Between working and working out

“I have heard all the excuses in the world. … I bring Gold’s Gym to them. How else can the enrolled members not work out?” — Mylene Dayrit, CEO of Gold’s Gym Philippines

Words POLA ESGUERRA DEL MONTE

Professional wrestler John Cena had been standing guard at the front desk of Gold’s Gym in Robinsons Galleria for nearly half a day before Mylene Dayrit, Chief Executive Officer of the Philippine franchise, asked him if he needed anything. He replied that he was just taking a moment: he was recalling his youth and the 18-hour days he spent at a Gold’s Gym in the United States as part of the staff.

It was that kind of association with brawny athletes, serious bodybuilders, and Hollywood stars that made Gold’s Gym famous in California. The gym used to be called the “Mecca of bodybuilding,” since it was frequented by people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dave Draper, and scented with the confluent aromas of testosterone and sweat. Today, the gym is no longer the sole territory of the iron-pumping addicts: it is also the corporate drone’s respite from the desk. How did this come to be?

When Ms. Dayrit introduced the American brand to the Filipino market, she did so by positioning it as the choice of celebrities and athletes. It was, after all, what made Gold’s Gym the object of a cult following in America. She would soon find out that the projections in number of users daily, which were set by the US team, were far from realistic. It did not end there: in the US, gyms typically spend 3% to 5% of their gross sales on electricity. Here, that number increases to 12% to 15%. “If one doesn’t manage those costs well vis-à-vis the membership and sales then disaster is not far away,” she said. “A lot of people who invest in the gym business think: build it and they will come.”

Ms. Dayrit completely changed the business model by offering corporate packages and marketing Gold’s Gym to human resource departments. The pitch was creating a “healthy work force.”

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In 2014, an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) highlighted how regular exercise positively affects productivity. This conclusion was based, in part, on a study conducted by Leeds Metropolitan University in England, which asked 200 employees from different companies to self-report their performance on a daily basis. On days that they visited the gym, they reported “managing their time more effectively, being more productive, and having smoother interactions with their colleagues.” “Just as important,” the HBR article noted, “they went home feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.”

Ron Friedman, the writer of the piece, argued that employees should stop thinking of exercise as a luxury: “Regardless of how you go about incorporating exercise into your routine, reframing it as part of your job makes it a lot easier to make time for it. Remember, you’re not abandoning work. On the contrary: You’re ensuring that the hours you put in have value.”

Despite the obvious benefits of exercise, it’s difficult—pardon the crassness—to get people off their asses. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared obesity as a global epidemic, one that is not restricted to industrialized societies. WHO estimates that in developing countries, over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.

Ms. Dayrit is aware of the situation. “I have heard all the excuses in the world,” she said. Under the Gold’s Gym corporate program, instructors are sent, free-of-charge, to the workplace. “I bring Gold’s Gym to them. How else can the enrolled members not work out?” Gratis customized wellness programs are also part of the deal.

Corporate membership is now a major component of the franchise’s growth (she has 10,000 members under her accounts alone). “The program is designed to make the company win, the employees win, and Gold’s win,” she said. The mother company took notice and presented the Philippine franchise with the award for Best Group Exercise Programming two years in a row, besting all other Gold’s Gym clubs around the world.

Only Ms. Dayrit, her vice-president for membership, corporate membership manager and select senior managers are allowed to handle corporate accounts. “At this point, after building it to the level it is now, I cannot afford to have people misrepresent us or make false promises,” she said.

The fitness industry has come a long way from Jane Fonda’s lycra leotards and workout videos. Gold’s Gym keeps up with new developments by annually sending its top guys to international conferences. “As a rule, I personally seek either the creator of the fitness program, the owner, or their master educator. And I believe that is really what sets apart the education our group receives,” said Ms. Dayrit. 

When Gold’s began offering Zumba, Ms. Dayrit spoke with Zumba creator Beto Perez himself. South African ultra-distance cyclist Johnny “Johnny G” Goldberg, one of the proponents of Spinning, and Cortney Gornall of Piloxing (a fusion of standing Pilates, boxing, and dancing) fame, have both been to the Philippines thanks to Gold’s Gym. The retention rate of the local franchise is at 80% in many of its locations, a number that inspires envy among competitors. “This may not be an easy industry,” Ms. Dayrit said, “but as the saying goes: ‘Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.’”