyalty and how to create loyalty programs and environments that were all about irresistible offerings. I feel like Crunch is just right for both of those things. It’s really ready to take the foundation of its brand and to explode it a little bit and see what else is out there and how to fortify it. I also think that in our industry, we really need to start focusing on how to look at the members that are working out with us every day and make sure that they stay working out with us every day.

Q: What do you think about Crunch’s hip, unconventional image?

A: Crunch was devised to be unconventional and really outside the box. I think that we are seeing so much of that in the consumer experience in general. I think what’s happening so much in the consumer world at large is that there are people that now have an understanding for different. Our lives and our consumer lives are not all based upon homogenized offerings. But they’re really based on a point of view, and I think Crunch definitely was founded on a point of view of being different than everyone else and being slightly irreverent and fun. And that’s what we try to do every day. We try to provide an offering that is different and unique but thoughtful and a little provocative.

Q: And not many clubs have been featured in “Sex and the City,” and I read that somewhere, and I remember that scene, but I just didn’t connect the two. But that’s great publicity.

A: We think our clubs are really formed by the members. Our members are fun, young at heart, exciting individuals. They span what I would call a psycho-graphic, more than a demographic. They’re not all 18 and not all 80, but they’re somewhere in between. And they really have a zest for doing things differently. So we program a lot of what we do for people that like to be unique and like to live in their own space. We are sort of famous for our group fitness activity. Well, we cater that group activity to what turns our members on and what excites them. We really try to draw from very current pop references to make it all very topical and at the same time give them a good workout.

Q: You used the word, not demographic, but what word did you use there?

A: I used the word psycho-graphic because I think they are all sort of held together by a common psychic as opposed to how old they are, how much they spend and what kind of car they drive. I think it’s really all about how they live.

Q: How do you anticipate Crunch Fitness will change with you as CEO?

A: We’re really going to focus on what makes us special and unique. I think that’s really what our obligation in the marketplace is. Like I said earlier, I think we are really going to focus on the membership experience and what it means to be a member of Crunch and that it’s not just about getting on a treadmill or pressing some free weights. That’s really all about that experience of working out at our club. And working out at Crunch is really being part of a community, and that’s kind of a spot that we can play in very, very easily, and that’s kind of what excites me is providing an experience for members that is unlike anyplace else. That’s really what our focus is going to be about.

Q: What are your key initiatives, and what new service initiatives are you creating at Crunch?

A: Part of what we want to focus is the whole idea of it being more than just a place to work out. So we really want to focus on our activities that we’re doing with members, and we want to focus on social activities that aren’t all about athletics. We want to get into employee mixers and parties, and we want to fortify our juice bar effort and make sure that in the clubs that we have sort of a center of activity and a center of community for our members so they feel like they’re part of something. We also really want to focus on the service piece in our clubs. We really want to focus on not just being different but being incredibly warm and being incredibly welcoming into our clubs. I feel like somewhere along the line in a lot of our industry, that sort of goes out the door, and we are just worried about getting members in, but we really want to focus on making them really happy and part of it all while they are there.

Q: What are you doing to increase member retention?

A: This is something that we dealt with all the time in the hotel industry, for sure. When I talk about how similar these industries are, and I get these questions all the time is, “Wow, you went from this one industry to something completely different.” Really, at the end of the day, I don’t think they’re completely different. I think in so many ways they are the same exact thing. In the hotel industry, we focused a lot of time on how to make sure the guests came back and spent time with us every time they were in that city. I really look at membership retention as being the same thing. I really look at membership retention as creating experiences that are just irresistible, and when you create an experience that are irresistible and you’re providing a great product and you have a staff that is welcoming and fun and very inclusive, I think that solves the membership retention piece. I don’t think we are going to reinvent the wheel, but I think we are going to the basics and instead of just focusing on sales and instead of focusing on the things that are all about attracting new members, we really want spend a lot of time keeping the members that we have engaged and happy. I think that that’s what a lot of people forget to do is really fully engage their members because I think that if you are providing a fun, exciting and engaging experience, you won’t want to go someplace else. You’ll want to stay where you are. I think that’s true for so many things in life and certainly true in the gym when we go several times a week and we just want to be engaged in that experience and be stimulated.

Q: From afar, when you viewed the club industry from a distance, how have you viewed that evolution through the years, whether it’s membership demographics, programming, staffing, pricing, the feel of the facilities? What did you think of the club industry?

A: I think it’s fascinating. I’ve been a gym member for 25 years. I’ve been a regular, serious workout guy pretty much all my life. I guess being in something, you slowly watch it evolve. To me, what’s so great about the industry is that it really listens to what its membership wants. Crunch is in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta. We’re in big, booming bustling cities. We tend to cater to people that work really hard. When they’re in the gym, they want to work out really hard and play really hard. And I think that’s what the industry has involved [into], to let people get in and be really very serious about whatever they want to do whether they want to take the most cutting-edge group fitness class, we allow them to do that. If they want to get in and do some personal training and get a very efficient workout with an expert, I think the industry is turning towards that. The interesting thing for me, and one of the things that is sort of profound, is how the industry at large has sort of kept up. What Crunch did early on in its inception was Crunch was innovative, and Crunch led the way. That’s what we really want to focus on going forward. How do we want to continue to be an innovator? How do we want to continue to rethink the model of fitness and shake it up on its head a little bit?

Q: What clubs—you can name them, you don’t have to—were you a part of before? And did you take some of those experiences into this job as well, as a member of a club, a regular member and not a businessman?

