Fitness Playground started as a bootcamp, which turned into a gym in 2014. The founders set out to “change the gym experience and environment”. Working in large gym companies, they had realised there was more emphasis placed on selling memberships than on the staff and member experience, so they set out to change that. That first Surry Hills club was so popular that they expanded, opening three more locations (with another on the way).
Despite remaining as a family business, Fitness Playground has established itself as a leader within the Australian fitness industry, continuously challenging the status quo to achieve its new mission to “Inspire Change”.
At the heart of the business’s success is its focus on education and development of staff. They work to employ “Great Humans”, then educate and develop those great humans into great staff. Co-founders Justin Ashley and Serra Burmin have found that if fitness industry staff are educated well, mentored well, continuously developed, and have plenty of opportunities to progress through the business, they deliver great experiences for members.
They believe that if fitness professionals – particularly personal trainers – are developed into highly skilled professionals, they can play an even more important role in preventative healthcare and make significant impacts to the health of Australians. Due to its focus on education, the business has recently established Fitness Playground Academy, an education arm delivering both free and paid fitness industry courses.
Just one of Fitness Playground’s staff development and satisfaction initiatives is their “Career Pathways”, which give each of their 200 staff members a tailored development pathway. While in a lot of businesses the only way to progress is if someone in a role above leaves, with Fitness Playground’s Career Pathways, an employees’ progression is controlled by them. When a new staff member starts, they have a career-planning meeting and select criteria to progress through different levels. It’s up to the individual how fast they want to move through the levels, and progression comes with more pay and more responsibilities. For instance, “Level 3 Coaches” become mentors to “Level 1 Coaches”. It’s an effective way to create a cycle of giving back and developing new people, and it has helped with staff satisfaction and retention.
Fitness Playground’s care for both staff and members has been evident during both the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns, when the company’s aim became to “keep staff working and members moving” while gyms were shut. The teams developed a range of new initiatives during lockdowns, including Virtual Playground (an online platform of live and on-demand online classes), Outdoor Personal Training, a Lift Your Mood project, the aforementioned Fitness Playground Academy, and their very first “Wellness Playground” (a facility that provides a more holistic approach to keeping healthy).