KATHY AND KEITH RAWLINGS, THE ARENA CLUB
Don’t let the name fool you. There is a lot more to The Arena Club than an indoor sports arena and field. With an emphasis on health and wellness for all ages, owners – and husband and wife – Keith and Kathy Rawlings have built a state-of-the art exercise gym, group fitness and yoga studio, aquatics retreat, preschool and physical therapy site. The Arena Club is a premier and full-service healthy lifestyle provider.
THE ACCIDENTAL ENTREPRENEUR
Owning and operating an 80,000-square-foot fitness facility was not on the Rawlingses’ bucket list. In 1996, Keith Rawlings was a real estate agent, and Kathy Rawlings was a medical sales rep for Johnson & Johnson. While they were both involved in collegiate sports – Keith at Salisbury University and Kathy at Towson University – neither was involved in the health club industry other than as gym members. Keith was brokering the sale of an 18,000-square-foot racquetball club in Aberdeen, when the potential deal fell through at the last minute. A quick decision to buy it himself, Keith made the purchase and the Rawlingses opened the Harford Health and Fitness Club. The decision to take over would change their lives.
While maintaining their respective careers, Keith and Kathy began their journey and education into the fitness industry. “Nothing prepared us, so we learned as we went along,” says Keith. Over the next few years, the Rawlingses saw a need for a gym alternative in the area. With their newly acquired knowledge and experience, they decided to open a larger facility for the more focused core member interested in field play and performance fitness. They opened The Arena Club in 2003 and eventually closed the Harford Health & Fitness facility in 2004. Although most of their members followed them, success would take its time and The Club struggled to find its identity for the first few years. “It just didn’t feel right,” remembers Keith. “Something was missing.” The couple decided to replace their general manager and take over the operations themselves.
“It was not easy,” says Kathy. “Keith continued to work in real estate to support our family, and I worked for free for seven years. There were many times that family and friends thought we should throw in the towel.” What kept them going? “The staff and members,” she replies. “We had over 100 employees at the time, and we took that responsibility of their employment seriously. And where would our members go and get the same care?”
“Once we got into the day-to-day operations, we knew the kind of club we wanted to own,” says Keith. “It wasn’t about the newest equipment or a fancy mission statement. It was about helping our community by helping the entire family get healthy.”
Defining their vision came easily. “I know it’s an overused word,” Keith quips, “but we really are all about service. Our mission is simply to serve – our staff, our members, our communities. We concentrated on hiring and retraining staff to understand and execute their jobs with that one goal in mind. For example, if a mom took the time to pack up her kids and get here, we won’t turn her away at the nursery if it’s full. We’ll get another manager or employee to staff the nursery to maintain the safety ratios and mom gets her workout. If she needs help getting to the car with the kids later, we’ll chip in there, too. We’ll do what the member needs.”
Keith explains that they trained their front desk staff to greet every person who walks in the door. He describes how some people are resistant to respond, but his employees know that their job is to greet. The member’s response is optional.
The family of 11-year-old Gabriel knows firsthand the level of service and community the Rawlingses have worked to achieve. Gabriel suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and regular aquatic physical therapy is the only way he is able to move freely. Pediatric Mobility, a local provider of physical, occupational and speech therapy specializing in the treatment of infants and children from birth to 21 years of age, started performing Gabriel’s sessions at The Arena Club after they were forced to relocate their business on short notice. Gabriel’s mother approached Keith about allowing them access and he agreed without a second thought. “God has blessed us with The Arena Club, which has given us the opportunity to help others like Gabriel and other children that attend Pediatric Mobility. I knew we had to help,” shares Keith. More recently, the family’s insurance plan reduced Gabriel’s covered sessions, but Keith now gets into the pool himself to work with him so he continues to make progress.
