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To reach out to a new market, health clubs must make a more concentrated effort to approach members’ well-being as a whole, rather than focusing solely on exercise.
Best of the Best
While Gainesville evolved somewhat organically, ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers owner Phil Wendel says his clubs’ diversification was part of a targeted strategy to serve a wider population.
ACAC opened its first location in Charlottesville, VA, in 1984 as a traditional fitness club with weights, group exercise classes and cardio machines, but Wendel says he decided to expand the club’s mission after reading a 1997 article written by John McCarthy, the former executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).
“John talked about the future of the fitness industry being primarily made up of a large demographic—64 percent of the American population—that called themselves the ‘interested de-conditioned’” Wendel says. “[These people] accepted the benefits of exercise, were not satisfied with what they were doing and were ready to embrace a more active lifestyle. From this point on, we targeted this market.”
The company opened its flagship fitness and wellness facility the following year. The 64,000-square-foot facility has all the usual fitness amenities, such as group exercise studios and cardio and weight equipment, but also features a therapy pool and offered on-site physical therapy and cardiac rehab.
“Initially, in 1998, cardiac rehab and physical therapy were tenants,” Wendel says. “Flash forward to today, we own our own physical therapy clinic, we have a nutritionist, 20 to 30 fitness specialists, personal trainers, all with certifications and degrees in the field. We also have nurses in all of our clubs.”
Many of ACAC’s auxiliary services are open to the public, including physical therapy, nutrition and counseling, a weight-loss club and wellness coaching, which helps participants with issues such as achieving a healthy work/ life balance, quitting smoking and managing stress.
Non-members can also gain access through ACAC’s Physician Referred Exercise Program (PREP). The program, which won Club Industry’s Best of the Best award for non-member program in 2010, was created with the help of a medical advisory board and allows non-members to attend the club for 60 days for $60 with a referral from their doctor. In addition to regular club access during those 60 days, PREP enrollees have two 30-minute sessions per week to work with a medical fitness specialist, one consultation with a nutritionist and a session with a personal trainer.
PREP has around 180 enrollees per month—all non-members. It’s an impressive figure, but Wendel points out that it’s not achieved passively.
“Each club has a full-time outreach staff member, whose job is to call on physicians’ offices,” he says. “The PREP program grows each year, and physicians gain confidence in our ability to properly handle their referrals.”
As a certified Medical Fitness Association (MFA) facility, ACAC takes seriously its commitment to providing high-quality wellness and medical fitness services, and Wendel urges other club owners to remember that trying to expand a club’s mission this way is not an endeavor to be taken lightly.
“If you don’t have a good ground game and quality programming that you can offer physician-referred clients, don’t get into that business,” he says.