In Touch With Jeff Stokes
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Publisher's Note: We're going to wrap up 2017 with something new! I'm going to call it Club Insider's "In Touch" Series. As we move into our 25th year of publishing Club Insider, one of the things I've felt that I wanted to do more of was to share information on special people in our industry with you, our readers. So, I've dreamed up this little article series, and we start off with my friend, JEFF STOKES, Vice President of HYPOXI North America.
Club Insider (C.I.) - Folks, I'm happy to introduce Jeff Stokes who's the Vice President of North America for HYPOXI. Jeff, please tell our readers about your amazing background in our industry going back to when I first met you, what was it something like 25+ years ago, or maybe even earlier that?
Jeff Stokes (JS) - Norm, I've been blessed with 25+ years of working in an industry I truly love. After graduating from Salisbury University in Maryland and playing college baseball, I fell into the health and fitness club industry as a natural extension for my love of sports and fitness. At that time, U.S. Health & Tennis Corporation was the big player in our industry, and they were growing rapidly in the Baltimore/Washington DC area under the brand Holiday Spas. I interviewed for an entry level sales position right out of college, and it was a match made in heaven. I took the position and have never looked back. I worked as a personal trainer, sold memberships and quickly became a club manager at a very young age. They provided great training, so it was a good foundation for my career, and I learned a lot. Unfortunately, Bally's purchased Holiday Spas and other regional health club chains in 1992, and we all know how that story ended. I worked as a Regional Director of Corporate Sales for Bally's for a few more years, but eventually, I got the entrepreneurial bug and started my own company in 1994.
I believe that's when you and I first met, Norm. You had just started Club Insider, and I was looking for ways to promote my new business, Club Services. If you recall, we were the first company to offer professional secret shopper and customer experience research for the health and fitness club industry. I partnered with Mike and Dale Bare at Bare International, and we created a full-service consumer research firm dedicated to the health and fitness club industry. Bare International was already established in the hospitality industry, and we felt there was a need for a similar service in the club industry. After meeting with John McCarthy and several other key players in the industry at that time, we determined the timing was right, and I launched Club Services. Our first client was the East Bank Club in Chicago. But, I quickly grew my Club Services business over the next four years and ended up working with over 1,000+ clubs nationwide. I got involved with IHRSA and began speaking, writing and researching, which helped me grow as a consultant and industry expert in customer service, quality control and club operations. In addition to presenting at the annual IHRSA Conventions, I had an opportunity to travel and speak at several international conferences and trade shows. This was truly a wonderful time in my career, and I had the privilege of meeting so many great people in our industry, many whom I'm still great friends with today!
Looking back, I should have probably stuck with Club Services longer. It was a great business and a valued service in our industry. But, honestly, I missed being in the day-to-day operations of running clubs and interacting with people. I moved to Chicago in 1998 to work with TBG Development (TBGD) to help design, construct and operate a large hospital-based fitness center. It was a big $20 million-dollar project and just one of several hospital-based fitness center projects for TBGD at that time. We had a great team of industry veterans, and the future looked great, except for one thing... the hospitals wanted to operate under a nonprofit status. As you know, this become a hot topic in our industry, and I felt stuck between my role with TBGD and IHRSA. The mission and purpose of the hospital-based fitness centers were no different from the commercial clubs. So, ethically, I had issues with operating under the nonprofit status... but fate would lead me down a new path.
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