Because I live in Kansas City, MO, and the city is all atwitter about baseball’s All-Star Game coming to town this month, I started to look at our annual Top 100 Clubs list in terms of who the All-Stars would be if we were to put together a team of health clubs.
Obviously, we don’t have RBIs or home run stats on which to base our list. To visit the more than 30,000 clubs in the country and grade them on cleanliness, friendliness, programming, staff competency, retention rates and other factors would be too difficult. So, the basis for our “team” must be revenue.
Creating a list of top 100 clubs based on revenue alone requires us to email and call about 120 companies to ask their CEO or CFO to fill out our form. Every year, several companies decline to turn in their forms, even though they clearly would make the list. No baseball player would decline the opportunity to play on an All-Star team, but private club companies have every right to remain private. And especially during the recession, many executives preferred to keep their club company’s financial performance to themselves.
However, this year, the number of companies submitting forms increased, which I take as a sign that the financial performance of larger clubs is improving. A bigger sign of some improvement is that 71 companies reported increases in revenue this year compared to 47 last year. Those increases were larger this year than last—20 of them this year were double digit percent increases, and of those 20, six were greater than 20 percent.
Not only did the number improve and several once-absent club companies turn in their forms this year, but operators of several new club companies turned in forms. Some of them made the list, and some may make it next year.
So, with some good news coming out of this year’s list, who made my All-Star team? I cannot offer all my picks here (for details about a report on the past five years of the Top 100 Clubs and more analysis of the companies on the list, click here), but I will offer one of my top picks: LA Fitness, Irvine, CA.
LA Fitness would make for a great public company, one analyst told me— except it does not need the money and it is extremely private. The company’s deep pockets and smart decisions during the recession make it a star performer. It grew from about 274 clubs in 2008 to 505 clubs at the end of 2011 with the addition of 171 former Bally Total Fitness clubs, most of which it kept. The company will have even more clubs once the purchase of Lifestyle Family Fitness is complete.
LA Fitness has survived the threat of the growing number of alternative clubs, such as CrossFit and personal training studios, as well as the threat of the lowprice operators, by making its niche in the dwindling mid-price club market. Although some people may question the company’s purchase of Bally Total Fitness clubs, the $153 million purchase price was a steal. We’ll see what they make of them.
Now it is your turn. Excluding your own team, who would you put on your All-Star list of club companies and why would they make your list?