Chuze Fitness

Chuze Fitness 1

Chuze Fitness successfully applied knowledge from the hospitality industry to the fitness indusry,

further proving that 'the customer comes first' is universally the golden rule.

By Mark Lawton, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media

It was lessons learned from the restaurant and hospitality business that helped CEO Cory Brightwell and four other founding members find success with Chuze Fitness, a chain of fitness clubs in the southwest United States.

In 1978, Cory’s father, Charles, and his godfather Ray Barshick, opened Souper Salad, a buffet style salad bar restaurant in Houston. They grew it to 50 locations and sold it in 1995. “The concept was distinct because of the great customer service combined with how much bang you were getting for your buck,” Brightwell says.

Brightwell played baseball at Pepperdine University before continuing on to play professionally for a year, until a shoulder injury forced him into retirement. After coaching high school baseball for a while, he decided to use his business degree and took a position at a capital management firm working on the Asian stock market. “I worked some funky hours but it gave me good insight into global markets and economies,” Brightwell recalls.

Chuze Fitness infoIn 2006, his father and Barshick reached out to Brightwell, Barshick’s son Nick, and Barshick’s son-in-law Kris Peterson, with an idea to start a business. “We looked at several different restaurant concepts that were small, but had a unique brand that was scalable,” Brightwell says. “We just couldn’t get anything over the finish line.” The economy, Brightwell explains, was good in 2006, and restaurant owners wanted a lot of money.

“A friend said, ‘Have you looked at fitness?’” Brightwell says. “He said you should look into Planet Fitness on the East Coast. They were the first value model, a $10 a month concept. They had cardio, free weights, hydromassage. You get a lot of bang for your buck.” They visited Planet Fitness locations on the west coast and liked it. But instead of going the franchise route, the five partners decided to open their own fitness club using the same concept. “The key to a $10-a-month health club is no frills and no bells and whistles,” Brightwell says. “It’s easy to operate and easy to expand. All you have to do is focus on giving your customer a great experience through culture and cleanliness.”

Good Timing

In 2008, they opened the first Chuze Fitness in Carlsbad, Calif., in a 16,000-square-foot space. They charged $9.99 a month. This was during the beginning of the Great Recession, a fact that actually worked to their advantage. “During the Great Recession, there were middle-tier customers who paid $45 to $50 a month,” Brightwell says. “Those customers didn’t stop exercising, they just traded down. When they found the right affordable option, that’s where they went. Our client acquisition model relied on people needing an affordable option that still provided them with a great experience.”

Chuze Fitness was successful and opened a second club and then a third. “Our brand was starting to gain traction and identity,” Brightwell says. “But we also noticed that the [low-cost] sector of health fitness was becoming quite competitive and very saturated. We wanted to differentiate ourselves even more.”

So with their thirteenth location, they doubled the size to about 40,000 square feet. This allowed them to add several amenities including a Jacuzzi, pools, sauna, steam room, infrared saunas, kids’ club, group exercise room, indoor cycling, turf training space, hot yoga studio and team training studios.

Among those amenities is a cardio area in a large dark room with a 20- by 30-foot movie screen and surround sound. “I will be the first to say I don’t enjoy running for 40 minutes,” Brightwell says. “If I’m in a room exercising and watching Gladiator on the big screen, I can guarantee that 40 minutes will go by faster.”

Chuze Fitness 2Chuze Fitness also instituted a tiered pricing structure. Customers can get a basic workout for $9.99 a month. Or they can get access to more of the amenities for $21.99 a month or all the amenities at $39.99 a month (fees vary somewhat by location).

Today, Chuze Fitness has 25 locations in California, Arizona, Colorado and will soon open a location in New Mexico. The company partnered with a private equity firm three years ago and plans to open 8 to 10 new locations for each of the next three to four years.

Talent Search

With growth comes challenges. One of the biggest challenges Chuze Fitness has is finding good people. “We’re in the people business,” Brightwell says. “In order to deliver a great experience, we have to find the right people. It’s a great economy now and unemployment is low and a lot of great talent is taken.”

To get qualified people, Chuze Fitness spends a lot of time on recruiting and hiring. “If you hire the right person, training, leading, and motivating them is a lot easier,” Brightwell says. General Managers for Chuze Fitness carry “talent cards,” business cards that read: “We like talent. If you are interested in growing with our company, give us a shout.”

“If a hiring manager is at another business and has a great experience with an employee, it’s the perfect time to engage them. We’re not trying to steal employees but it’s great to recognize talent and make our interest known if they are looking for a second job or a change,” Brightwell says.

“My biggest piece of advice is don’t settle,” Brightwell says. “It’s hard to abide by when you are under pressure to hire but it’s worth it in the long run to hold out and make purposeful hires that contribute to company and customer culture.”

Brightwell encourages others in the fitness industry to focus on member experience rather than sales.

“Ten years ago, we toured other clubs to find out what our competitors were doing,” Brightwell says. “You may or may not get a personal welcome at check in and then they pass you along to a sales person in a suit. There is broken equipment everywhere, the place is dirty, and the air conditioning is not working. Then the sales person puts you through the meat grinder.”

Brightwell also insists on clean gyms. “Cleanliness is a huge aspect at Chuze,” Brightwell says. “We’re not just clean, we want you to be able to eat off the floors. It needs to be spotless.”

The future seems bright for Chuze Fitness. The company has an annual revenue of $60 million and there is room for growth, Brightwell shares.

“Although it seems like there is a health club on every corner, only 20 percent of the U.S. population have health club memberships,” Brightwell says. “There is still a lot of opportunity for our industry.”

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