Wenatchee, Wa — What started out 10 years ago as one franchisee's competition among his members has turned into the Gold's Gym Challenge, a competition among 14 Gold's Gym franchisees.

Blair McHaney, owner of Gold's Gym in Wenatchee, WA, started the competition 10 years ago with 116 members at his club. Rather than focusing on weight loss, McHaney made the contest about creating a fun and competitive atmosphere for his local community and informing the community about the benefits of fitness. Recently, other Gold's Gym franchisees asked to become a part of the challenge, which has turned the program into a healthy inter-community competition.

“The purpose of this is to use it as an igniter to spark people interested in fitness so that they can change fitness from a goal to making it a lifetime value,” McHaney says.

This year, 500 people from McHaney's facility are participating in the 12-week competition, which began last month. They are competing against an average of 150 to 200 members at each of 40 other Gold's Gyms across the country.

At the end of the 12 weeks, each franchisee assembles his or her top 10 finishers (five males and five females from five age categories) into a team that is then judged by a panel of franchisees, vendors and individuals at Gold's Gym International. Judging is based on before and after photos, body composition results and essays written by the participants.

The prize for members is cash$42,000 for the winning team and $14,000 for individual winners. The prize for the franchisees is possible higher retention of new and existing members.

About 257 of the 500 challenge participants at McHaney's club are new members this year, and they've brought in about 130 additional members — spouses or friends who are not participating in the challenge but who are joining to support the participant, McHaney says.

This year's competition will increase McHaney's monthly drafts by close to $8,000, he says. That number is net of cancellations for the same period.

In past competitions, 57 percent of participants have finished by having their after-photo taken. However, that doesn't mean that the other 43 percent stopped exercising. About 87 percent of participants are still exercising at the club at the end of the challenge. McHaney has not tracked members beyond the 12 weeks to determine their long-term retention rate.

McHaney charges competition participants a $75 entry fee on top of their joining fee. The money goes to the prize pools for local winners and the national winners, and to pay for staff time.

Many of the participants at McHaney's facility sign up and pay for personal training or group training sessions.

“It does run our personal training department a bit ragged,” McHaney says. “This has been our biggest issue this year — we don't have enough trainers. We have four full-time and five part-time personal trainers. We haven't been able to keep up with the demand for personal training.”

After this year's competition, McHaney plans to get together with the 13 other participating franchisees to see what worked and what didn't.

“Now we'll be able to evolve the concept with input from a lot more people,” he says. He encourages other Gold's Gym franchisees to join up, but he cautions that the challenge isn't for everyone.

“It's a lot of work. Your culture needs to be aligned with this promotion,” he says.