Gjenae and Montana continuing their dad's passion at Planet Fitness
In 1994 Dallas Rosekelly took the gamble to follow his passion and turn it into his entire life. Opening the doors to Planet Fitness on Verulam Road Lambton, over the last 26 years Dallas has built the business to what is now three big locations and more than 12,000 members.
A significant part of the Planet Fitness story does of course include Dallas' daughters Gjenae and Montana who are now stepping up and directing the future of the business.
Interested to know what it was like growing up in the world of gyms and how Planet Fitness all began, I sat down with Gjenae and Montana for a chat at their Charlestown location.
Can you tell us what initially made your dad want to open a gym way back in 1994?
Gjenae: Dad grew up in Dubbo, on his family farm, and when he moved to Newcastle to start working in a bank he was looking for ways to stay fit and healthy. He’s told us that when he was in his teens he’d heard about these things in the city called gyms and he wanted to see what they were all about.
They quickly became his passion and where he found relief, the gym got him through a lot of dark times, and he realised that, as it is for a lot of people, gyms are as much about mental health as they are about getting physically fit. So he decided to follow his passion and hasn't looked back.
Is your dad still involved in the business today?
Montana: He’s still very much the driving force behind Planet Fitness but with Gjenae and I becoming more involved we’ve taken over the operational side of things which has allowed Dallas to get back into the growth side of the business. It’s also where his expertise is, he knows conditioning, biometrics, he’s obsessed with sourcing the best equipment.
Have you both always worked within the family business?
Montana: No we both felt it was important for us to work in a business where no one knows your name, work from the ground up, and understand what it’s like to work for someone. So I moved to Sydney after school and funnily enough I ended up in a fitness centre and after spending some time there I was like ‘why aren’t I working for the gym that I have the most passion for.’
Gjenae: I also moved to Sydney, and then headed overseas doing a variety of things. However, fitness has always been a big part of my life, wherever I’ve lived I’ve always had gym memberships and that conditioned me to understand how great our business model is at Planet Fitness. When I walked back into the gym in March this year there was this really strange pull of this is where I was meant to be.
Twenty six years is a long time to be in any business, how has Planet Fitness managed to stay relevant over this time?
Montana: Since the 90’s we’ve seen a massive transition in gyms. There was this cult type of image that was reinforced by the advent of high strength training. The marketing was geared towards high performance which is inspiring but also intimidating. In recent years we’ve seen a push towards wellness which we’ve deep-dived into by adding spas, saunas and hydro massage lounges to all of our clubs.
"Many years ago we revised our position to always providing affordable fitness and a place where people feel comfortable and welcome in. That’s where our commitment to being judgement free came from, and that fitness should for everyone."
"Gyms have also become more and more expensive and it’s our belief that fitness shouldn’t be a luxury, everyone should be able to afford to be healthy, both physically and mentally". says Gjenae.
What are your earliest memories of the gym?
Gjenae: We lived above the Verulam Road gym in a little apartment, which was hard times for dad, but to live there as kids we thought it was the coolest thing in the world. We had this massive playground all to ourselves that we'd make all these elaborate obstacle courses in and run savage as two little kids do, but at the same time our parents were teaching us what a strong work ethic was.
Montana: I remember terrorising our receptionist and saying hi and goodbye to everyone. I also hustled a little bit and told dad that I wanted 10 cents for every membership card I scanned (laughs).
Did you both think that you would work in the family business at some point?
Gjenae: I don’t think there was any question we would. As kids we were always popping in trying to work on reception and as soon as we could officially take on a role we’d do the 4pm – 8pm after school shift, which was a big shift (laughs). Looking back it was a bit of fun but it was actually those early days that provided us with the foundations of customer service, understanding the product, as well as understanding respect for people’s money.
How difficult has it been to operate a gym during COVID-19?
Montana: The whole period has been really hard because not only did we have to be there for one another, and our staff, but we had to make sure all of our members were being taken care of.
Gjenae: Whilst it's been hard, and still is, I’d have to say we’ve come back stronger as we used the time we were closed to make improvements and renovate. It’s been a phenomenal learning lesson in never giving up.