35 Years and Counting


Q: How has New York Health & Racquet Club (NYHRC) changed during its 35 years of existence?

A: In the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s New York Health & Racquet Club had no competition. It had the celebrities and models because there was no place else to go. I got here 4½ years ago. The company was stale and had been for four to five years. We had the Silent Generation (people born 1925-1945) and then Baby Boomers, but to see a Gen X in this club — it didn't happen. So we had to attract them while not alienating the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. We did that with music and classes.

Q: How has programming changed at NYHRC?

A: I'm about fewer classes, more people in classes and more excitement in a class. I want a prospect to walk into a club and see a hip hop class of 40 people, not four. Our group program director has done an amazing job of reshaping our programming. We cut the classes that were not popular, and we became more innovative in the classes that we put on the schedule.

Q: How has technology changed your business?

A: Our biggest source of quality leads is our Web site. I get every Web lead that comes in within 30 seconds. I distribute the leads to the people in the clubs. If people are going to fill out information on a Web site, they don't want to wait 24 hours to get a response. We get about 15 leads on a weekend day to 40 leads on a weekday. We've converted about 29 percent of those into sales.

Q: What are the biggest issues that the industry is dealing with today?

A: To the owner, it's don't leverage yourself and pick real estate carefully. Don't rush to expand. To the managers, it's you should never settle for mediocrity. You have to have the equipment and the location, but everyone has that. You have to have the people. Too many are just settling. To me, it's never settle.

Q: How has NYHRC kept up with industry changes?

A: I look at outside companies and what they are doing — Starbucks and Enterprise. I try not to follow the industry trends. I try to follow trends from outside the industry.

One of my favorite stories is about the barrista at Starbucks and how he came up with Frappucino, which is one of the biggest sellers at Starbucks. It's all about getting feedback from club-level people. I'm a big believer in ideas coming up the chain.

Another company that impresses me greatly is Enterprise Rent-a-Car. The service is impeccable. I can't tell you how well they do financially, but the managers are young and they are attentive. When I walked into an Enterprise on a Sunday, I was treated like gold. The way they were trained was great; the way they made people feel was great.

Q: What changes do you foresee for your club in the future?

A: We are always changing our programming. As far as expansion goes, we are looking to expand. I'm going to be careful. I know what is happening in the real estate market. In two to five years, we will see a lot of clubs up for sale. We have had no debt in 35 years and never plan on taking on any debt. We own all our buildings. The real estate market is out of whack here. We are going to be patient. I am talking to some companies about acquisitions. I've learned to be patient, to do things right. Some of the clubs that have opened here have done so too quickly.

Q: Your thoughts on dealing with competition?

A: In Manhattan, we don't have a lot of nonprofit competition, but it's tremendous in the suburbs. Ys today are beautiful. In Manhattan, I think competition is great. Whenever a new club opens, there is a little panic from some people at the club near there, but I say this is when you become even friendlier. This is just bringing more people into the area.

Our flagship club had a new competitor come in, but eventually, our membership exploded. Competition is a challenge — a challenge to get better. It keeps us on our game.

Q: How do you find enough qualified employees?

A: It's our biggest challenge. We have someone dedicated to that. We have people posting ads all the time, not in the normal places but in places like Craig's List. I drive my human resources director very hard. Manager trainees, maintenance people, sale consultants — these people are put through a rigorous process. We are rarely left without someone, but we only have 10 clubs.

If we are in a pinch, our general manager moves to the front desk, which is where they should be 80 percent of the time anyway. The general manager shouldn't have an office. I did a survey one time where I asked the people what their general manager's name was. Those who didn't know, things changed at those clubs. The general manager has to be front and center, the heart and soul of the clubs.

When I got here five years ago, we had some great people and some not so great people.

If I send e-mails at 3 a.m., they are answered right away. I have sales people who wait up for sales leads. They put their Blackberry on vibrate and wake up when I buzz them.

I think we treat our employees really well. In return, I ask for loyalty and hard work.

For the full interview with Brodsky, including his thoughts about the future of low-priced clubs and how to find and hire the right people, visit www.fitnessbusinesspro.com.

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