Interview with Mark Harrington, Jr.
TELL ME A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THIS SPACE?
My parents first opened Healthworks in 1977, and it’s been a family-owned business ever since. My father is still involved as the CEO, leading the strategic direction and my brother runs our GymIt clubs and oversees our new development projects. I’ve been with the company as President for six years, but I grew up around the club and so I’ve always been a part of the team. Before Healthworks I worked for an IT consulting company, ranging from technical work to large scale IT implementations. I loved it, but I was on the road a lot and so my father eventually recruited me to be part of Healthworks.
HOW HAS THE BUSINESS EVOLVED OVER TIME?
The business has changed and grown over the years to include several different fitness options: Healthworks is a high-end, women’s only club, Republic is a high-end co-ed option, and GymIt caters to a more budget-friendly crowd. We also run Healthworks Community Fitness in Dorchester, which is a nonprofit offering low-cost or free community fitness. I manage Healthworks and Republic, while my brother oversees GymIt. When I think about how we’ve scaled, I remember that it was one small club that started it all. For us, the ability to grow has been about having a great team in place, partnered with a great product and great customer service. We only have four walls but what we do within them is what makes us special.
HOW DO YOU ENVISION THE FUTURE OF HEALTHWORKS?
We will continue to evolve and be at the forefront of what is trending in fitness. What’s trending in fitness one day may be different the next, so we often mix up our programming to either be involved with what’s trending, or to try and anticipate what the next trend will be. We do a lot of research on the fitness landscape to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our market. I’m part of a roundtable group with other gym owners from across the country and around the world, and we have 3 meetings a year to network and share our successes and best practices. It’s important to regularly experience what’s out there, so we’ll do fact finding trips to NYC, for example, to see the best studios and what the retail business are doing that could bleed over into fitness. Healthworks and Republic have their own signature classes, which we developed internally and then trained our instructors to teach. Personal training is also a huge part of the business. We have 30 full time personal trainers per club, so a lot of our energy is spent on personal training as well as group fitness.
HOW DO YOU THINK ABOUT EXPANSION?
Before rolling out GymIt we discussed if we wanted to bring Healthworks to the nation, or if we wanted to get more breadth in Boston. We saw the advantages in Boston and of having that local brand recognition and made the decision to focus on the Boston market. Having a variety of venues with different membership options is also key. When our members change jobs, move or have a change in their needs, we’re able to show them that we have options and can recommend them across our platform.
WHAT ARE SOME RECENT INITIATIVES YOU’VE UNDERTAKEN?
When we see a trend coming, we do a deep analysis to see if it makes sense to develop in-house, or if we want to bring someone in to help us establish it. Boxing became a huge trend that we wanted to be part of and capitalize on. George Foreman III has done a fantastic job of building a brand in Boston and also falls under the umbrella of what’s popular. We’ve since built a great relationship and licensed the EverybodyFights by George Foreman III product to bring them in house. They launched in March at GymIt Watertown.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES OF OPERATING A GYM IN BOSTON?
One of the things we work the hardest at is marinating the level of excellence we expect across all of our clubs. We want to ensure every single class is a great class and that the quality of our fitness program is top notch. We put a lot of care into everything we do including; the cleanliness of our facilities, the friendliness of our staff and the continued delivery of quality customer service we promise.