Fitness: In the Fight
The HIT Squad in Granite City, Ill.
Those who are in the business of operating fitness and health centers know what a challenge it can be to stay profitable, and to compete with the big-box centers and health club chains. But The HIT Squad, a combat sports and fitness center located in Granite City, Ill., has done just that.
But this was not always the case. The gym was founded by UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in 2007, before going through different ownerships and incarnations, sometimes struggling to keep the doors open.
Enter Andrew Schmidt, who is president and co-founder of Schmidt Capital & Management LLC, along with his wife Anoushka. Between them, they have 35 years of martial arts experience, including working at various gyms, from front desk to GM. "I was the full-time general manager of The HIT Squad, but was recruited to the club-management software company ClubReady LLC, which The HIT Squad uses for memberships, prospecting, communication, billing, etc.," Schmidt said. "In efforts to retain our interest with The HIT Squad and not leave the owners high and dry, we utilized our LLC to contract with the owners to retain management services."
A couple years ago, the gym was in danger of closing down, as attendance was in decline. But now the facility is expanding and adding new members every week. "When I came on in 2015, I was told we were on borrowed time, but here we are over two years later," Schmidt said.
Part of the turnaround can be attributed to attracting a wider customer base, with a focus on customer service. Schmidt said that these days, the center primarily caters to families with children. "The gym used to be a for-fighters-by-fighters facility, but that kind of hard line in the sand didn't lend itself to long-term sustainability."
The HIT Squad offers programs for all levels of experience, whether someone is looking to train for fun, to compete, or simply to lose weight or get in shape. Offerings are geared toward both males and females from the age of 4 on up. "We've even got people into their 60s and 70s taking the classes for the technique and exercise," Schmidt said, adding that they also train fighters, accommodating anyone looking to pursue that career.
The gym's combat sports program includes boxing, judo, Muay Thai, jiu jitsu and MMA (mixed martial arts). Instructors are full-time teachers of martial arts and professional competitors in their respective disciplines. They offer boot camps, personal training and conditioning classes, and also have occasional camps and seminars. "We've done jiu jitsu open-rolls for all schools in the area for charities like We Defy and Mission22, and plan on continuing these events annually," Schmidt said.
There is also a 24-hour state-of-the-art fitness center with weight and cardio areas, and staff is always available to assist customers in using the equipment and starting a program. There are new locker rooms and a members lounge. Plus, the gym has a competition cage, boxing ring and a matted wrestling and grappling area surrounded by octagon fencing, though Schmidt said they don't hold any sanctioned matches. "We just want our fighters to train like they're competing. If you're going to be up against the fence in a cage match, then you need to feel what it's like up against a fence in a real cage fight."
Schmidt believes that a company's social media platform is typically the first place people will see a business these days, and said that social media has been one staple of the gym's turnaround. "Having an active and engaging social media strategy has started more conversations with more people, and earned more likes and positive reviews."
He said that reaching different demographics also came from their social media campaigns, and who they chose to feature in videos and targeting. "It's honestly not that hard and shouldn't be viewed as a challenge for any business owner."
The gym also entices potential members with a free seven-day trial and 14-day money-back guarantee, though Schmidt feels the latter is the better strategy. "I know a lot of people in the industry will fight me on this, but I wasn't seeing the returns I wanted on giving anything away for free. I have a fee structure attached to all my memberships that gets waived if they sign up on their first visit. And, if it's not a deal in two weeks, get your money back, no problem."
Schmidt also credits the use of ClubReady, a fully-scalable contract template, billing and prospect/membership management software good for smaller facilities or large chains. "The productivity tool directly in the system for e-mails and texts, as well as automated contracts with customizable templates, has been vital to the overall communication strategy of the club," Schmidt said, "and has brought more people in than traditional calling by a very wide margin."