For several years, Rodney Steven II and his Genesis Health Clubs have been flirting with the Kansas City market by buying health clubs in places such as Leavenworth, Topeka and Lawrence.
“I’ve been waiting to go to Kansas City for a long time,” Steven says. “I always knew I would.”
Now he is with the purchase of Midtown Athletic Club in Overland Park.
“When I’m done with it, it’ll be the Taj Mahal of Kansas City,” he says. “It’s going to be that great.”
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This makes Steven’s eighth club purchase in eight months, which brings his total number of clubs in Kansas and Missouri to 21.
It’s not necessarily what he planned when he started his company in 1994 with one club near 13th and West streets.
“I’m not sure I had a long-term vision besides building a successful business at the time,” Steven says.
His first love was customers.
“I’m a customer freak,” Steven says. “I love being with a member myself. … That’s just what I excel at.”
He says he figured if members were successful “then I would be successful.”
“It just kind of became contagious,” Steven says. “My first club was so crowded you couldn’t get anybody else in it.”
Steven was on his honeymoon when an opportunity came to expand his business through the acquisition of another former fitness center.
He says he’d already prepared his wife going into the marriage.
“She knew I was very determined.”
That’s why he says she didn’t put up an argument when he said, “Honey, we’re going to leave a day early.”
Steven says his business grew to an initial four clubs within Wichita because of how busy they were.
“I lived in the clubs then,” he says. “I loved to be at the front desk when members (came) in.”
When his clubs were strong enough, Steven says he began thinking of expanding elsewhere, in part to offer more management options to his employees.
“I saw some opportunity in some small cities,” he says. “I wanted to start close, so our first club was Hutchinson.”
That was in 2003.
“It’s literally one of our most successful clubs today,” Steven says.
“The out-of-town markets … they’ve been great,” he says. “The state needed it desperately. There were cities that didn’t have a good health club system.”
The reward has been more than financial, he says.
“They’re so appreciative in the small markets. It’s absolutely amazing. It makes you feel great about what you’re doing as well.”
Genesis now has five clubs in Wichita, with the addition of one at the Wichita Ice Center, and ones in Salina, Emporia, McPherson, Leavenworth, Hutchinson and Overland Park. There are two clubs in Manhattan, two in Lawrence and three in Topeka. There also is a club in St. Joseph, Mo., and two in Springfield, Mo.
Steven says he doesn’t have time to be with customers every day anymore.
“The things that made me most successful, sadly enough, I’m not able to do on a daily basis.”
Instead of being a trainer or motivator, Steven says he finds himself being an attorney, banker or human resources director.
“Now I rely on my team to work with my customers,” he says.
Training is a big focus right now along with multiple construction projects.
“We are going to take a little time now to get the structure underneath us,” Steven says.
In Overland Park, that includes a multi-million dollar renovation of his new club, where he announced his purchase on Thursday.
“Right now, it has the foundation to be the best,” Steven says. But, he says, “It needs me.”
Steven says the club needs an operator willing to invest serious money “to take it to the next level.”
“The tennis business it does there is already off the charts,” he says.
He says the fitness center is “beautiful” as well, but it’s separate from the tennis center.
“I’m going to marry the buildings together with one common entrance,” he says. “The energy that comes out of that is irreplaceable.”
With the acquisition, Steven says he now has about 2,100 employees.
“The most important thing for me is my team,” he says. “You’re only as strong as your team.”
He says he has a significant number of employees with “a lot of tenure in my company.”
“We’re all so heavily vested in the company.”
Steven says his wife and six children are also “very supportive.”
Even though he’s not necessarily looking to do another deal right away, Steven is eyeing some other possible acquisitions.
He says it’s not only natural that he’s looking farther beyond Kansas, “It’s inevitable.”
That includes possible other Midtown properties.
“As you know, that’ll be another story – I hope.”