A: I was a member of Crunch, which was great. When I was on the road, I always worked out at Crunches because they were in all the cities I went to. So I’ve drawn a lot from that experience. My neighborhood gym in New York was a Gold’s Gym. It’s a great, fantastic gym that I certainly, because I was there every day, learned a lot from. I think that I’m really taking more from my ex-life than I am taking from my gym life because I think that I’m really more interested in doing things unconventionally to the industry than to do what everyone else is doing.

Q: I’m sorry, I think you mentioned something about your past life and your business life, can you repeat that again? I don’t think I could quite hear you there.

A: I’m more interested in drawing from my life as a hotelier and as an entertainer, someone in the entrainment business, than I am really interested in drawing on my gym-going life because I think that that’s going to be the point of differentiation for Crunch, and ultimately that’s what our members are looking for. Like I said, we’re in cities where the average member has several different choices and can choose any one of the clubs out there. We want people to join Crunch because it absolutely is a fit with who they are and what kind of experience they want when they’re looking to work out.

Q: You mention those cities—New York, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami—big cities. What other cities are you targeting, or are you targeting more clubs in those cities?

A: We’re doing both actually. We are definitely looking to expand our presence in the cities where we already are. We feel like some of those markets we’re barely begun to comb. I’ll use Miami as an example. We think there’s a lot more depth in the market in Miami, so we’re looking to pursue some new opportunities there. We’re also looking to, and not just to be in the cities where we already are, but we’re looking at other markets that will allow us to expand the brand, but we want to do it in a way that makes sense. So we want to make sure that the city and the potential members that we go into are indeed symbiotic to what we already have established as a brand. And we want to make sure that we have a real audience and a real membership base for wherever we go. And I don’t think that every city in America lends itself to that outside-the-box Crunch experience. We’re looking all over the map for next steps for us.

Q: It sounds like you’re still focused on big metropolitan cities rather than smaller cities. It could be any example I could throw out there, but it looks like you’ve looking at some more big-time cities.

A: Yeah. I think we’re definitely looking to be in major markets. Absolutely.

Q: In an interview, whether it’s applying for a job or maybe you get the question sometimes: Where do you think you’ll be in five years? I’ve always kind of hated those questions, so I’ll pose that to you. As far as Crunch goes, where do you think it will be in five years? In regards to, maybe, we talked a little bit about expansion, maybe remodeling, staffing, technology, pricing. What types of changes do you foresee in five years with Crunch?

A: I think that in five years, Crunch will be the leader in the industry, hands down. What we’re focusing on now is having a best-in-class product. Everywhere where we are, not only in our new builds but really going back and looking at all the assets that we have right now and making sure they’re up to speed from equipment, design and technology point of view, I feel like that’s our obligation to our members to give them the best in class. I also think that in five years, we will be a growth-forward company, a company that really continues to focus on expansion and providing this business model and this membership-experience model to as many people as we possibly can. One of the things that I really want to focus on aside from really making sure the member experience is 101 percent, I also think that we have some opportunities to take Crunch and everything that it stands for and to translate it into something else as well. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but maybe something having to do with media or something having to do with retail goods. We feel like there is an opportunity there because Crunch is well known. We just have to make it even better known. And I think that there’s an opportunity to explore that.

Q: That’s pretty interesting that you mentioned media. One of the last things I want to know is in regards to the Claymation Crunchers.

A: Sure.

Q: Will there be more of those coming soon? I’m waiting for either the TV series or the movie, the major motion picture?

A: We just launched that campaign a couple of months ago, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback on it. It’s really interesting because I think there are people that absolutely identify with one of those people, whether it’s themselves or whether it’s someone that they see in their day-to-day workout life. So, we are looking. It started to be a small, grass-roots, viral campaign. We’re looking to see what happens next. They definitely have a life of their own, and there are people who are absolutely enamored with them, so we’re hoping that something, we’ll see what happens there.

Q: I hope that for your sake and your members’ sake and the sake of the company that not everybody is like the towel police lady who rips off the arms of that one [guy]. I just hope you don’t have that violent of a membership.

A: No, I hope not as well, actually. That was part of the campaign. The campaign was really about seeing how far we could push the limits of humor. It’s actually a great example because we’re working with a very sort of hip, irreverent ad agency based here in New York, and their mission was to really push the envelope because we wanted to go out with a bang, figuring we could always scale back if we needed to, but we wanted to kind of go out there with a very sort of tongue-in-check, fun point-of-view that really Crunch is made up of all different types of people. You don’t have to be a competitive bodybuilder, and you don’t have to be a 22-year-old high-fashion model. But it’s really all about that everyone fits in, and that we are a very inclusive experience. And anyone can come in and be a Cruncher, can be part of the family.

Q: Nancy was the one. Steven and Nancy, that cartoon was, you say eye-opening or gets some people’s attention, I think that one got my attention more than the others. Well, it’s great to talk to you. One more silly one: the peak-a-boo showers. Have you tried them? Are they here to stay under your tenure at Crunch?

A: You know, I have tried them, years ago. My first time in Los Angeles, when I showered in the gym, I was like, ‘What the heck is this?’ But you know, none of our design features are here to stay. When Crunch was really founded, each one was meant to be somewhat of that city, sort of a varied and organic extension of that city and meant to be leading toward the provocative side of that city. I’m not married on any of those things because part of what makes up Crunch is the ability to stay very, very relative and very, very current. We’re currently looking at and speaking with a bunch of design firms to make sure that we stay up-to-date and looking at doing something that really isn’t about the status quo—even our own status quo—but doing new, fun and equally provocative things today that we did 10 years ago.

Q: I guess if you’re going to try those showers, you want to be on the road and maybe not in the place where you live.

A: The thing about them, I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but it’s really not about, you can’t really see. It’s really more about a silhouette. It’s more about a sense of voyeurism. It is a very respectful sense of voyeurism, I will say.

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