Innovate. Motivate. Celebrate. Those three things are key to making the Alaska Club a success, and it’s a combination that has earned the company respect among those in its field.
The Alaska Club is the state’s largest fitness center conglomerate, with sixteen clubs operating in the state, about 950 full and part-time employees, and “tens of thousands” of members, according to Alaska Club President Robert Brewster.
The fitness club was Alaska-owned as a limited partnership for twenty-one years. It sold in 2007 to Lincolnshire Management, which operated the club for seven years. The club last year sold to San Francisco-based PCG (Partnership Capital Growth), a private equity firm that focuses on healthy foods and healthy lifestyles. PCG is part of investment banking and asset management firm, Piper Jaffray.
Brewster is chairman of the Board of Directors for the 2014-2015 International Health, Racquets, and Sportsclub Association, a trade association serving the global health club and fitness industry. The group states that it has more than ten thousand members in seventy-six countries. Its board is elected from and by its membership. It’s the second time in fifteen years a representative of the Alaska Club has chaired the International Health, Racquets, and Sportsclub Association board, Brewster says.
A Courageous Start
The Alaska Club got its start in 1986 when, at the beginning of Alaska’s first big post-pipeline oil price decline, Anchorage real estate professional Andrew Eker and former Alaska Pacific Bank president Tom Behan, leading a group of fifty investors, bought the Alaska Teamsters’ former recreation center in east Anchorage.
“Literally two days after they closed the sale, the price of oil plunged,” says Brewster.
But Eker and Behan soldiered on, a fact that Brewster attributes to the two founders’ strong business acumen. They also placed an emphasis on membership, especially family memberships, and made it a point to hire people who were passionate about fitness.
“They were able to shepherd it through some very difficult early years,” Brewster says.
Brewster, who had previously run the Hotel Captain Cook private fitness club, joined the Alaska Club team in 1988 as assistant general manager.
“There was no general manager,” he says, laughing.
The club was still at just one location, he says. But in the mid-1990s it launched a rapid expansion effort. “In one year, we added five clubs,” he says.
Most of those were acquisitions: the Anchorage Racquet and Fitness Club, three Alaska Athletic Clubs, two World Gyms. The clubs the company now operates are scattered around the state in Anchorage, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Juneau, and the Mat-Su Valley.
Ten of those sixteen locations are in Anchorage and Eagle River, including two express locations designed for fast workouts, a women-only club, and the newest addition, The Summit, an “ultra-high-end” facility attached to Alaska Club South that is part fitness facility, part Alaska-style country club with spa amenities.
Brewster says he was surprised to learn that having multiple clubs in one town or community would be so popular.
“We’re seeing a certain amount of people who use multiple locations,” he says.
Perhaps a member visits a different club to use a pool, he says, or maybe he or she generally visits a club closest to home but occasionally grabs a quick workout at the location closest to his or her work. Catering to the varied and individual needs of members is part of what has made the company a success, he says.
“We are looking to continually add amenities that make the clubs not only a fitness destination but also a lifestyle destination,” he says. “We’re working on adding amenities that aren’t just fitness-related, but are life-improvement. We’re working on adding more of a weight-management component. We’re trying to meet the needs of our members and respond to the trends in society.”