Unlike most fitness companies that are club focused, Wellbridge's view of the industry comes from several angles.
Wellbridge operates its own facilities, but also manages clubs and has a thriving corporate and hospital wellness program. The common thread shared by all three is Wellbridge's reputation for running sophisticated, upscale facilities.
“We are known as the company that owns and manages the higher-end clubs,” says Debra Regan, the company's vice president of products and services. “We're in communities where the club is one of the focal points of the community, or at least it started that way.”
Based in Denver and founded in 1983, Wellbridge earned high regard as a management company known for running clubs within diverse economic conditions. In 1997, Wellbridge teamed with investment firms Chilmark Partners and Starwood Capital Group for the beginning of several years of acquisitions.
“We're decentralized and have properties in 16 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii,” Regan says.
Its 45 clubs and more than 200,000 members make Wellbridge the fourth largest health club chain in America. The company has developed more than 1.5 million square feet in clubs ranging in size from 10,000 to 200,000 square feet. Its management clients include mega clubs, full-service spas, hotel gyms, and corporate and hospital wellness centers.
“We are multifaceted and have everything from programs for teens to personal trainers to children's programs and spas,” Regan says. “We don't cookie cutter our clubs. They are unique to their location.”
From the outset, Wellbridge's goal has been to positively affect the health and happiness of its members and guests. Wellbridge uses ultraprogressive programming, upper-end facilities and high-quality products to improve the quality of life for its members.
Every Wellbridge club is equipped with the latest in fitness technology and is staffed with fitness professionals. Many have heated, indoor/outdoor pools and racquetball courts. Each club's focus is determined by its members and their needs. For instance, while every club has a full menu of equipment, a club in one city might have an outstanding tennis program while a club in another city excels in group fitness. Of course, all this doesn't come free. Membership at a Wellbridge club is more expensive than other clubs.
“Yes, in the fitness community our dues may be a little higher,” Regan says. “We strive to insure that along with that comes a higher level of service, a higher level of amenities and a higher level of multifaceted facilities.”
Because management is decentralized, Wellbridge doesn't have a brand of products, but individual clubs may have their own brand. Still, every Wellbridge club is unified by the company's mission — a passion for improving the quality of life through fitness, wellness, sports and fun.
The company preaches five core values including providing credible solutions, ensuring members receive personal attention, delivering quality products, taking responsibility for daily actions, and exhibiting high levels of integrity and respect when dealing with members and associates.
“We have great people working for us,” Regan says. “One thing we do and have done from the beginning is take their creativity and encourage them to develop a bigger program and then take it to the next level. Wellbridge is about the people and their passion.”
Wellbridge people bring that same passion to its corporate and hospital clients. Its strongest corporate market is in Minneapolis. Wellbridge commands between 30 percent and 40 percent of the corporate fitness market. The corporate world is struggling with the same issue that Wellbridge and other fitness companies are facing: America's obesity. In the corporate world, obesity equates to health insurance costs for the company and individual. Part of the answer, Regan says, is using incentives to get people involved in working out.
“There are lots of different things going on out there relative to the corporate market,” she says. “In some locations with some insurance companies and corporations, we have been able to do subsidy programs where you get reimbursed a certain dollar amount for your membership. I think we are going to see a lot more of that.”
PERSONAL TRAINING FOR EVERYONE
Wellbridge focuses on an array of personal training programs. The company offers individual, group and youth personal training programs at all its clubs, as well as cardiac rehab and specialized sports training.
But the real niche market is in personal training for brides and teen fitness and spas. Wellbridge offers brides and their entourage personal or group fitness training from exercise to diet to grooming. One Wellbridge club in Minneapolis will put together the entire wedding, including a reception at the club.
The other niche market, teen spas, is equally promising. Wellbridge has been developing the idea over the past several years and has come up with a fitness training and spa program for teenagers starting at age 14 and up. The teens have to go through a training program with the staff, but they also can participate in group fitness classes just for that age group.
The spas will give teenage girls a place to go for a day of pampering, including manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and skin care classes. It's an area health clubs are moving toward, Regan says.
For the younger set — seven years old to 13 years old — Wellbridge has a program called Blast! that involves organized activities that change every 30 to 45 minutes. There are also areas for them to do homework and some clubs have computer labs. Wellbridge also offers a youth performance-training program for children who want to develop a particular athletic skill.
Wellbridge's long-term vision is to deliver top-shelf fitness, spa and wellness programs to both sexes and all age groups. Aging Baby Boomers are the dominant group, but the company also wants to cater to families, older adults and Generations X and Y.
Wellbridge is launching a program called the Whole Member Retention and Longevity program. The software program, in conjunction with the staff, is aimed at keeping members happy.
“We will be able to start tracking members for usage and reward them,” Regan says. “Based upon usage, we can track what they are doing in the club and what kind of activities they are engaged in.”
The goal, Regan says, is for the staff to engage club members and ensure that they are getting value for their money. The program will also help clubs with member retention.
“Our retention rates are probably no different than the industry average,” Regan says. “We want to analyze that and help our business grow and make sure we are offering the best service. We want to know how we can be that one stop shop. How we can serve the family, the young married couple, the Generation X and Generation Y people, from a business standpoint, as well as a health standpoint.”
Regan sees a bright future for Wellbridge.
“I believe that five years down the road we will be bigger through acquisition and just growth,” she says. “I think we will be even healthier in the next five years.”
She also believes Wellbridge will focus its energy on developing specific programs.
“I think that with our focus on personal training growing, our tennis, and our focus on youth performance, we will develop our name and niche in those areas,” Regan says. “We have them and now we want to bring it to the next level. I believe that will be our focus for the next 12 to 24 months.”