Chamber Classics: HealthSPORT – its origins and challenges

Aerobicizing in Valley West in the 1980s, back when leg warmers ruled the Earth. Submitted photo

Arcata Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joellen Clark-Peterson’s interview with Doug Hartley, site manager of the Arcata HealthSPORT

How many years in your position?

I’ve been here as operations director since we opened in 1992. I graduated from HSU with a Recreation Administration and Business degree. Susan Jansson was a fitness teacher at Valley West Fitness Center where I worked out, and she ended up purchasing it and hiring me. Not long after, the city connected with Susan about wanting a business to fit in with the overall health complex scheme they were planning.  Here we are, 26 years later, and the community has embraced us.

How many members do you have?

At the Arcata club it’s just under 5,000 – out of a population of around 18,000 that’s pretty good. Our McKinleyville club has about 1,000. The total we serve including Fortuna, By the Bay and Eureka is about 9,500. The trick is that each of the 9,500 bring a different personality. One percent are elite athletes. But 99 percent are regular people wanting to be healthy.

How would you describe your competition?

The real true competition isn’t The Club or Planet Fitness; the real true competition is the people sitting on their couches. In a way Planet Fitness helps us. People who don’t want to spend the money will try health club life out at Planet Fitness, get comfortable with it, want more, and they’ll try us out. The difference between Planet Fitness and HealthSPORT is that we want to be more than give you access to equipment. We realize that most people here are not experts in fitness; they have their own careers and family lives, so we aim to align each member with the right plan to help them to achieve their goals. That’s our job. Competition is good for the community and the customer. The key is not to fight one another, but to attract people who aren’t engaged in any type of exercise routine.

As a company, what values do you hold dear?

Speaking of the competitive advantage, it used to be you heavily invest your time in numbers. We still do that of course, but now we have flipped it around where we focus on the staff. We want to hire the right people, take the time to let them know what’s in it for them, what skills they can learn and walk away a better person. The Millennial generation tends to be more nomadic so the more we can grow them, the more we give them opportunities to give back the better; we want to help our staff develop and be involved, we are looking for people who want to be leaders.

What unique challenges do health club businesses face?

When we go to IHRSA [International Health and Racquetball and Sportsclub Association], many health clubs are facing or have faced something we don’t face here, and that is tax-exempt businesses that come in like a YMCA. If YMCA came to town we’d have to really dig deep. But every club sees people who have a New Year’s resolution joining in January. All clubs put a plan in place to retain them, but it’s hard for people to sustain their commitment.

How have health clubs changed over the years?

For one thing, now, over 90 percent of the people are listening to their own music.

Doug Hartley at today's HealthSPORT. Submitted photo

How do you see the health club business changing in the future?

Everything is big on wearable technologies. I’m not the target – I’m 55 years old. But the new generation wants to be able to track how they’re doing. We have a program called Myzone and you can see on the big screen TVs what level you’re working at. It’s interesting right now – the big thing are these boutique clubs – very focused, small facility, like cycling or yoga. This is the “in” thing and you never know if these are fads or they’ll stay in.

What was your trigger into fitness?

If we asked 10 people out here what triggered them into fitness, everyone would have a different answer. My trigger – a bully in seventh grade. I was late to class and I clipped his arm on accident and knocked his books out of his arm and for months he was going to fight me after school. So, I constantly avoided him, and I started thinking, “I’m going to learn karate or lift weights so I don’t have to be scared.” And I got into it and I saw the benefits – I could hit the baseball farther. At HealthSPORT we want to hit the bull’s eye with our members – what is their trigger? Why do they want to do this? We want to uncover their true motivations.

What do you do for exercise now?

I very much practice what we preach. Three days on three days off; upper body one day, lower body routine, and a cardio routing. I do half my workout at HealthSPORT and half at home. I’m a very disciplined person.


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