To help its growing number of stores maintain corporate contact, Leisure Fitness has created a new middle layer of management called "Market Leaders" -- employees who will float in the field to help stores train employees, work on product mix, and keep a handle on merchandising or other product needs.
Officially launched this month after a short test, Market Leaders for the Newark, Del.-based, specialty fitness chain, with 11 stores in five states, will split the region north and south. Gerad Ryder, former store manager in Wilmington, Del., is the new Market Leader-North for five stores in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area, while Chad Weiner takes over as Market Leader-South for the other six stores in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He was most recently store manager in Annapolis.
The difference between a "market leader" and "regional manager," according to Leisure's director of retail James Bond, is that no one reports to these leaders, freeing them up to focus on product and people, including helping stores find answers they need and letting employees develop their strengths.
"We can have leadership in the field," Bond told SNEWSÂ®. "Most importantly is, the stores don't report to them. They aren't then bogged down with day-to-day management that a typical organization deals with. They are focused on achieving our desired results as a company."
In addition, Leisure owner Katina Geralis told SNEWÂ®, this allows the employees to have more contact with the corporate office and, hopefully, to feel more a part of the company as it grows.
"As we grow we want to keep the touch (with stores and employees) because that's the human aspect," Geralis said. "It's not rocket science. It's being aware. Everybody has basic needs and responds to being appreciated."
She said she knows the names of all 130 employees and anybody can call her at any time. Day-to-day operations are managed by an operations manager.
Bond said Leisure Fitness is very people-driven and its whole goal is "to keep that connection as we grow."
"When you grow geographically, it becomes harder to make people in the stores feel as if they're part of the company," said Bond, noting they can feel like an island. Adding regional managers just makes them feel like "a bigger island," he said, rather than adding a true connection.
Geralis said she has interviewed her share of applicants who say things like "they don't care about me" or "they never talk to me" when describing their current or previous employer. And that's something she said she wants to avoid as Leisure Fitness grows.
"If our employees aren't happy and don't feel connected to us," she said, "they don't produce."