During the past two years, In-Shape has been transforming its brand, and the latest step in that evolution involves the promotion of Francesca Schuler from COO to CEO.
The Stockton, California-based company with 65 clubs announced in late March that Rich Nelsen was leaving the company. Nelsen took on the CEO role in December 2016 when founder Paul Rothbard stepped out of that role. Rothbard continues as a member of the board.
Nelsen’s exit led to Schuler’s appointment as CEO after spending a year as COO. She joined In-Shape as chief marketing officer in 2015. Prior to coming to In-Shape, she held executive positions at BevMo!, a specialty beverage retailer; Treasury Wine Estates Americas; Method Products Inc; and The Gap. She also was a partner at Marakon Associates.
“Francesca is a visionary, but importantly, with over 25 years of experience in marketing and operations, she has the tools to turn that vision into reality. We believe Francesca’s experience, perseverance and passion for In-Shape is the perfect combination to lead the team to achieve our long-term goals,” Jeff Jones and Scott Earthy of Fremont Private Holdings, which owns In-Shape, stated in a media release about the appointment. Fremont Private Holdings invested in the company in 2013 to help it expand.
As part of the transition, Jones will join In-Shape’s board as executive chairman working directly with the leadership team.
Part of the long-term goal of the company involves growth in the secondary California markets, such as Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield where In-Shape has built its reputation instead of trying to move into downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco, Schuler told Club Industry. These secondary markets "are in need of a great community, premium-type experience at a great price and that’s really what we offer," she said.
Although she wouldn't say whether growth would come from acquisitions or new builds, she did say that one of her goals is to continue In-Shape’s evolution as a motivator of people.
“We feel really good about where In-Shape is headed and who we want to be,” Schuler said. “We have really rallied around this notion of being in the motivating people business. And, more importantly, creating a place where communities can really motivate each other or be motivated to be healthy and fit. And that sounds like just words on a piece of paper, but if you look at many people who try to differentiate in this category, it’s often about better equipment, more tracking, etc., all of which are important, but at the end of the day, you have to have a belief that your job every single day is to motivate people and make their day better and themselves better.”
And that focus doesn't just apply to members. It also involves ensuring that team members are growing.
“One of the stated goals when I took over as CEO … was to say that we want everyone to be able to fulfill their career in fitness,” Schuler said. “We have designed our organizational structure, our training program, our compensation plan so people feel like they are building a career and growing. That’s super important because ultimately, we are a membership business, and the only way that you can create a sense of community and a sense of membership is if they get to know our team members. If our team members are churning at crazy rates, there’s no connection there and there’s no sense of community.”
With that in mind, one of Schuler's priorities is making In-Shape a place where people can build a career in fitness whether as a trainer who wants to train forever or someone who wants to eventually become a general manager or a CEO.
The company has started a management training program and mentorship program to help develop career path opportunities.
“I’m super passionate about building a career in fitness really because I think that you don’t stay loyal to companies where you don’t feel like you can grow,” she said. “We all want to grow. We want to be a growth company not just opening new clubs but a place where you can really grow your career as an individual and as a leader.”
Schuler also is passionate about creating a diverse team with a mix of men and women, a mix of ages and a mix of fitness levels, she said.
“I’m super proud of where we are right now in terms of leadership roles,” she said. “I believe that the general manager is the most important role in the company. If our general managers are great, everything else will be great because they really are the ones that own the club experience and the relationship with the members. We have a really diverse group of general managers. We’ve worked really hard on that.”
The company has also flipped from a “top down” to a “bottom up” company, she said to send the message that management is there to support the general managers in the clubs.
“While that sounds like it may not be meaningful in terms of helping to support future leaders, I personally interview every general manager candidate in the company since I took over as CEO, and I’m going to continue that,” Schuler said, not to make the hiring decisions but so that everyone knows the kind of company In-Shape is, what the company wants from leaders and how important the general manager role is to the company.