Despite some health clubs closing during the recession, most clubs survived and some even grew, emerging with plans to expand even further. Reasons for success despite adversity varies, but for Fitness Formula Clubs, which owns nine high-end clubs and manages three office building fitness centers in downtown Chicago, knowledge of its community was one key to its success.

The recession had a pruning effect on clubs in the Chicago market, but that effect created opportunities, says Gale Landers, co-founder and owner of Fitness Formula Clubs, and his company was positioned to take advantage of that by making three acquisitions, accounting for some of the revenue growth from $30 million in 2007 to $36.4 million in 2011. Landers is projecting more than $40 million in revenue for 2012.

“Every seven, eight, 10 years, there’s a recession,” Landers says. “You can count on it. So, the way I look at it is that you should be planning during the good times to be able to get through the tough sledding or the bad times. That means making sure you are handling the river of cash properly and setting up your balance sheet so that your percentage of overall assets gives you the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities when they come up. And they always do during a recession.”

An economy like the last few years usually separates clubs that put their customers first from those that sacrifice loyalty for short term gain, he adds.

Landers and his team put their customers first by learning about their customer base and tailoring their facilities to the needs of each neighborhood, he says. Knowing the market is easier for Landers and his team than for some companies because their roots are firmly planted in Chicago.

“One of the great advantages that we have is that because we are in Chicago, we live Chicago, we breathe Chicago, we understand these neighborhoods,” Landers says. “So it has been very helpful to us in terms of how we plan and how we select the next location that we want to go to.”