Over the next few months, Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro will profile some of fitness' most powerful women. From the for-profit, non-profit, university and military sector, these women of influence will share their journey to the top and their take on how the industry has changed over the years.
Casey Conrad isn't one for being told she can't do something. While she's most known for starting Healthy Inspirations, a national chain of weight loss centers, and her consulting work with her company Communication Consultants, her desire to do her best started at a very young age — 8 years old to be exact.
“I have been athletic since I was a kid and that wasn't necessarily the norm for a girl,” she says of her childhood.
So, when Conrad wanted to play baseball and couldn't because she was a female, she challenged the league decision and later became the first girl in Rhode Island to “break through the boy's little league.”
Since then she's continued to break barriers. When she first got into the fitness industry 24 years ago, men dominated the field, Conrad says. Not to mention that many outside the industry thought working in a health club meant “taking a steam and sauna.”
Her family was particularly surprised when Conrad, who went to college for marketing and received her B.A. from The American University, quit her first job out of college at The International Trade Association after only five months. She switched careers by answering an ad in the newspaper for a position in sales at Spa Lady and traded in her business suits and pumps for sweats.
“My family nearly had a coronary,” she remembers. “You have to be prepared for what your friends, family members and the public think [about the industry]. You have to have a thick enough skin to take that and allow you to get through the criticism, and know that if you love what you do, eventually financials will work out.”
Within four years, Casey was a regional manager and sales trainer for Spa Lady in the Baltimore area. Looking for more, she left the women's only chain in 1989 and became a full time consultant and author to over 20 books on the health and fitness industry. In 1994, her book Selling Fitness catapulted her into the industry nationwide, and soon after she began speaking at International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association events.
“[Conrad] is an overachiever not because of the fact that she always has to be the best and not to prove anything to anybody, but it's just how she lives her life,” says Florence Auld, owner of Women's Fitness Club and Day Spa in Chantilly, VA, who worked with Conrad at Spa Lady. “She's brilliant, has incredible writing skills, is a great speaker and people love her. It's great to walk around at shows because people want to talk to her.”
At the same time, Conrad went back to school to obtain her law degree at Roger Williams University School of Law with the intention of adding legal consulting for health clubs to her business. In 1998, she passed the Rhode Island Bar exam.
Consulting, writing and speaking at national events proved to be quite time consuming and with traveling 25 days out of the month, Conrad found herself close to burnout.
“I was very busy — too busy,” she says. “I kind of wanted a bit more of a life — be at home, see my dog, have a date.”
In 1999, she decided she didn't want to live out of a suitcase or practice law — instead she wanted to create a new smaller club concept for women with a focus on nutrition, one-on-one coaching, relaxation and beauty treatments — basically, a one-stop shop for women's weight loss and lifestyle programs. Seven years later that idea has sprouted into 72 licensed or franchised Healthy Inspirations locations in 20 states and four counties.
As president of the chain, Conrad is still busy, but maintains a healthy balance in her life. She vows to never miss a workout or eat poorly, and she never skimps on sleep. She also brings her dog, Kona (named after the coffee bean), and cat, Cheerio, to work each day.
“I'm the first one to say I'm a workaholic, but I love what I do,” she says. “I don't see it as work.”
Years in business: 24
Most proud of: Making a difference in the quality of people's lives.
Personal workout: With a basement full of free weights, cardio and weight equipment, Conrad gets in a cardio workout five times a week and lifts weights four to five times a week. When the weather is nice, she goes outdoors to do some inline skating.
Colleague's one-word description: Giving
Interesting fact: Has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do
The first group exercise class that Lynne Brick took, she taught. That's just the way Brick does things — self admittedly, “with a bang.”
Take for example her introduction into her career. Within a two-week span, Brick graduated from Towson University with a B.S. in nursing, started her first nursing job at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center (also the first shock trauma unit in the world) and got married.
Fast-forward a couple of years later, and within a short period of time, Brick gave birth to her and her husband's first child, Vicki, and began teaching movement classes as a favor to her husband who at the time was a rec supervisor for the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks. With a background in dance, others quickly noticed she had a knack for teaching. Soon after, Brick and her husband, Victor, started renting space for her to teach in churches and tennis/ racquetball clubs such as the Greenspring Racquet Club. At the time, Brick was still working full-time as a nurse.
“After a six-week session we'd net about $800 cash and thought it couldn't get any better than that,” she recalls.
In June of 1985 it got better. After class one day, a participant pulled the Bricks into their Mercedes to talk business. Two months later, the Bricks quit their day jobs and became owners of what was then called Padonia Fitness Center. Two months after that, their son Jon was born.
As the years went by, the Bricks expanded the Brick Bodies' empire to a total of five clubs in the Baltimore area, along with two other affiliated clubs in Orlando and New York. Two of those five clubs in Baltimore are Lynne Brick's Belvedere and Lynne Brick's Ownings Mills, both women's only facilities. In February 2006, Les Mills International named the pair as regional agents providing group exercise programs for the Mid-Atlantic region.
“[My husband and I] are life and business partners,” Brick says. “We share a lot of time in meetings, but we each have specific roles so we're not stepping on each other's toes. It's why we've been able to be in business so long.”
The name, Brick Bodies, came upon rather accidentally, just minutes before the couple took the stage for an aerobics competition in 1984. The husband-and-wife team's original name was Body Reflections.
“I said, ‘We can't call ourselves that. That's ridiculous. We're both Bricks…why don't we call ourselves Brick Bodies?’”
The name stuck, and Brick's interest in aerobics continued. All of the Brick facilities have a strong group exercise program, and Brick has written several books including Consumer Guide's Step Into Shape and Fitness Aerobics by Human Kinetics. She's performed in more than a dozen exercise videos and in 1990, was named Fitness Instructor of the Year by IDEA. Brick has presented lectures, workshops, master classes and trainings in more than 25 countries.
“With my dance background, it's simple for me, but for someone without dance and music appreciation it can be very hard,” she says. “[Training and teaching] is the gift I give back to the world.”
After more than 20 years of giving to the industry, Brick has no plans of slowing down. Brick Bodies hopes to open more than a dozen clubs in the central Maryland region within the next three to five years.
However, she emphasizes the importance of taking care of yourself. In winter 2001, she had a benign brain tumor removed and took two years to fully recover from the full craniotomy. Now, she's hired a personal assistant to allow her to focus more on her core passion — helping others. She hopes to eventually combine her past with her present by starting her own lifestyle retreat run by nurses and fitness professionals. She'd also like to get her Ph.D. in community health.
Brick plans on going out with a bang, too.
“I want to be on that Smucker's jar at 101, still kicking my legs,” she says.
Years in business: 24 years
Most proud of: Her two children and her marriage of 28 years.
Personal workout: Teaches 1-2 classes a week, strength trains 1-2 times a week plus a variety of cardio 1-3 times a week: tennis, outdoor cycling, running, etc.
Colleague's one-word description: Passionate
Interesting fact: Played college tennis her senior year