The remarkable story of how the My Sportlady independent club in Munich, Germany is harnessing its altruistic purpose to forge meaningful connections with members and the wider community. It is written by Ray Algar, founder of Gymtopia.
Why feature My Sportlady?
Given there are more than 48,000 fitness clubs and centres across Europe (Source: EuropeActive), I am always fascinated as to why a minority of clubs have a reputation far beyond their operating borders. These days most clubs typically possess similar resources (skilled people, equipment, facilities, programmes etc) – globalisation has seen to that, so why does the story and mission of a 2,000 member woman’s-only club in Germany, spread?
A purposeful club
Since Jasmin Kirstein founded the club in 1984, its core purpose as a special place for women that helps to foster a healthy work-life balance, has remained constant. While budget gyms and boutique studios sprout up around the club, like daffodils in spring, My Sportlady has remained focused on how it can continue to create long-term value, not just for its members, but also for women across Munich and beyond. Possessing all the paraphernalia of other 2,000 square metre (21,528 square feet) fitness clubs, it operates more as a centre for cultivating life-skills than a typical fitness club. As an example, its cooking school helps members to understand the importance of nutrition and healthy eating. The club exists not simply to support a women’s need for physicality, but also independence, tranquillity and acceptance.
Pay what you can afford
Although most people in Munich are now employed, this was not the case during the global financial crisis. Members began coming to the club to cancel their memberships. Jasmin, the founder, did not believe this was the right thing for her members to be doing – not visiting a club that some had belonged to for many years would just provide more instability in their lives. So she decided these members could use the club for free or simply pay what they could afford until they secured new jobs. Further compassionate acts are evident when members experience serious illness such as a cancer diagnosis. After such a diagnosis, a member typically approaches the club to cancel their membership believing they will be too unwell to attend. During treatment, My Sportlady waives the membership fee and encourages the member to visit the club when they believe a visit would be beneficial.
Members may visit once in a month but always know the club is there to support them. This capacity for a club to simply do what intuitively feels right resonates with all the club’s stakeholders. It is one reason why staff chooses to work at My Sportlady over other clubs. Why? They simply feel immense pride in working for such a compassionate business.
My Sportlady Foundation
A separate not-for-profit organisation was set up in 2009 to coordinate the club’s growing philanthropic activities. The mission of the Foundation is to help women and children across Germany and overseas. ‘Eat for Smart’ is just one of their programme that offers free nutrition courses at schools and kindergartens across Munich. This programme has grown and is now supported by the local government and health insurers. Another overseas programme is providing support to an orphanage in Columbo, Sri Lanka. The rationale for the Foundation is that the business should be more than ‘just a members club’ and has the capacity to use its influence and expertise beyond the walls of the club.
Working with the children’s hospital
For the past five years My Sportlady has been supporting mothers whose children are receiving cancer treatment at the nearby hospital. The children’s hospital is a centre of excellence and so attracts families from across Germany. The mother’s are living between the hospital and a nearby hotel so My Sportlady came up with the idea to provide complimentary access to their club. The hospital issues a ‘club prescription’, which mothers redeem at the club. This allows them precious time to suspend, just for an hour or so, the distress of witnessing a child battle with cancer.
A desire to help others
When trying to understand what motivates a business to put the interest of people before short-term profit, it often helps to look back into the founder’s life journey. In Jasmin’s case it was the experience of seeing her young daughter, Anna-Marisas, battle leukemia. Her daughter made a full recovery but it left Jasmin with a profound sense of gratitude and perspective. Anna-Marisas went on to pursue a career in nutrition science and is now involved in the club’s cookery school where she advises on nutrition and healthy living.
Would this club be missed?
The test of a remarkable club is knowing members, staff and the wider community would genuinely miss it if it were to permanently close – not simply a temporary sense of frustration as an alternative is sourced, but profound disappointment. This special affinity is no random act of good fortune at My Sportlady, but instead the result of a persistent determination to forge a relevant place in the lives of women.
What is your club’s story?
Among the ocean of clubs and fitness alternatives, what is your business doing in standing for something and using its influence to create some meaningful change? Once you have created a significant difference, remember to share your story on Gymtopia and see how remarkable things spread.