Aquatic therapy is a unique offering at The Arena Club. “We don’t just have a heated pool. The temperature is specifically maintained between 90-95 degrees for optimum benefit,” says Kathy. The relaxation response of the muscle and the reduction in pain in a therapy pool allows for greater joint mobility and range of motion, which helps the body heal faster. People of all ages can enjoy the therapy pool, but those diagnosed with conditions like peripheral neuropathy, peripheral nerve injuries, sports injuries, joint replacements, neck and spinal surgeries, and cardiac patients often benefit the most. Additionally, The Arena Club therapy pool is a saltwater pool and does not use chlorine. “It’s much easier on the skin and hair,” smiles Kathy.
The therapy pool is only one of the attractions of the massive indoor/outdoor aquatics complex at The Arena Club. The Club also offers a 25-meter lap/recreational pool, a 12-person whirlpool, a wading pool, and the family recreation pool complete with waterslide and a basketball court. During the winter months, a dome covers part of the complex to conduct year round water classes, lap swimming and therapy. But, when the weather breaks, the dome comes off, authentic palm trees are shipped in, and the outdoor oasis comes to life. “I can’t wait for the weather to get warmer,” admits Keith. “Having the aquatics complex open changes everything.”
When many people think of a gym or fitness center, they envision treadmills, weights and aerobic classes. Well, The Arena Club does not disappoint. In addition to 85 group exercise classes included in the membership, members can choose from a multitude of cardio equipment complete with personal monitors to watch TV or headphone jacks for music, an array of weight machines and free weight options as well as specialty classes like hot yoga, Pilates and kettle bell training. Children are part of the program at The Arena Club, too. Nursery services are available to all members and a certified preschool is another option for growing families.
What really sets The Arena Club apart from the competition, of course, is the field. A 16,000-square-foot turf field is the area’s only elite full indoor astro-play multi-functional field with no walls, giving the athlete the most authentic field experience. “We saw a need in the market and we filled it,” says Kathy. “Lots of other fitness centers had basketball courts, but no one had the field.”
The field opened up a host of possibilities for programming for the Rawlingses. Keith explains, “We’ve expanded from youth instructional clinics to elite sports performance training for athletes of all ages from all sports. We have speed and power training, position specific training, a sports academy, team training and much more. One of our biggest successes has been our tournament teams.” Tournament play has become popular in recent years, giving young athletes a chance to play at higher athletic levels than many school systems, as well as the advantage of being able to play on weekends, something that time-strapped families can appreciate. “It started as a need for our own children,” explains Kathy. “Traditional sports interfered with school and our workweek. We started four years ago and these uniforms [gesturing to the boxes of baseball shirts surrounding the conference room] are only for the 11 spring baseball teams we have. We also have fall teams and we cover baseball as well soccer, wrestling and lacrosse.”
“This is serious play,” confirms Keith. “Our baseball team, The Arena Starz, competes in local, regional and national tournaments.” During the 2010 season, the Starz program won 24 tournaments, was runner-ups in 15 tournaments, and reached the semifinals in six tournaments. In addition to local and Maryland participants, Starz attracts players from Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Improving The Health Of The State
The Arena Club doesn’t only focus on the elite and well conditioned. Their overall mission is to help all people live healthier lives. On the other end of the health spectrum are those suffering from chronic diseases, many preventable and manageable. These lifestyle-related chronic conditions accounted for more than 60 percent of the $1.65 billion spent on health care in Maryland in 2011. Lifestyle related chronic conditions include obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure, and Harford County is not immune.
The economic impact of exercise and a healthier lifestyle are undisputed. In Maryland, reducing cholesterol levels by 10 percent could cut the incidence of heart disease by as much as 30 percent – saving the Maryland economy $822 million in health care spending each year.(Source: www.coalitionforahealthymaryland.org).
The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that 80 percent of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and 40 percent of cancers, could be prevented by doing three things: exercising more, eating better and avoiding tobacco.
Kathy is a member of the Coalition for a Healthy Maryland, and The Arena Club is a platinum sponsor for Healthy Harford, a non-profit coalition of local government agencies, businesses, nonprofits and citizens dedicated to improving the health of Harford County residents. “I work on committees and have testified before lawmakers about the need for preventive health programs and to fight additional sales taxes on dues that our members would have to pay. It’s crazy to penalize someone for taking care of themselves – an act that will actually save the State in the long run.”
