Follow the Fitness Leaders: Gretchen Collins, East Bank Club

Gretchen Collins is director of fitness at East Bank Club in Chicago. In the latest edition of Follow the Fitness Leaders, she shared with Club Industry her thoughts about what she has learned from adversity, successes her company has enjoyed during the past three years, turning lemons into lemonade, trends she sees today and more. 

Collins 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?

Collins: Rebuilding a more well-rounded team was the most important knowledge we gained in the last three years. COVID forced many employees to go outside their job descriptions and help out in new ways. Although this was stressful at first, it ended up serving us well in that our current employees are more informed and experienced to be able to handle a wider variety of daily issues that arise. We are no longer siloed in our separate departments, but rather we work as one team to support each other in our mission to help our members live well.

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

Collins: Steady growth in all departments. Although some areas have been slower to rebound than others, we have seen slow and steady growth across all areas. Some of our biggest successes in growth are in golf, racquet sports, boxing, fee-based stretching, children’s group swimming classes and group exercise. Hiring has been the key to success in all areas. We have not compromised on our hiring standards and that has paid off for us.

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

Collins: We launched a team-training studio called the Brickyard in February 2021 with specialized classes written by our fitness management team. We tried to charge for the classes based on how structured the programming was, but we realized that members were not seeing the value in paying an additional fee for those classes on top of their membership. We made the tough decision to offer those classes complimentary in 2023, and we have seen a threefold increase in numbers so far this year. I felt a personal responsibility for the success of that studio and probably held on too long trying to make it successful. I learned that it is better to try something new and fail quickly and pivot versus holding on to something that is not working for too long and spinning your wheels. It was a great lesson for me to apply to future new ideas.

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

Collins: We have noticed a significant increase in usage of our free weight room and general strength training overall. Based on the increased usage, we are planning to expand our strength training equipment, including half racks and cable machines. We also noticed that our members are looking for more social experiences, so we have added a significant amount of member social events that not only include an exercise component but also time to socialize with food and drinks after.

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?

Collins: We need more integration with fitness and the medical community. Imagine what could change if you went in for your yearly check-up and got your bloodwork and physical results back and instead of your doctor telling you to eat better and exercise, you got to meet with a personal trainer and a registered dietitian right on the spot? You could then leave with a structured plan to get you on the right track. I know that is wishful thinking, but working with insurance companies and the government to get those services as a required standard of care that is covered by insurance would be a game changer for the health of our society.

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

Collins: Building an honest relationship where we can trust each other is number one for me. We also look for overall quality and durability to ensure it will be a lasting partnership. Finally, we have high expectations for customer service so quick solutions to problems and overall support are important as well.