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In the News

Nice Guys Finish First

Club Solutions Magazine
March 2008

Robin Thomas is a big softie-and he doesn't care who knows it. Our March 2008 Health Club Professional knows it takes a combination of brains, brawn and heart to succeed in the health and fitness industry.

Growing up, Robin Thomas was the kid who said he'd rather own a gym than play professional baseball.

Now he's 40 and his  gym has been going strong for almost a decade, but Robin still gets excited talking about his career.

"I've always wanted to be in the fitness industry," says Robin, who opened his first gym at age 30 after logging 6 years as a personal trainer. At first he planned to grow to multiple locations, but he quickly realized that he was more interested in growing smart than in growing big.

"Having just one club really lets me focus on doing a good job with it," he says. "I know everybody is saying this these days, but we've got a really high-end gym here.

I'm just putting my efforts into growing it into something really amazing."

Robin credits a chunk of his club's success to the fact that he still books personal training clients, which keeps him on the floor-and in touch with what his members are talking about. "That kind of day-to-day contact with members is just invaluable," he says. "Being a trainer, I get so much feedback that I just wouldn't have access to if I was just an owner. I hear what members like and what they don't like and what they think-it's really beneficial for me to have that kind of access to what members are thinking."

Of course, Robin is quick to admit, the personal training is also fun for him-the work he's doing now with young professional athletes is some of the most enjoyable he's ever experienced.

For Robin, the path to gym ownership was quick but otherwise fairly traditional: At 24, he started his first business, a physical training group affiliated with a local hospital's rehabilitation center. Robin was younger than most of the trainers he hired to work for him in those early days, but Robin was a man with a plan, and before the decade was out, he owned his own club. He's been hands-on ever since.

"This gym is like my second home," says Robin, who spends plenty of afternoons hanging out at the club with his son Gage. "My staff is like my family. And I love my members-everybody says this, but I think my members are the best thing about my club. They are just amazing. I couldn't see myself working anywhere else."

Robin's equally passionate about his family, which is why he's lucky that he married a personal trainer who's as excited by the industry as he is. "My family and I spend so much time together because we spend a lot of time here at the gym," he says. "In a different career, I wouldn't get to have that."

And his family gives Robin an added motivation to put healthy living first: "I stay in shape because I want to be a role model not just for myself but for my son."

Though Robin used to be a competitive body builder, there's nothing off-putting or ego-oriented in his behavior-in fact, many people didn't even know that he was competing. "It was something I did for myself."

Robin's also glad to see the fitness industry growing, but there's one trend that really bothers him. "Some people in this industry don't work out at all-that really bothers me," says Robin. Though he's excited to see so many new kinds of people embracing the fitness industry, he believes it's just as important for them to embrace the fitness lifestyle. "It really is about the lifestyle," Robin says.

For his own routine, Robin keeps it simple and fun. "Anything I do, any results I get, I want to be able to say to my members 'This is how I did it,'" says Robin. Other than that, he just makes it a point to work out 5 or 6 days a week with weights and cardio. These days, he's just as focused on resting his muscles between workouts as he is on the workouts themselves. "You can't beat your body up every day," he says. "The one thing you have to do is give your body a chance to recover-rest your body, rest your joints, rest your immune system. The most important thing you can learn is how to give yourself a break."

Robin also makes it a point to eat every three hours, mixing lean protein and fruit and vegetables with light carbs. He also can't resist a daily V-8. But, he says, the best thing he does to stay healthy is to give himself time off, whether it's a freebie eating day or meal or a day of rest from his workout. "When you do it every minute of every day, it stops being fun," he says.

Being healthy is more than just working out, Robin says-it's a balance of playing, working, eating, resting and living. And for his business, it's about recognizing that there is no one way for someone to get fit.

"About 75% of the people in my gym haven't done that much working out in the past," he says. "For most of them, it's really about dropping weight-that's why they're here. But what's great to see is that when they realize it's making them healthier-that they're dropping weight, and lowering their cholesterol, and lowering their blood pressure, and just feeling better-they don't want to stop. The trick is finding what works for each person, because everybody is so different. People just need to give themselves a chance to find what works for them."

And the in-gym inspiration from the fitness industry's happiest club owner probably helps too.