A Place Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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By IHRSA

In a recent post, we discussed the importance of making the healthy choice, not just the “easy choice,” but also the happy choice. This week, we’ll touch on the power of making the healthy place, the easy and happy place.

It’s fair to say that a neighborhood fitness center serves a very different purpose than a neighborhood tavern.  The former provides services to improve one’s physical health, while the latter provides services that are generally, shall we say, counter to good physical health. But despite their divergent societal purposes, I think that successful fitness centers share many characteristics with successful taverns.

They make people feel welcome. They are inclusive. And they provide a sense of belonging.

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
—Theme Song, Cheers

“We want to be the Cheers of fitness,” says Dave Tuthill, President & CEO of Hearthstone Health & Fitness in Easton, MD, which just celebrated a wildly successful first year of operation.

But, there are no adult beverages served at Hearthstone. In fact, they only offer carefully vetted healthy food and drinks. Yet, the essence of what made a place like Cheers – the idealized neighborhood tavern featured in the 80s sitcom of the same name – so desirable is very much evident at Hearthstone.

It starts the moment a patron walks through the door. Front desk personnel warmly greet each visitor, nearly always by first name, and often with a handshake. And eye contact, that ancient old art lost in a tidal wave of handheld devices and texting, is a given.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
—Theme Song, Cheers

Amidst the daily, modern strains of stress and endless connectivity, sedentary behavior is often the norm, which only exacerbates the impact of stress. Hearthstone was conceived as an oasis from the bustle; not like a spa, but more like an impeccably clean living room (complete with large stone hearth fireplace, naturally) filled with new fitness equipment. The design and décor suggest stylish comfort and the staff work hard to create a “home away from home” environment.

photo of hearthstone

You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
—Theme Song, Cheers

To be sure, the members of Hearthstone run the gamut from uber-fit to struggling with obesity, so the troubles are not quite all the same in a purely physiological sense. But there is a shared belief that pursuing a healthy, physically active life can be challenging, and that the welcoming and supportive environment of Hearthstone helps overcome that challenge. Judgments are not allowed at Hearthstone, only support.

Operating a facility like Hearthstone is undoubtedly complex and nuanced, but I think I can summarize the approach quite simply:

  1. Make sure that members know how much they are valued and supported
  2. Do lots of listening to better understand the goals/needs/concerns of members; and
  3. Keep the place really clean.

That’s it in a nutshell. Sounds like a pretty great tavern, eh?

What are some other lessons that a fitness center might learn from a tavern?

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