Even though David Chung had no experience in the fitness industry, when the tenant of a building he owned in Voorhees, N.J., shut down the gym it ran there, he saw a business opportunity he couldn’t resist.
He knew that there would be demand for a quality gym in the area and saw an opportunity to create a business that would be superior to its competitors. “The other gyms there are mostly corporate run gyms, and the owner is not present,” said Chung, who has a background in real estate and the grocery industry. “We differentiate ourselves from others by providing excellent customer service, having quality equipment, and being really clean.”
He also built a team that understood the business, including a general manager and a marketing manager who had worked at gyms for more than 20 years each. The general manager ran the gym that previously occupied the space, so he was familiar with the facility and the clientele. Chung worked with East West Bank to refinance the building and used that money to renovate the building and to build brand new exercise equipment and machines. The 32,000-square-foot facility includes a pool, steam room, and an indoor track as well as a juice bar and a two racquetball courts. There are also private studios for yoga or personal training. The gym offers a variety of classes, from yoga and pilates to jump rope conditioning and spin.
In addition to investing in the quality of the gym, he also invested heavily in marketing, spending about $10,000 per month in marketing, reaching customers via direct mail, email blasts, digital campaigns and television ads. “We wanted everyone in South Jersey to know that Echelon Health & Fitness was opening in April,” Chung says. “We targeted everyone in all age groups, all nationalities, and explained how we had different plans for everyone.
The outreach paid off. Echelon fitness started preselling memberships in September 2015, and by the time it opened in April 2016, it had some 1,500 members. Since then, they’ve continued the marketing program and added an average of 300 new members each month.
The gym gives potential new members a free pass to visit the gym for a week, and 50 percent of those who take advantage of that offer end up joining, Chung says. It also provides childcare to make it easier for parents of young children to work out there. “Customer service is really important to us,” he adds. “You have to really listen to what your customers are saying.”
Members also downloaded the gym’s mobile app, which gives basic info about the gym, lets them check themselves in, and allows them to make appointments with trainers or sign up for classes. Members can also use the app to track their workouts and receive messages from the gym.
Using a proprietary app is a great way for small businesses to connect with their customers to build their brand and inspire loyalty, says Mahmoud Hafez, founder of AppAdvice.com. “You have your icon, your identity on a device they’re using hundreds of times a day,” he says. “Even if they’re just flipping through the screens, your presence is there.”
An app also allows you to communicate with customers via push notifications, which feel less invasive than emails but also inspire increased engagement, Hafez says. Those without a lot of tech know-how can outsource the development for a relatively small investment.
Echelon’s app gives members access to the gym’s “Member Perx” program, which gives members discounts at dozens of local businesses. More than 50 restaurants have signed on to give members a 15 percent discount, and other participants include dry cleaners, car washes and nail salons.
That tie-in with the local community has also been crucial to the gym’s success. “David started Echelon Health & Fitness with a community and health concept,” says Rhonda Lee, Chung’s relationships manager with East West Bank. “He carefully planned the fitness center so that it would provide services to members as a mindful entrepreneur for the community.”
Chung plans to continue growing membership at the gym for the next few years. He’s aiming for a membership of around 13,000, with 1,200 people using the facilities each day. Lee believes that he’ll meet that goal. “Echelon Health & Fitness is a well-equipped, well-renovated, and well-managed fitness center located at a convenient location,” she says.
While he did not have previous experience running a gym, Chung says his work in the real estate and supermarket industries helped him build skills that have helped him in high current venture. “It’s about managing people,” he says. “You are only as good as your employees, you have to hire people that will work hard for you. I do everything I can to get the best out of my employees.
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