Zaac Schembri is Virgin Active Australia’s new Head of Exercise Experience, find out how he’s trying to make exercise irresistible…
I started working for Virgin Active Australia as a fitness professional in 2011 – something I thought I would only do for six months while I was waiting for the next paramedic intake. But then I fell in love with the Virgin Active business and how its values reflected my own.
I was 21 years old and I had just moved to the big smoke (Sydney) so getting to work with like-minded people was magnetic. Not long after starting I moved into the Operations Manager role. I loved the new challenge away from product and into the mechanics of the business – the non-sexy, but equally important function that really holds the club together and makes you think big about the little things.
In 2015, our business was launching a new club on Sydney’s city fringe. I was incredibly excited by the range of products on offer, some of which were brand-new, including the very first Grid (HIIT) programme, so I made the switch to Fitness Manager. This club has since gone on to be one of our most successful clubs across the globe in both membership, PT volume and engagement – something that stays close to my heart even today.
After six months in the Fitness Manager role, I moved into the Club General Manager position. This is when I really started to understand how multi-faceted the business is, and how it all works together – everything from the exercise experiences to the kids’ creche. In 2017 our then Managing Director (now Head of Global Exercise Experience), Scott Hood, approached me to project manage a new club opening in Sydney’s CBD.
Virgin Active Barangaroo was going to be a concept club for us; we were used to 4,000+ square metre facilities, but Barangaroo would only be 500. Opening Barangaroo allowed our business to double down on the user experience, to step back from what we traditionally offer and refocus on what would resonate with today’s advanced market.
Remaining relevant in any industry for 20 years is hard work, and Virgin Active has done an amazing job in doing so, but our next challenge is to advance the user experience to ensure we remain relevant for the next 20 years.
After spending some time in Los Angeles, arguably the honey spot of the fitness industry (there are more gyms between LA and San Fran than Australia has Personal Trainers) I was able to put myself in the position of our prospects and see what was important, what stuck and what didn’t.
We started to think about the members’ end-to-end experience even more seriously, with a new level of attention on things like programming, lighting, other key principles like book a space, member concierge system, ozone-cleaned equipment and Head Coaches employed across our core programmes, to re-model the standard across our exercise experiences.
Today, I am Head of Exercise Experience. Ultimately my job is to make exercise irresistible, because we get that it typically isn’t. For most Australians, it’s too hard, too intimidating, too confusing and too inconvenient… we have a responsibility to change that.
In 2019 we have opened four clubs. Each of these spaces reflects the thinking that I have outlined above. Our objective for 2020 is to close the gap between our new clubs and existing ones, to ensure our members are getting the same irresistible experience regardless of when it was opened, whether that was in 2009 or 2019.