Waterfront

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» Facility Profile

On the

Waterfront

Toronto’s Boulevard Club boasts a

member wait list thanks to an extensive

club renewal, renovation and expansion

by Kathryn Korchok

always had a

connection to the

water,” says Mark

“We’ve

Porter, general manager

of the Boulevard Club, which has

an unparalleled location on the shores

of Lake Ontario in Toronto.

The 110-year-old facility, located

in the city’s west end, was originally

launched as the Parkdale Canoe Club

in 1905. The name was changed in

1935, and the facility grew and evolved

with the times. But one thing has always

remained the same.

“We’re one of the few multi-activity

private sports and fitness clubs that

is actually located on the water,” says

Porter. “So we have an entire waterfront

fitness component along with our

traditional land activities.”

The club’s yachting program and

sailing school has long existed. Its new

lakefront sports and activities section

includes a variety of recreational water

activities, such as stand up paddle

boarding, dragon boating, kayaking,

canoeing and even rowboating.

“People are embracing the water

and augmenting their indoor fitness by

choosing a water activity,” says Porter,

who’s been with the club for five years

and became GM last year.

Inside the building, water remains

the focus as the all-glass south wall of

the fitness centre looks out at the million

dollar lake view, with spectacular

sunsets included at no extra charge.

“We have an expression: The

view makes the treadmill bearable,”

laughs Porter. “People get lost in the

views and actually stay on the cardio

38 Fitness Business Canada January/February 2016


equipment longer. Some of the equipment

companies get mad at us because

we don’t order the new video screens

with programs that let people look at

scenery from around the world. People

say the screens block their view of the

lake.”

The club has completed a fourphase

progression that began in the

early 2000s when the board of directors

took a hard look at declining

membership, decreasing revenues and

a struggle to meet the staff payroll.

(The club, privately owned by members,

operates as a not-for-profit corporation

with a volunteer governance

structure and board of directors.)

Not willing to continue the downward

spiral, the board made some

tough decisions to change with the

times to attract new members. The

goal was to decrease the average age of

the membership (which was high) and

to become a multi-generational club

that served all age groups, especially

families.

Tennis remains a vital part of the »

January/February 2016 Fitness Business Canada 39


» Facility Profile

“People get lost in the views and actually stay on the

cardio equipment longer…we don’t order the new

video screens with programs that let people look

at scenery from around the world. People say the

screens block their view of the lake.”

Mark Porter, general manager

club, but curling was eliminated. The

rink was replaced in 2004 with a new

fitness complex and a 25-metre indoor

pool.

The Loft was added for children

ages six to 12 and offers video games,

foosball tables, floor hockey, pool tables,

arts and crafts, gymnastics, movie

nights, table tennis and homework stations.

The no-charge drop-in recreation

centre supplements the existing

Children’s Centre for kids ages four

weeks to six years.

The second phase was the renewal

of the club’s central block in 2007. The

main space was opened architecturally

to create the expansive lake views and

expand the outdoor patios.

In 2010, the third major renovation

focused on the outdoor pool and

added new decking, a splash pad, playground

and a snack shop. Families

flock to it making it a popular gathering

place.

The fourth phase of the club expansion

has been the new west wing, a $14

million project that opened this past

August. The 90-year-old wing, which

had previously housed a badminton

centre, was demolished and replaced

with a 28,000-square-foot structure

40 Fitness Business Canada January/February 2016


that houses new locker rooms (for

men, women, families, boys and

girls), a new badminton centre, and

Breakwater, a 3,000-square-foot multipurpose

gymnasium.

Now, club members can play basketball,

volleyball, futsal (indoor soccer)

and pickleball, and participate in

indoor lawn bowling, karate, fencing

and expanded group fitness activities.

Sports therapy treatment rooms, an

esthetic spa and water views complete

the addition.

“Right away it’s been an instant

success,” says Porter. “It’s been such a

value added experience for our members.

For the first time in the history of

our club we had a basketball camp this

summer. The founding fathers would

never have thought there’d ever be a

basketball camp at the Boulevard Club!”