Kathy continues, “We reach out in several ways to further the goal of a healthy community. One of our most exciting programs is p.r.e.p. It’s a doctor prescribed medical fitness program that only costs $1 a day – that’s just $60 for 60 days of service. Patients consult with the doctors about the program. With a prescription for diabetes management, healthy heart or pediatric obesity, for example, we will set them up to meet with a medical fitness specialist two times a week, as well as give them unlimited access to group exercise classes, nutritional counseling and equipment use. The 60-day program helps people transform their lives and get them back on track.”
The Arena Club has medical liaisons on staff who help coordinate with doctors’ offices. They also work with all insurance companies, helping members maximize their plan benefits. “Some insurance plans will subsidize health club memberships, but require proof of membership or attendance. We work with the members to make sure they have the right paperwork to get reimbursement,” Kathy adds.
“p.r.e.p has given me a great resource to help get my patients healthy and motivated. They offer a comprehensive approach to health and wellness including personal training, nutrition and access to a complete fitness facility. It has been helpful in getting patients to commit to a foundation of health they would not of done on their own. I refer patients weekly and they are very happy.”
– Dr. Gillian Adams, Family Practitioner at Plumtree Family Health Center
The Rawlingses know they can’t do it alone and work with local companies and organizations to make things happen. “We have a nice relationship with Harford Community College and partner with them on baseball programs and 5k races,” says Keith. “We will also tailor programs for companies who want to offer our services as a benefit for their employees. We can offer onsite workshops, boot camps, nutritional classes as well developing a financial structure for those companies looking to subsidize the cost of membership.”
Once considered a luxury or reward, fitness incentives for employees are just smart business. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care for Americans, poor health leads to:
• 45 million avoidable sick days every year
• $1,900 to $2,250 in lost revenue per employee
• 75 percent of the money spent by private insurance to treat people with chronic illness
With a structured employee wellness plan that includes fitness and nutrition instruction and incentives, employers save money with fewer lost workdays and slower premium growth. In a challenging economy, that’s something that all companies and organizations can get behind.
“Changing the culture is the vision of the Harford County Sheriff’s office, when it comes to Health and Wellness. In collaboration, The Arena Club has been an instrumental part of our new Wellness programming. Since joining this program we have seen a marked improvement.”
– Sheriff Jesse Bane
Another extension of unique care at The Arena Club is the onsite Agape Physical Therapy. “Patients of Agape use the facility as part of their therapy sessions, and members of the Club can ask Agape therapists pertinent questions while they are here. It’s a win-win collaboration,” comments Keith.
Keith and Kathy Rawlings and The Arena Club marked 10 years in January. Not part of a national chain, and using their own money, growing their successful business model was not without its rough patches and doubts. “We kept hanging on. It was scary, but I’m glad we did,” admits Kathy. In celebration of their 10-year anniversary, they added a new dome to cover the pools, installed beautiful wooden lockers in the changing rooms and increased their group fitness programs. “We probably invest two-times more back into the Club than a chain would,” says Keith. Their investments have paid off and the Rawlingses are excited about the rest of 2013 confirming they are looking to expand. “We’re looking at opportunities to add another location – maybe in Harford County – definitely in Maryland. We’ll see what comes available.” I95
The Obesity Epidemic in Harford County
• 2/3 of adults and nearly 1/3 of children are overweight or obese in Harford County
• People who are obese have an extra $1,850 (and those morbidly obese an extra $5,500) in health care costs, compared with normal weight people
• The top three causes of death in our community are heart disease, cancer, and stroke – all of which are affected by obesity.
• The diabetes rate in Harford County rose from 5% in 2005 to 11% in 2010 – more than doubling in only 5 years (CHAP survey 2005 & 2010).
JUST 3 THINGS
80% of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and 40% of cancers could be prevented by doing 3 things:
1 Exercise more
2 Eat better/healthier
3 Stop smoking
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The Arena Club | 2304 Churchville Road | Bel Air, MD | 410-734-7300