Fitness Industry Council of Canada is proud to announce Chuck Lawson as the 2018 Canadian Fitness Industry Leadership Award recipient.
Chuck Lawson entered the fitness business in 1987 by purchasing a Gold’s Gym in Langley, B.C. New to the industry, Lawson struggled to get the business started. He was all about lifting weights and training, but eventually he had to figure out a way to sell memberships. Fortunately, other Gold’s Gym owners assisted and mentored him. Once he hired a sales force, things started looking up. He eventually built the club up to $25,000 a month in dues while paying $2,000 in rent.
A few years later, Lawson heard about the success of some women’s clubs in Texas and was inspired to open his first women-only club in Abbotsford, B.C. called Just Ladies Fitness. It was a huge success, leading him to open three more clubs in White Rock, Surrey, and Delta over the next 30 months. Over the years, Just Ladies Fitness expanded to 13 locations in B.C. Lawson and his team had to fight many trademark and copyright issues as many other women’s clubs were popped up and tried to use the Just Ladies Fitness name.
In 1999, a 20-year-old named Radha Johal joined the team. She applied to be a babysitter at one of the clubs but was convinced to join the sales team. She eventually became the top salesperson, then managed a club, then moved to regional management and finally became COO of the company (her current position). Lawson gives Johal great credit for much of the chain’s success.
In 2004/2005, Lawson faced the largest legal battle thus far in his career. A man wanted to join one of the Just Ladies Fitness clubs and pursued it through the Human Rights Tribunal. At first Lawson thought it was a joke, but he quickly learned otherwise. The company hired specific counsel to handle the issue and also a media company to be sure everything was perceived correctly by the public. The battle, which the company won, cost over $200,000 and set a precedent within B.C. legislation confirming that women have the right to exercise in private.
In 2006, Lawson heard about a trend in the United States: value-priced clubs. After researching the new niche, he immediately began thinking about creating his own value-priced club. With Johal, they determined a way to lower services, drop dues and sell more memberships at one of their Surrey locations. Its success convinced them to convert and rebrand all of their Just Ladies Fitness clubs into value-priced clubs.
In 2007/2008, B.C. legislation was suddenly changed, without consulting the fitness industry, and suddenly membership dues were not allowed to go beyond 24 months, meaning that members would need to re-sign their membership agreements as they came due. Lawson immediately contacted Henry Polesky of Fitness World. The two men met with their local MLAs and explained how this change in legislation would not work for the fitness industry. After much effort and many legal bills, the result was the continuation of month-to-month memberships in B.C. Lawson gives Polesky immense credit in finalizing the details with the Solicitor General.
Once Lawson’s women’s clubs proved that the value-priced approached worked well, he decided to open a chain of co-ed value-priced clubs. While looking for possible locations, he mentioned to a friend the idea of working with retired hockey player Trevor Linden. His friend connected the two of them, and one month later they had a deal. In 2011, the first co-ed CLUB16 Trevor Linden Fitness was opened.
In 2013, Lawson, his son Carl and Trevor were introduced to Orangetheory Fitness at IHRSA’s Annual Convention and Tradeshow. That afternoon, on the tradeshow floor, they sought out David Hardy, partner and chief innovation officer for Orangetheory Fitness Canada. The team purchased the rights to Orangetheory for Vancouver and the surrounding area upon returning from the convention.
Over the past 31 years, Lawson has been involved in building, partnering, buying or selling 35 different clubs. His business currently has nine CLUB16 Trevor Linden Fitness locations, four standalone She’s Fit! locations and six Orangetheory Fitness studios, with two more opening this year.
Chuck Lawson’s accomplishments have led to great success for his own businesses, but also for the entire fitness industry. He is truly a leader in the industry and an important advocate for fair legislation.