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Bora: Lifestyle Family Fitness builds up tech muscle

What does tech power have to do with muscle power?

A whole lot, apparently.

Ask the folks at St. Petersburg-based Lifestyle Family Fitness. In the last decade, the health club chain invested more than $10-million to beef up its technology team and products. This, at a time when companies nationwide have been slimming down on tech investments.

"They have one of the most mature IT cultures in the market and one of the youngest, sharpest CIOs in the area" said Fritz Eichelberger, founder of HotSpaces.Net who's placed quite a few IT employees at the company.

Now, that's definitely not something you would expect from a business that's focused on pumping the iron. Geoffrey A. Dyer, founder and vice-chairman of the company board of directors, said the sprint toward technology happened after the company forged investment relationships with Quantum Capital Partners Inc., Ballast Point Ventures — an affiliate of Raymond James Financial and The Burton Partnership in 2000.

"One thing they said was to build a system to manage the business more efficiently, and provide real time reporting," he said.

Since then, Lifestyle Family Fitness packed its IT team with 20 employees, went paperless on membership agreements, automated its sales force, and set up electronic kiosks at all locations for job applicants. It also partnered with IBM and introduced its LifeCenter units, which allow members to track their health and weight profile online and at kiosks at the gym.

The tech touches throw a lot of weight around a company that plays in a highly competitive ring. Ninety percent of the fitness arena is populated with single club operators.

"I think this gives us a tremendous opportunity to distance ourselves from others, and build a great brand," Dyer said.

The strategy seems to be working, at least for now.

It took the company 17 years to build seven clubs. But since the tech investments, the company is flexing muscles like it's on steroids. It pumped up to $100-million in revenues and grew to 57 locations.

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at mbora@sptimes.com or (813)225-3112

Bora: Lifestyle Family Fitness builds up tech muscle 05/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 11, 2008 10:26am]
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