Breakwater has become a magnet

for families and teens, who attend family

drop-in nights to shoot hoops together,

play badminton or pickleball or

just hang out. That’s been a pleasant

surprise.

“The most difficult ages to retain

are the teenagers and the intermediate

members up to age 29,” says Porter.

“There are so many other opportunities

out there for them. Teens just want

to do teenager stuff and hang out.

Then as they pursue their post secondary

education and start to develop

their careers, it’s a very transient category.

As soon as we opened the multipurpose

room we saw a huge increase

in the retention rate among that age

group, adding 100 more teen members

than in the previous five years.”

Porter also tracks the club’s success

with high membership satisfaction

rates, shown in surveys to be at 97

percent. That same satisfaction level

shows in employee satisfaction and

engagement. Professional development

goals are built into all positions,

from dishwasher to GM; there are incentives,

bonuses, staff parties, a staff

newsletter and an employee website

section with a blog that celebrates success

stories. It is all designed to attract

and retain high quality people who, in

turn, create an atmosphere that members

love.

“At a private club, the best salespeople

are our current members,” says

Porter. “If people are really happy,

they bring their friends, neighbours,

relatives and business associates as

guests because they feel good bringing

them here and sharing the good

experiences they’re having. It becomes

a home away from home. Our

number one marketing strategy is to

maintain a high membership satisfaction

level because that drives our

marketing.”

Three years ago, the board capped

the membership and there is currently

a nine-month wait list. With an annual

operating budget of approximately $11

million, nearly 200 full- and part-time

employees and 80 additional seasonal

staff, Porter knows that his staff members

are surpassing the goals set in the

past decade.

But in the end, it all comes down to

what the customers want.

“Walt Disney had a very effective

quote which I live by: ‘You don’t

build it for yourself. You find out what

the people want, and you build it for

them,’” says Porter. This a very exciting

place to be.” FBC

Kathryn Korchok is a freelance writer whose

current passion is tennis. She also loves yoga,

dance, hiking, and seeking balance in life.

Quick BITS

The Boulevard Club

Toronto, Ontario

www.boulevardclub.com

OPENED: 1905

OWNER: member owned (a not-for-profit corporation which issues

non-capital/non-equity shares to its members)

NUMBER OF MEMBERS: 4,000 (3,000 19+ years old; 1,000 under

19)

NUMBER OF STAFF: fitness centre: 6 part-time, 2 full-time, 28 contractors.

Entire club: 80 full-time and 110 part-time year round, plus

80 seasonal summer employees

MEMBERSHIP FEES: A combination of entrance fees, annual dues,

monthly capital fee and quarterly food & beverage minimum.

MEMBER DEMOGRAPHICS: Average age of adult members is 50.

Approximately 50/50 male/female split

SIZE: 3,000 sq. ft. gym, 3 850 sq. ft. studios, 3,000 sq. ft.

multi-purpose room; 25-metre indoor pool;

20-metre outdoor pool; 5 badminton courts;

10 tennis courts in summer (8 tennis courts

bubbled during the winter); lawn bowling/

croquet green; 90 docks for sail and power

boats; dinghy-class sail boats, dragon boating,

kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle

boards and row boats.

EQUIPMENT: strength selectorized equipment, treadmills, ellipticals,

upright and recumbent bikes, rowers, steppers, StepMills,

Spinning bikes, etc.

PROGRAMS: aquafit, aquatherapy, group and private lessons, Red

Cross swim program, lifesaving society, swim teams, masters swim

program; badminton lessons, programs and teams; dragon boating;

group exercise classes and personal training; basketball, pickleball,

volleyball, table tennis, radio control car and truck club; basketball

development programs; adult recreational basketball and volleyball

league; futsal (indoor soccer); fencing; kids’ dance classes; karate;

lawn bowling and croquet; sailing, paddleboarding, pedalboating,

kayaking; tennis lessons, teams, leagues, clinics and tournaments;

yachting; golf privileges at several local private clubs; ski privileges

with five ski clubs; children’s centre; youth and teens programs,

drop-in centre, camps, workshops, tutoring, movie nights, arts and

crafts.

January/February 2016 Fitness Business Canada 41

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