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Movati Athletic’s Kelly Thorne drives revenue and growth with support systems for staff and customer-savvy programming.

By Fitness Business Insider

Born in Sault Saint Marie, Kelly Thorne spent most of her childhood in Kingston, Ontario. She played competitive basketball for York University where she studied Kinesiology and Health Sciences and continued to develop her knowledge and skills in fitness assessment and programming. Kelly started as a PT with Bally Total Fitness, and moved into management and then to GoodLife Fitness as Director of Personal Training. Currently Senior Vice President of Fitness and Programming for Movati Athletic, Kelly oversees strategic growth, innovation, and leadership for Movati’s 16 locations.

What are some the early career lessons that shaped what you do today?

Back in the early 2000s when I started as a PT, you were essentially given a uniform and a pat on the back and told: Go! I was an introvert and had no sales experience whatsoever and suddenly I was asking people to invest in me. I really struggled to present my worth… I read every sales book that I could find and over time I became stronger. I moved into an Assistant PT Manager role, working as a PT during the day and completing consultations in the evenings for other trainers, and learned how to overcome hundreds of ‘Nos’ in those early days. Eventually, I became a Fitness Manager at GoodLife with a team of eight PTs that grew to 20+. That’s where I created on-boarding, training systems, and schedules so trainers could ramp up much more quickly than I did.

Why did you decide to move to Movati Athletic?

In the early years, GoodLife was like jumping on a rocket ship. I was part of many acquisitions – Extreme, Gold’s, and others on the east and west coasts. I had the opportunity to be part of a company that scaled quickly, replicating systems, structures, and recruiting in multiple regions across Canada. When my daughter was two, I was traveling back and forth from Ontario to Alberta every four weeks, overseeing approximately 75 locations. A recruiter approached me and asked if I’d be interested in an executive role at [Movati] and I met Founder and CEO Chuck Kelly who came across as a humble and visionary leader with a passion for team culture. [Movati had] beautiful buildings, a strong team member retention rate, and a drive for innovation. Their structures and systems revealed an opportunity to develop and scale their PT business. I could apply what I’d learned to a smaller group of clubs, and I was given the independence to launch new initiatives to improve the careers of Personal Trainers and grow revenue.

What challenges did you face expanding outside of the Ottawa region? 

As we were developing our GTA clubs in 2017/18, small group training and boutique offerings exploded. OrangeTheory and F45 were popping up on every corner as we were developing brand awareness. I had to figure out how to develop a small group boutique style option within our clubs. Movati is well known for group classes with upwards of 200 a week, and personal training had developed over the course of a year, but small group training sat between group fitness and PT. It allowed instructors and trainers to hybridize their offering and increase income potential. It provided our members a secondary option if they weren’t ready to invest in one-on-one training. We started to build our new clubs with small group training studios with signature formats. 

What trends are you seeing today?

The definition of small group training has shifted as our group fitness classes increase in popularity. Members now look for structured programming and progression, a plan with one specific personal trainer who works with them and tracks results. We’re also seeing a hyper-personalization trend. Love it or hate it, in the on-demand world, you had the opportunity to pick your intensity, instructor, music, class type, and that has carried over into the in-person experience. If you’re going to invest your time in fitness, you want your experience to match your goals and takes into consideration all aspects of wellness that will positively contribute to your daily lifestyle.

Has your membership changed significantly?

We’ve seen a significant increase in the “active generation” of 20 to 39-year-olds. I think we’ll continue to see them involved heavily with gym memberships or some form of wellness because there’s more awareness and they hold it as a high priority. The reservation platform we created in early-2020 allows us to capture crucial attendance data, and we have a better idea of who our members are and if there are gaps in our programming where we’re not addressing a certain demographic’s needs. We’ve added classes at 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM, which was once unheard of, because that’s when this generation wants to exercise. We’ve also seen an uptick in the demand for community and social events, as fitness has become the third space alongside home and work.

What advice do you have for fitness owners and managers?

Have a clear line of sight to who you are and who you serve. Who do you want to impact most? Look at your strengths and invest time and resources in what you do well. It’s easy to get pulled in multiple directions. Keep a keen ear tuned to the trends and consider how your offerings can capture what is on the way, while still staying true to your brand. For example, what does the recovery trend look like for your specific facility? Should you partner with somebody who can bring in a quality experience, or do you create packaged offerings with your own resources? Finally, invest in leadership to ensure it is strong and stable. Any time there’s a location that’s struggling it points to leadership. The best leaders can overcome recruitment and retention challenges, invite client feedback, put action plans in the hands of managers, and consistently immerse themselves in the member experience to watch for pain points and bright moments.

Can you share your perspective on women and leadership in the fitness industry?

I’ve worked in the industry now for over 23 years in environments that are both male and female dominated, and I’ve always lived by the philosophy: be the hardest working person in the room, care about the success of the team, and speak opinions with conviction. So far, it’s paid off. I think women have a great advantage: we know deeply and intimately what our clients want because they are our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters… Females typically make up 60-70% of any given membership base. I encourage the women I work with to speak up, and I do my best to shine a spotlight on successful women in the industry. In my opinion, the future of fitness is bright, and the industry will need leaders from all backgrounds and experiences to step forward and lead the way.

What are your goals for Movati?

It’s inspiring to bring new initiatives forward, see them to fruition, and watch our members fall in love with the experience. I think that both recovery and Pilates are on their way up and will continue to climb for the next few years, and we’re launching Pilates reformer studios in several of our clubs this year. Movati is the true “club within a club” where members can buy a single membership and experience our quality and variety of programming across 6-7 boutique studios, from yoga, cycle and Pilates to Barre and Personal Training. I’m excited for the direction that fitness is headed. I think we’ve rebounded even stronger than we ever thought possible, and the silver lining is that the general population values their health so much more and we play a large role in that. We are part of a wellness solution. 

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