Altea Active’s motto is Live Life Fully Activated. And if the heart is at the centre of a fully activated body, mind and spirit, then Altea Active certainly has no shortage of it.
From opening their first facility in Winnipeg in late 2019 with strong membership sign-ups just months before the pandemic hit, to now launching a location in Toronto’s Liberty Village, this social wellness club continues to successfully weather the storms by holding steadfast to the value they place on relationships.
How you treat others is everything
Co-founder and President David Wu and Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Mike Nolan have 16 fitness facility openings under their belt with a previous company. Nolan says their years of experience have brought some key learnings for how they wanted to do things a little differently with Altea – and that includes amping up the focus on human connection.
“As we began our journey with the first Altea club in Winnipeg, we realized not only do we have a lot of knowledge about our industry and running fitness clubs, but we also have the opportunity now to create all of our own HR materials from scratch – how we’re going to deal with our people and our team, and even the lexicon of what we use to describe team members and partnerships,” says Nolan, adding one of his first actions was to create a document called “Flight School” to define how Altea engages with others.
“It just kind of ended up pouring out of me, and it was really a long-scripted understanding of the relationship side. How important it is to understand people, because we’re dealing with them each and every day. And I’m not just talking about our members, I’m talking about our staff. About making sure they’re five-star, ready to perform, and just want to be there every day and working for us.”
For Altea, building a work environment where employees want to stay includes providing a competitive compensation package for all staff with additional elements like a stock option program, RRSP program, and general health and dental benefits. Nolan says it’s a bit atypical in the fitness industry to offer something like this outside of management roles, and during the pandemic it’s become particularly important as a way to both retain and recruit new talent.
“Fitness is a little more traditional and it can be less normal to have these kinds of perks available to everyone,” he says. “But with Altea, we wanted to have a strong financial commitment to our employees in place to act as a key retention tool. And I think the health and wellness support through the benefit package – especially during the pandemic – is just so crucial.”
A focus on people calls for strong communication & business know-how
Altea’s CWB Relationship Manager Wendy Coleman says the consistency of how well the team treats others (including their banking partner) really sets them apart.
“I think when you see how good a client is with their staff, that speaks volumes. They’re really employees first,” says Coleman, adding this aligns well with CWB’s own People First culture. “The care in how they treat others also shines through in how they interact with their members and support their community. When you walk into their facility it’s like that sort of Disneyland feel where everybody has a consistent approach with how they engage with people.”
Colemans explains CWB’s role was largely in financing the construction of the two Altea facilities, something that had its own unique considerations – particularly as an industry that was experiencing pandemic closures. “From a banking perspective it requires an understanding of membership fees and how they’re charged – and how those fees can stop coming in if you unfortunately have to shut the doors for a period of time,” she says.
During those shutdowns, CWB and Altea would talk at least three times a week. Colemans says on both sides this meant managing expectations of what they were going to see, where things were at, how they were going to compensate, and understanding how they could leverage the government programs.
“I feel like my biggest take away from our meetings was how well they know their business and their industry, how well they respond to setbacks, how smart and creative they are, and just how professional they’ve been through it all in how they treat others,” says Coleman. “They stand out, and for all the right reasons.”
Understanding & anticipating customer needs pays off
Altea’s strong online platform and social media presence were already well in place in the Winnipeg market months before the pandemic started.
“Our members are followers of certain trainers or instructors and they’re very loyal to them. I think it really helps that we sort of have these local rock stars that people want to tune into and were already booking classes with. So sure, with something like YouTube you can get a thousand free workouts, but you’re not going to get your instructor – again, it all comes back to relationships,” says Nolan.
In addition to human connection, another big part of Altea’s mandate is that health is more than just fitness. To reflect this, their offerings are designed to strengthen physical, social, spiritual, and mental wellbeing – a kind of wholistic approach that’s increased in demand due to the stress of the pandemic.
"We understand the wellness component and it’s certainly needed now more than ever,” says Nolan, explaining that while this was already inherently built into Altea’s mind-body approach – for example their yoga studio and salt lounges – they wanted to take things a step further at Liberty Village.
“How can we make delivering quick, meditative relaxations a routine part of the member experience at the club? Like binaural beats – light therapy combined with sound therapy to put you in this relaxed, conscious state. If nothing else, you put your phone down for 20 minutes and close your eyes. These days that can do a world of good.”
Holding firm on forward thinking, agility & innovation
Altea’s ability to always think one step ahead led to the decision to open a Toronto facility when the stars aligned and a prime location became available. Because even though things in the industry were challenging, they recognized it wouldn’t always be this way.
That said, launching a new location is a bit chaotic at the best of times, says Nolan, and the pandemic climate adds another layer of complexity and considerations – like labour shortages and of course ensuring top health and safety measures are in place.
“I think to do things effectively, you need to put yourself in the shoes of both the employees and the members,” he says. “For employees, we look at how we’re onboarding them and taking care of their mental wellness as well as their financial wellness. That includes trying to keep their hours topped up and providing extra support to our personal trainers. For example, we’ve created a model so the trainers don’t have to come in with an already established client base in order to succeed with us – we have things in play to be able to do that for them. We can let them focus on the craft of training people and doing what they do best.”
From the member side, Nolan says at the forefront of his mind are things like spaciousness, cleanliness, air quality, and sanitation stations – everything you’d expect people to pay very close attention to now when entering any public space.
“You have to really be able to deliver to the next level when it comes to areas where people are perspiring,” he says. “That’s part of the reason why we’ve built one of the largest spin studios in Canada at Liberty Village. It’s not just built that way for lots of lights – it’s built that way for lots of space. It used to be you’d go into an urban spin boutique and you’ve got all these bikes that are inches away from each other and everyone rides intensely together as if you’re in the Tour de France. But we’re putting our money on people wanting a little more elbow room on those bikes now. And by increasing the size of the digital screens and type of programming, we don’t take away from the experience – we just go bigger and louder.”
Not just a club, but a community
Over the past two years, Altea has proven that success comes from taking care of their team and members. It’s become a part of the company’s DNA that Nolan says won’t be going away, even as they continue to expand. “We consider ourselves to be a community from the employee and member side,” he says. “We talk family, we understand each other’s moods and our ups and downs, and there’s a lot of checking in to see how everyone’s doing. That gets really hard to hold onto the bigger a company gets, and we’ve learned that through experience.
So when we started Altea this is something we wanted to build into it, and the people we’re building it with love that this is what they’re walking into. That’s something from an owner’s perspective I’m very mindful of protecting as we grow.”