22 Years of Training
Anne B. McDonnell
Justice didn't have a business model to follow, since personal fitness training was still in its infancy in 1986. "Back then, a lot of personal trainers were gym rats working out of big clubs as an income supplement to their 'real' jobs. I ... didn't want to work for one of the big clubs, so I decided to start my own business. I put together a flyer and, literally, went door-to-door selling my business," he says.
AYC Health & Fitness has come a long way since those early days. And that's because Justice figured out what works and what doesn't. "I realized that since we weren't dealing with a large volume of clients [at first], I needed to focus my efforts on client retention," he says. And, client retention is still at the top of AYC's list of priorities. "I guess you could say that client retention is our No. 1 profit center," Justice says. "We average between 7,000 and 7,500 training sessions each year. And, as the owner, I feel very strongly about 'staying in the trenches' and maintaining a full-time load myself."
In addition to client retention, staff retention is a priority at AYC. All of its trainers, including employees and independent contractors, have at least a four-year college degree, and a national certification in their area of specialty. Says Justice, "I'm looking for trainers who make their clients feel special, and have the client's best interest at heart. It's my goal to hear each client tell me that they have the best trainer in town."
Although AYC now offers small group training (Pilates, yoga and sports conditioning) and licensed massage therapy, personalized training sessions, by appointment only, is its core business. Justice explains that each client has a trainer, a private gym and an entertainment system. AYC has six separate areas: three fully outfitted personal training gyms, a Pilates studio, a yoga studio and a massage therapy studio.
To market the facility, AYC relies heavily on word-of-mouth. In addition, since it was the first personal training facility in town, it received lots of free advertising in the local media. It was featured in the Kansas City Times and other local newspapers, along with each of the local TV channels. "Being the first definitely helps, but we were also prepared to grow as the demand followed," Justice says. AYC also occasionally advertises in a local society publication, which is specific to its demographic.
The success of AYC has a lot to do with knowing its market. "We are just the opposite of a traditional club in a couple of ways," says Justice. First, the busiest time of the year for AYC is when traditional fitness centers are the slowest: Spring and summer are its busiest times of the year, and January and February are its slowest months. Explains Justice, "That's because we have lots of clients who have second and third homes in warmer climates. When the weather gets cold, they head west or south for the winter." Also, the facility actually benefits from a slower economy. "When the economy is slow, our clients don't travel quite as much," says Justice, "but their regular routines here don't change: They still go to their hairdresser, massage therapist and personal trainer. So, I never mind a little slow-down in the economy — it actually helps us!"
Celebrating its 22nd anniversary this month, Justice sums up AYC Health & Fitness' success with a look toward the future: "Twenty-two years down. Here's to the next 22 years!"
Facility of the Week
Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center