A bankruptcy, a lawsuit from the New York State attorney general, and a gym-shuttering pandemic all threatened to obliterate New York Sports Club. Instead, the company is bouncing back, rebranding, refreshing and finding ways to make gyms more inviting. Kari Saitowitz, founder of the Fhitting Room and now chief marketing and creative officer of NYSC, tells Marketing Daily how the chain is navigating recovery.
Marketing Daily: Let’s start with your assessment of the typical fitness consumer. How do they feel about gym memberships?
Saitowitz: In our markets, New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and Florida, there’s been a lot of change. Working from home is a big one because while many companies are back to work in person, many are hybrid or fully remote. And even those back to full-time offer more flexibility. That significantly impacts brick-and-mortar spaces because fitness is so routinized for many people.
Marketing Daily: People think, “Why join a gym near my office if I’m not sure which days I’ll be working?”
Saitowitz: Right. Companies have to evolve. For example, all our city memberships are passports so that people can work out at any club. We’ve added an app this year. We’re adding content next month that will include on-demand workouts. Sometimes, members don’t want to leave their houses, and we want them to feel they get some value from membership even then.
We’re also changing to recognize that people want to socialize more after feeling isolated. You want to have fun and see your friends when you leave your house. That can mean less frequent visits to your gym. But it’s also up to us to provide more social opportunities within those clubs. So we’re doing more community events and adding lounges with plenty of WiFi and small group training.
Marketing Daily: You founded the Fhitting Room, a boutique workout that NYSC acquired about a year ago. And long before the pandemic, such concepts -- SoulCycle, OrangeTheory, Barre -- had outshone run-of-the-mill gyms. Now you’re CMO of the whole shebang. Is that hard, given how different the two brands are?
Saitowitz: Yes and no. I started the Fhitting Room to fill a white space, giving you total strength and cardio as if you had a personal trainer. NYSC, which turns 50 this year, is meant to have everything anyone would want in their neighborhood gym, so we’re investing in the areas where we see macro trends. There's strength, cardio, classes, functional training, recovery and stretching mats. Not every member will use those things, but some of those things you can't find in other neighborhood gyms. As a marketer, I see myself in the business of creating consumer experiences that are special and meaningful. It’s as much about how our team interacts with somebody in a club as it is about the equipment.
Marketing Daily: Cities now have more available real estate. How is that shaping plans?
Saitowitz: At the high point, the company had 150 locations. And through the pandemic, restructuring and bankruptcy, there are about 60 clubs now. With new ownership and leadership, everybody's sharpening their pencils and being thoughtful about where neighborhoods can support a healthy business. And in those locations, they're reinvesting in the spaces. There are some good deals and some landlords out there that will co-invest. We've updated over half of the portfolio in the past year in the best ways for that location. And some are all new. We’re about to open a new club in Washington, the first new club opening outside New York in the rebranding.
Marketing Daily: That includes renaming every location to New York Sports Club?
Saitowitz: Yes, with a new logo. The rebranding is rolling out in phases. But all are served by the same app, newsletter, and content. We can do more for our members if we are one brand than we can if we support a different brand for every market, especially given how many members travel from one market to another.
Marketing Daily: And you’re sure Bostonians and Philadelphians won’t mind?
Saitowitz: So long as they get a clean gym with functioning products and the services they're looking for and are greeted with good customer service, they’re pretty happy. Sure, there's local pride. We've done a lot to ensure that our content reflects all locations.
Marketing Daily: And yet Lucille Roberts continues as a stand-alone brand. Why?
Saitowitz: There are four clubs, and we’re working on refreshing the brand identity. But, as a women-only gym, it deserves its own brand. There will be some promotions that cover both brands, but Lucille deserves her own identity. There’s a solid and loyal customer base. For all our clubs, there’s been this multipronged approach in rebuilding our trust and the brand to drive retention. We want to understand how we can better serve members.