New York Sports Clubs Works to Regain Trust One Day at a Time

Gone is the name Town Sports International, replaced by New York Sports Clubs.  

Gone is the Chapter 11. The company emerged in December 2020 from its September 2020 bankruptcy.

Gone is the status as a public company. In its place is a private company bought out of bankruptcy by investors, chief among them Peak Credit, which is part of investment bank Lepercq, de Neuflize & Co.

Gone are 117 clubs, closed or sold as part of the effort to right-size the company, which now includes 65 locations in the United States under brand names New York Sports Clubs, Boston Sports Clubs, Philadelphia Sports Clubs, Washington Sports Clubs, Lucille Roberts and Around the Clock Fitness. It also includes three clubs in Switzerland.

Gone is Patrick Walsh, a one-time active investor who worked his way onto the company’s board and eventually into the chairman and CEO roles. In his place is Roger Harvey, a man with 30 years in the fitness industry, including C-suite roles at Crunch, Elements Fitness Studio, Gotham Gym, Switch USA, Cyc Fitness and time as a consultant.

And that’s where a new story, based on the deep roots of a 48-year-old brand, begins anew.

Better Version of Itself

New beginnings often involve reinvention, but that’s not the case for New York Sports Clubs. Instead, it’s more akin to the phoenix rising from the ashes, creating a better version of itself, Harvey told Club Industry in December 2021. (Watch the full interview in the video above.)   

“[The company has] a great foundation, a great network of neighborhood gyms that are in great locations, excellent facilities that we feel are really ready to emerge from this process and become something better than we were before,” he said. “There are a lot of challenges that we went through and we're going through them. It hasn't been an easy year, but we're making great progress, and we’re really happy with what we’ve done so far.”

The company has fixed some infrastructure issues at facilities, added equipment, upped its cleaning protocols and invested in its staff to help give a career opportunity for team members. In November, New York Sports Clubs acquired Kettlebell Concepts, which Harvey said demonstrates the investment that the company is making in the professional education and development of its team members, creating an opportunity for members who aren’t yet fitness professionals but may be members of the clean team or welcome team and who want a career opportunity.

The company also has implemented a policy allowing members to cancel at any time. This came after issues with membership cancellations and lawsuits from various state attorneys general in 2020 and 2021.

“I’ve heard it said one time that trust is gained in droplets and lost in buckets,” Harvey said. “As circumstances unfolded, we've lost some buckets worth of trust, and so we can't attempt to go earn it back a bucket at a time. It has to be in consistency and accepting responsibility for the decisions that have been made in the past and soldiering on through them.”

It also involves learning from its mistakes so it can be better in the future, he added.

Each team member has committed to five agreements: be welcoming, listen with care, learn from failure, celebrate success and make excellence a habit every day.

“It’s simple methodologies,” Harvey said. “It's an algorithm, but it's a living algorithm and the way that we interact with people, treating people with integrity and respect and again accepting responsibility for some of the situations that we put ourselves in as an organization and find new ways to fix them.”

New York Sports Clubs is focusing on the member experience and ensuring that each time a member comes in, they feel like the team has made their best effort to give them a great experience, he said.

“Because it's the actions that matter,” Harvey said. “It's how you demonstrate what you do. You can tell a story, which is important, but it's really more important how you live that story. That's really what we focused on, is understanding our mission, understanding our purpose and our intentions, and doing that consistently every day, not being afraid of failure, knowing that we’ve been through the worst of it, but knowing that the most difficult work is ahead.”

And that comes from the bottom, not the top. New York Sports Clubs has an org tree rather than an org chart, Harvey said.

“In an org chart, I'm the CEO, and I would be at the top and then everybody else is beneath me,” he said. “We have an org tree. I'm at the base of the tree. I'm connected to the roots of the company, the history of the organization as its CEO, and I'm here to help with the rest of the senior and executive management teams to support everybody above us. So nobody in the organization is below me; everybody is above me.”

The second law of thermodynamics states that the universe increases in entropy with time, he said. Chaos will come again in some form or another, and that means you need to invest in preparedness, not in prediction.

“So that's really what we're focused on in that tree,” Harvey said. “The roots are deep. We're going to be strong. We can't control the acts of God that might come up, but if those roots are really strong, we're going to be here when the storm clears, and some others may not that weren't so properly prepared.”