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Through a program called Project Walk, the Claremont Club is helping spinal cord injured clients regain mobility, and it now is working with ALS patient and fitness industry veteran Augie Nieto to help him reach his goal of walking again.
Jason S. (center in wheelchair) and Jonathan W. (boy to the far right) are two of the 30 clients currently at Project Walk in the Claremont Club. Jason also works at the club as a storyteller in the child care area. Prior to Project Walk, Jason only had movement from the neck up, but he has shown great improvement in moving his right arm. Jason’s goal is to gain enough movement in his right arm and hand to be able to feed himself and to hug his son. Photo courtesy of the Claremont Club.
For Mike Alpert, CEO of the Claremont Club in Claremont, CA, there are easier and more profitable ways to make money than operating a Project Walk franchise. The club, which sits on 18 acres in the college community just northeast of Los Angeles, offers a multitude of revenue-generating amenities, including a spa, summer camps, a yoga and Pilates studio, and tennis and swim lessons. But few of these may be as satisfying as Project Walk.
“The Project Walk studio was never built to make a lot of money,” Alpert says. “It was done to change lives and help people who need it desperately.”
Project Walk is a not-for-profit organization that uses the Darzinski Method to help improve the mobility of people with spinal cord injuries. The Darzinski Method attempts to get the neurons and the nerves in the brain to reconnect with the muscular system below the level of injury through constant movement and weight-bearing activity-based exercises.
In February, the Claremont Club opened the first Project Walk franchise, which it operates inside its club for the Be Perfect Foundation, the nonprofit group that is the Project Walk franchisee.
The program, which takes up 3,000 square feet of the club, had 18 clients in February but now serves 30 clients with seven more on the waiting list. Clients usually come twice per week for two-hour sessions in which they work with a Project Walk specialist (the trainer) and at least one aid to help transfer the client.
The rehabilitation sessions at Project Walk cost $85 per hour, Alpert says, compared to $75 per hour for the club’s typical personal training session. The Be Perfect Foundation, which handles the billing, pays a 9 percent royalty fee to Project Walk corporate, then pays the club $77.35 per hour. Out of that money, the Claremont Club pays the specialist, the aid and part of the manager’s salary. The rest of the money goes to cover administrative costs, supplies, and maintenance and repair, Alpert says.
Even with those costs, the Claremont Club manages to make between $5,000 and $10,000 per month off the program with its current client base, Alpert says, which means the club, which spent $125,000 on the build-out (minus the cost of equipment, which was donated by the Be Perfect Foundation) will get a return on investment in less than two years.
Project Walk is expanding through franchising, and Alpert encourages other club operators to consider becoming a franchisee. The one-time franchisee fee was around $60,000 for the Be Perfect Foundation, Alpert says. The total investment for most franchisees, including the franchisee fee, training for specialists and build-out costs, could run between $100,000 and $180,000, he estimates.
The rewards of offering this program also include goodwill with members and the community.
“Not too many days go by that a member of the club doesn’t catch me in the club or outside and tell me how proud they are of what we are doing and how proud they are to be able to support an organization that’s doing these kinds of things,” Alpert says. “That happens all the time.”