Staying healthy and active across Alberta

By Cheryl Long

International Fitness Holdings

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It’s no surprise that International Fitness Holdings made Canada’s Best Managed Companies list for 2015. The Calgary-based health club operator is going above and beyond the standard with its selection of clubs that aim to meet the needs of every exercise enthusiast, from hard-core fitness buffs to first-time clients intimidated by the traditional gym setting.

Proudly serving the Alberta market for more than 30 years, the parent company operates World Health, Spa Lady and Bankers Hall Club. Each brings something unique to the fitness sector.

Company founder Rob Leach opened Calgary’s only co-ed fitness club, World Health, in 1983 and continued to expand over the next two decades. In 2008, the company established a partnership with private equity firm North Castle Partners, paving the way to bringing three different styles of fitness clubs together under the International Fitness Holdings umbrella in 2010. The organization now offers eight Spa Lady clubs and eight World Health clubs in Calgary and Edmonton, and the Bankers Hall Club in downtown Calgary.

Scott Wildeman is Senior Vice President, Operations, for International Fitness Holdings and has seen the company grow and change since joining 19 years ago as a weight room monitor. Exemplifying the definition of getting in on the ground floor, Wildeman has worked his way up the company ladder as a personal trainer, fitness manager and regional director before moving into his current role.

Three clubs cater to different clientele

Spa Lady is a women’s only club that aims to inspire a healthy and active lifestyle by providing modern equipment, clean and comfortable locations and low membership fees. The club offers both group fitness classes and sessions with personal trainers, and proves that they understand their market by operating Spa Kidz play
areas for children. Members can take advantage of boutique-style classes not commonly found in fitness gyms — Celebrity Body, Barre, Bender Ball, heart rate training and yoga.

World Health is a co-ed facility that specializes in functional personal training, Wildeman said. One on one or in small groups, the company promotes healthy living whether that means losing weight, building muscle or improving cardiovascular health. Large, open floor plans, a diverse team of personal trainers and more than 150 weekly group exercise classes are all incentives to encourage an ongoing commitment to an active lifestyle.

Bankers Hall Club is unique in its offering, bringing a higher end feel to the fitness experience. Aimed at downtown Calgary professionals, the private club’s menu includes group fitness, squash courts and coaching, massage and wellness programs, personal training, nutrition coaching and athletic therapy. Annual social events are also organized for members.

Much of the company’s success can be attributed to the development of its employees, which currently number close to 1,000. Just as Wildeman worked various positions before becoming SVP, many of the club’s staff have started in one role and then progressed over the years. As an example, one of the club receptionists received training to become a payroll and human resources manager.

“The biggest impact on our business and our culture has been the development of our general managers,” Wildeman said. “So our general managers are all folks like myself who have grown up with the company.”

Employees enjoy opportunities for growth

Someone who first joins the team as a housekeeper, children’s club employee or fitness consultant has the opportunity to move into a management role through the company’s training programs. By promoting from within, the company has experienced a high level of commitment among their managers, Wildeman said. But advancement isn’t the only goal at International Fitness Holdings clubs. A career as a personal trainer or salesperson can also be rewarding, both personally and financially.

“We take as much pride in the fact that you don’t have to be a manager to have a career with us,” he said. Recently, one of their managers decided to move into the role of personal trainer. “We celebrated that because now they’re on the right side of the business that fits them today.”

That understanding of their employees extends to their clients, and is one of the reasons the clubs are so successful in their markets. There is a concerted effort to develop a rapport with customers, and understand their reasons for joining the club along with any barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. An automated system tracks attendance habits, which allows trainers to contact people who may have fallen away from their fitness goals and encourages them to pick up where they left off.

“We focus on small steps and not overloading people, and trying to create a weekly habit,” Wildeman explained. “We specialize in the brand new person scared to death of joining a gym. That is one area that we are really good at.”

A special software program also allows the clubs to flag high-risk members who might need extra encouragement or guidance. Trainers then know who might need additional help during workouts or who might be intimidated by a piece of equipment and require some one-on-one assistance. It’s all about forming relationships with their clients, a concept that is taught and reinforced among the company’s team.

Giving back to their communities

What is also reinforced throughout the company is a commitment to community. The clubs fundraise for two community partners: Wellspring, which supports people living with cancer, and women’s centres in both Calgary and Edmonton that provide treatment and programs for women who are getting their lives back on track. World Health also offers free group fitness classes to local schools, designed to encourage an appreciation for physical activity in the younger generation. So far, they’ve introduced everything from yoga to a high intensity interval class to about 10,000 students.

“We’ve been successful in our markets so we believe it’s critically important that we give back,” Wildeman said.

Being a successful fitness operation in an already competitive market means adding services targeted to a changing clientele. International Fitness Holdings is doing just that by adding online personal training programs to their roster. For a reduced fee, time-strapped customers can work out on their own, at home, but still maintain a level of accountability and communication with a personal trainer. The company is also looking at introducing nutrition programs featuring registered dietitians and certified nutrition consultants that can offer meal plans and coaching.

These are the types of services that will help move International Fitness Holdings closer to its goal — to be the country’s most comprehensive wellness provider by offering boutique-style classes, athletic therapy, nutrition and traditional fitness club amenities all under one roof, Wildeman said. They’re only about five years away from that goal, he added, and at the end they will have a turnkey program ready to enter new markets and replicate itself.;;