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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 20, 2018 4 months ago

Firm is fit to succeed, and so are its clients

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The times have finally caught up with a forward-thinking, women-owned company that set out to change the way companies think about the health and wellness of their employees.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Living in Maryland in the early 1980s, Brenda Loube worked as a physical education teacher and harbored aspirations of coaching at the collegiate level. But a dearth of suitable job openings motivated her to go back to school, and she wound up with a master’s degree in cardiac rehabilitation.

Loube landed a job at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and founded its inpatient-outpatient cardiac rehabilitation program. During her four-year tenure at Georgetown, she also became the hospital’s resident exercise specialist, an experience that prompted her to look into designing heart disease prevention programs for the commercial health club industry.

In 1985, however, the plan changed when she met Sheila Drohan, a YWCA director who would become Loube’s business partner. Together, they came up with a different take on Loube’s prospective venture, and the result was Corporate Fitness Works, which today is headquartered in St. Petersburg and has 700 employees and more than 80 client companies, including Fortune 500 firms, across the United States.

Mark Wemple. Brenda Loube is the president and co-founder (along with Sheila Drohan) of Corporate Fitness Works, headquartered in St. Petersburg.

“We wanted to take health and fitness to where people spend most of their day — at work,” says Loube, 65. “We sent out inquiry letters to companies across the country to see who's doing corporate fitness and find out if they would be interested in hiring us to bring it to the Washington, D.C., area.”

It took six months for Loube and Drohan to land their first client, but it was worth the wait and effort. GTE Telenet, which was later acquired by Sprint, hired CFW to design and implement a 20,000-square-foot health club and gymnasium for its employees.

“I'm happy to say that [Sprint is] still our client today,” Loube says.

In 1999, Sprint contracted CFW to create a three-story, 70,000-square-foot fitness facility — one of the world’s largest — at the telecom giant’s world headquarters in Overland Park, Kan. Locally, CFW has performed similar work for Clearwater-based IT distributor Tech Data, a client since 2000, and St. Petersburg-based insurance company ASI, which is now part of Progressive and became a CFW client in 2013.  

CFW doesn’t just design and facilitate the construction of corporate fitness facilities. It creates and manages comprehensive wellness programs that keep employees and, in some cases, their families, motivated to use the amenities — weights and cardio equipment, yoga and spin classes, jogging tracks and basketball and volleyball courts.

You won’t find the CFW logo emblazoned on the facilities, though. Companies that hire CFW own the space and all of the equipment.

A CFW employee oversees management of each facility and coordinates repairs and upgrades. As part of its facility design services, CFW will advise clients as to what equipment should be purchased, based on the makeup of the client’s workforce. In an interesting twist, though, CFW’s onsite facility managers are treated like part of the client’s team, Loube says. They get invited to attend company picnics, holiday parties and other events, just like any staff member.

Mark Wemple. Brenda Loube is the president and co-founder (along with Sheila Drohan) of Corporate Fitness Works, headquartered in St. Petersburg.

Having a full-time wellness coordinator onsite is also a boon for employees who may be new to working out or who may feel intimated or uncomfortable when they go to gyms.

In the case of ASI, CFW’s onsite health fitness program manager, Keriann Hill, has “integrated into our culture, so people feel comfortable in front of her and trust her,” says Mary Frances Fournet, ASI’s vice president of national accounts and corporate services. “In order for people to change, particularly those that need it most, they need to be vulnerable. And so the only way you're going to be vulnerable and allow that to happen is if you're with someone whom you trust … that's what's critical, and that's what Keriann has done. She’s come in and earned the trust of so many people. One person will tell another and another and that takes the intimidation factor out.”

TOUGH SELL

“When we started this, companies didn't realize the importance of it,” Loube says. “We really had to sell it in the beginning. Back in the day, it was primarily a retention and recruitment tool.”

Corporate fitness facilities have become integral to bottom lines as companies increasingly make the connection between employee wellness and productivity. Healthy employees also reduce the hit taken from insurance costs.

“We believed in the concept of bringing health and fitness” to the workplace, Loube says. “We wanted to create a culture in which people would look forward to coming to work and reduce their health risks. If we can implement the right programs and services, we know that we will be a change agent to help companies improve productivity … and help those companies establish a competitive advantage.”

The CFW founders’ belief has translated into a financially healthy enterprise. The company generated $17.81 million in revenue in 2015, $15.45 million in 2016 and $15.72 million in 2017. It expects to top $16 million in 2018. It manages 140 facilities around the country from its 80 clients, with some of its longtime clients now tasking CFW to upgrade fitness centers as needs have changed.

In 2017, Sprint unveiled an ambitious “refresh” of its wellness center, designed by CFW, and opened it up to the business park where its headquarters is located. The facility now has nearly 2,000 members and operates as more of commercial fitness club than an employee-only facility.

BLAZING A TRAIL

Loube and Drohan didn’t just pioneer a new model for getting fit at work, they also set an example for what a women-owned company could achieve. CFW has been recognized by the Women Business Enterprise National Council — it certifies women-owned businesses and provides them with access to opportunities with major Fortune 500 companies — as the largest women-owned business in the corporate fitness industry.

“We’ve found that 25% of our overall revenue stems from being a certified member of WBENC,” says Loube.

CFW also prides itself on being at the forefront of thought leadership when it comes to corporate wellness.

“We wanted to create a culture in which people would look forward to coming to work and reduce their health risks.” Brenda Loube, president and co-founder of Corporate Fitness Works.

“What we have found, in 30 years of doing business, is that well-being goes beyond physical fitness,” says Elaine Bispo Smalling, CFW’s vice president of business development. “Well-being has to do with stress, finances, career development, meaningful connections … all of these things contribute to your core wellness. So we work with our clients to create a synergy between organizational development and cultural development, with wellness [at the core], versus keeping them in two separate silos.”

ASI has taken that strategy to heart. Access to its CFW-managed wellness amenities is free to employees and their families — as long as the family member is accompanied by the employee. The facility is open before, during and after business hours on weekdays, and it’s open on weekends, as well. Employees are notified about the day’s scheduled fitness classes and activities when they sign on to the company intranet, and they’re encouraged to work out during their lunch breaks or at other times when their work schedule permits.

It’s a big expense for the company, but “we were adamant” about keeping it free, says Fournet. “Healthy people work better and have fewer days away from the office, and healthy people gravitate toward companies that have wellness facilities. So we have a tendency to hire people who start healthier and want to be healthier. All of the problems that you read about in management magazines, we feel like this facility helps solve those at the very beginning.”

Fournet says an uptick in quality talent acquisition is the primary benefit of its CFW-managed wellness center, but as it tracks employees’ usage and feedback over time, it has begun to see other positive results.

“We've seen people who used to use a cane that aren't using a cane anymore,” she says. “People who were in trouble with diabetes and in the hospital and now you see them working out on the treadmill. Or being able to get off of a medicine for blood pressure because they’re spending that hour in the gym every day … all of those things reduce our costs, because our insurance doesn’t have to pay those claims to for hospital visits and prescription drugs.”

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