Follow the Fitness Leaders: Eric Schmitz, California Athletic Clubs

Eric Schmitz, president of California Athletic Clubs, has been in the fitness industry for almost 35 years, starting as floor fitness staff. His background in organizational health, leadership and club operations helped him understand the importance of healthy culture to the success of his company, which owns and operates seven high-end clubs in the Western United States serving more than 35,000 members. However, the past three years drove home this belief.

In this edition of Club Industry's Follow the Fitness Leaders series, Schmitz shares more about the type of company culture he cultivates, one of his company's successes during the past three years, what he learned from a failure, how his company is adapting to the recovery trend, and more.  

Schmitz will be attending the Sibec Americas hosted buyer event May 7-10 at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Q: During the past three years of adversity, what did you learn and how are you applying that knowledge to your business today?

Schmitz: The big lesson that we learned was that having a culture that is happy and healthy is of utmost importance to be successful. We have always been an organization that takes pride in our positive culture, but the last three years really tested it big time. Navigating through all the twists and turns of COVID was made easier by having a focus on a healthy and functional culture that allowed our staff and members to be happy and healthy. Having our values and associated behaviors clearly defined and understood by our team members really was a unifying force. We are increasing the way that our culture is communicated to our members and communities. I really feel that the happy and healthy vibe that we have is a real draw for customers.

Q: What successes has your company had in the past three years, and what helped you create these successes?  

Schmitz: We finished 2022 above pre-COVID levels in revenue. We are very fortunate to have most of our clubs in climates that allow us to provide outdoor services year-round. We really expanded what we offer outdoors and have kept most of it going post-COVID. Keeping key staff and minimizing any staff reductions have really kept the relationships that we have with our members strong.

Q: We often learn most from our failures. From what failure have you learned the most, and what did you learn from it?

Schmitz: Taking on new software before it is truly ready can be a big challenge. I am going to be more conservative moving forward when we implement any type of new software.

Q: What trends are you noticing in 2023 and how are you adapting to these trends?

Schmitz: More longevity, wellness and recovery services are being offered. We are going to put infrared saunas, red-light therapy, vibration, massage chairs, recovery boots, Theraguns and other “wellness” services into our offerings.

Q: If you had the ability to oversee the whole U.S. fitness community, what would you change to move more people to exercise and to ensure governments understand the essential nature of this industry?

Schmitz: I would incorporate lessons in creating healthy habits in schools. I would make it easier for people to incorporate more movement into their days by re-engineering cities like in the Blue Zones. That would include incentivizing insurance companies to cover more preventive screenings and offering tax incentives for spending on healthy lifestyle habits like in the proposed PHIT bill, but it has to be more substantial.

Q: What are the top three most important criteria you look for when securing a supplier?

Schmitz: I would check with other industry peers, especially in my REX Roundtable, to see if they have dealt with them and how they rate them. I would get recommendations from some of their clients. I would be very careful not to be too much of an early adopter. Being patient and waiting until the second generation of most products works out better.