The Financial Post - Fitness Club Shapes its Image

Reprinted from The Financial Post

Fitness club shapes its image

John Cardillo says the key to staying top in the fitness club world is to keep abreast of the latest trends. Today, the latest craze is boxing studios.

John Cardillo has worked up a sweat in the fitness business. The CEO of Premier and Curzons acknowledges that the business has not been known for its staying power.

Mr. Cardillo, won the Mr. Canada body-building competition, made his first foray into the fit  business at age 19, when he bought his first club with a $7,000 loan from a Mr. Canada sponsor. He continued to purchase a new club every year for five years, at which time he sold the chain and returned to school and train for the Mr. Universe competition. But having already been bitten by the business bug, school failed to hold his interest, and the Mr. Universe scene was packed with steroids.

His return to the fitness business carried with it the promise to stick with it, push the industry up a few notches.

“The industry was really looked down on and I sort of looked at it myself and I said, ‘This is the industry I picked, and I have to make it work,’” he says.

“It was an interesting day when I realized that I was down the runway and I couldn’t shut off the engines.”

Now, less than 10 years later, his company, which consists of three brands of clubs, Premier (his original brand), Mademoiselle Spa (for women only, located in the Premier clubs) and Curzons (a chain he took over and still runs) is one of the best-known in Ontario. The latest ad campaign asking new clients to “Be Yourself Only Better,” shows men and women who are toned, attractive, but life-like on huge billboards around the cities.
“We don’t pretend to be a spa; we don’t pretend to be a muscle-building gym; we don’t pretend to be some executive-type club that you can’t sweat in,” he says. “But at the same time, we’re not a club that a female in her 30s would be intimidated to go into.”

Factors that make his clubs popular are their design – no big empty warehouses full of equipment for Premier – and their educated staff of 1,100 part- and full-time employees – who are usually university-educated, some with physical education or kinesiology degrees.

It’s great for the customers, of course, but it’s also a godsend for some recent graduates. “All of a sudden, they’re doing what they went to school for – otherwise they probably would be stocking shelves somewhere or maybe teaching school, if they got lucky enough,” he says.

Mr. Cardillo believes the entertainment factor plays a role in a club’s success. Members walking into his clubs can now find the latest craze in fitness: the boxing studio where they can do 10, three-minute rounds, and work off both aggression and flab.

Staying on top of these trends is important, but keeping the old core activities fun is the real challenge for Mr. Cardillo, and it is just as important, as keeping his clients motivated.

“Let’s face it. It’s a lot easier not to work out, than to work out,” Mr. Cardillo says.