Zone Fitness Clubs is a family-owned business that has expanded its portfolio to become a household name in South Africa, creating a supportive atmosphere in which clients can reach their fitness aspirations
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
With a true passion for fitness and a combined 15 years of industry experience, Herman Blackie and Liesl Albers decided to utilise their passion through the creation of Zone Fitness Clubs.
More than 16 years later Zone Fitness is a household name in South Africa, having quickly grown into the available market space by offering fully equipped gymnasiums, complete with a professional service and a friendly atmosphere at an affordable rate.
“We are a family owned business, with our ownership shared between four family shareholders and three executive directors,” Explains Herman Blackie, Sales and Marketing Director at Zone Fitness. “Each member of the ownership structure are directly involved with the day-to-day running of the Company, placing copious amounts of their time and effort into the business.”
Both the facilities and services on offer consist of an extensive range of strength equipment, toning, super-circuit and cardio equipment such as treadmills, bikes, rowing machines and cross trainers.
“At present we offer beginner, intermediate and advanced exercise programmes for our clients, alongside a variety of group training classes,” continues Blackie. “Our classes include aerobics, yoga, dancing, pilates, boxing for fitness and core-burn; this allows us to cater for all fitness levels, while assisting members in reaching their fitness goals.”
Zone Fitness currently has 23 branches with two more set to open this year, all of which has been achieved through operating a no-frills, low-cost gymnasium model.
Blackie adds: “We have vehemently ensured that we aren’t following the international trend of reducing staff members in order to reduce costs; instead we focus on delivering excellent member service with a full staff compliment.
A defining philosophy for Zone Fitness has always been the acknowledgment that what is good for one club, may not necessarily be true for another.
“Obviously the fact that we run multiple branches over a vast area, with more than 700 staff means standardisation is necessary in parts,” Blackie describes. “However, each separate entity then requires its own innovative spirit when faced with challenges, and it is important that our management staff are able to take note and be brave enough to make difficult decisions for their club.”
As the Company places so much trust in its employees, investing in human capital to nurture has been at the forefront of Zone Fitness’ evolution over the years.
Blackie states: “We have had to work hard to move from a small family-run business to a corporate Company, while still retaining our strong family ethos.
“We consistently achieve this by setting our strategies three years in advance, asking ourselves what we will need from technology, staff and procedural points of view three years from now. This enables us to make the right investments now so that we can progress and grow into our structures.”
Alongside its three year advancement plans, the Company upgrades its facilities and equipment every five to seven years in order to create a continuous and optimal experience for its clients’ fitness journey.
Zone Fitness and its success are a result of sheer determination and passion to make a difference within the industry, coming from humble beginnings where equipment was refurbished, to its current state with the newest ranges.
“We have developed a close working relationship with Impulse Equipment from China, and are able to work alongside them in order to update the products for our local conditions,” affirms Blackie. “We have also placed paramount importance on our relationships with landlords, due to the fact that they fund the bricks and mortar component of our facilities.”
In order to successfully operate a low-cost gym, the ability to cut good rental deals is the starting point for us in any new project and enables the Company to sustainably provide our customers with affordable offerings.
Blackie explains: “We enjoy building long-term relationships with landlords, enabling them to pencil us in for any new developments they may be planning in the future.”
Second to its relationships, technology also plays a vital role in the management and success of the business and over time the Company has been making significant improvements to its systems.
“We ensure that our financial systems with Sage are constantly updated and our KRS Club software with Khanyisa Real Systems has served us well for the past 15 years,” adds Blackie. “Recently we have been able to roll out their new cloud based system named KRS Intensity into all of our clubs, allowing users to interact with their accounts and profiles online.
“With thanks to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are easily and effectively able to communicate with our clients effectively to build solid and lasting relationships.”
In order to stay at the top of its game within the market, Zone Fitness pays close attention to the fitness trends that are attracting a lot of buzz and attention internationally.
“A very prominent fitness trend at the moment is functional movements that are performed at a level of high intensity, and ideally held within a group environment,” describes Blackie. “In order to embrace this style of training we chose to dedicate a studio space with new equipment and tripled our daily class offering for this style of training, all of which was received well by our members.”
The Company has also kept up-to-date with employee trends and offers both internal and external training to its entire staff in order to enhance their skills.
“We have a solid culture of internal promotion within the Company to fill newly available positions and it is only when we cannot find a suitable candidate that we look elsewhere,” continues Blackie. “This strategy has proven to be very effective when it comes to staff retention, providing them with opportunities to grow within the Company and supporting our family owned feel.”
Over the years the Company has firmly established itself within the South African community as a facility that provides fitness for all.
“We cater for members from all walks of life and of every level of fitness and are constantly evolving our facilities and goals for the betterment of the clients,” concludes Blackie. “Looking forward we are hoping to expand our national footprint by at least three new clubs every year, retaining our key philosophy and focus in the future.”