Career shift to fitness strengthens business focus for Pinnacle duo

Emma Stallworthy is one half of the entrepreneurial husband and wife team behind growing fitness brand Pinnacle Health Club.

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Working alongside her husband in his fast-growing gym business was something that Emma Stallworthy initially resisted but it’s proving to be a successful strategy for the dynamic pair.

Ben and Emma Stallworthy have always been go-getters but up until 2011 they were focused on different things.

At 22, Ben borrowed some money and bought a run-down gym in Scoresby, Victoria. At that point, Emma had recently completed a Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University and was already an in-demand business transformation consultant at multinational tax and advisory firm Grant Thornton.

“I watched while Ben turned the gym around by introducing innovative offerings, such as 24/7 opening hours, free breakfasts and a laser focus on excellent customer service,” Emma recalls. “I was supportive but had no intention of joining the business. I enjoyed having my own professional identity. But Ben eventually caught me in a weak moment when I was feeling restless at my job.”

In mid-2011, Emma’s baptism of fire at the burgeoning Pinnacle Health Club business commenced. “Having had success transforming one struggling gym, the decision was made to buy another one in Cranbourne,” she says.

“I took charge of it. I’d never been in a leadership role with a team reporting to me before. Or had to develop relationships with hundreds of customers. Or deal with the workload and stress of being a business owner. It was a big learning curve but that club was quickly turned around. We bought a third club a year later, around the time we were getting married. We’ve since added a fourth. We’ll be opening a wellness centre shortly.”

“We don’t aspire to be one of those businesses with hundreds of locations. But we do expect to open more Pinnacle Health Clubs over the next five years across the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I’m not sure what happens after that, I may have children by then. I’ve toyed with the idea of drawing on my experience as a consultant and owner to launch a consultancy business.

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“For the time being, we’re keen to keep expanding is so we can keep offering more challenging roles to our staff. Our company motto is ‘Discover your potential’. That means we’re driven to create growth opportunities for our customers, staff and ourselves.”

Emma is proud that she’s created a powerful partnership with Ben. She says their business would probably not have enjoyed the rapid but sustainable growth it has without her input.

“Ben’s the entrepreneurial risk-taker,” she says. “I’m the risk-averse, logical, analytical former business consultant. I’m the one who worries about the details and has the project management skills.

“For example, one of the changes I made was to examine and refine all the processes in the business. Things such as implementing a customer relationship management system have made a big difference.

“Also, I’m big on initiatives that empower women. For example, we’re presently piloting a program called Chicks Lift. It’s all about educating women about training with weights so they won’t be afraid of what has traditionally been a very male-dominated part of the gym.”

Both Emma and Ben, now 30, have moved away from the day-to-day management of individual clubs as they focus on growing their business empire.

“My official title is head of operations,” Emma says. “I’m in our head office managing the teams in charge of finance, sales and marketing. I oversee and take responsibility for all the business’s activities and ensure they are contributing to the effective delivery of services. I drive continuous improvement, maximise resources and make sure Pinnacle Health Clubs is achieving its objectives and goals.”

“There aren’t as many women at senior levels as there are in more junior roles in the fitness industry but I can’t say I’ve ever found it to be sexist. I’ve had the usual challenges of being a business owner in terms of having to be across a wide range of areas and never having enough time but I’ve never had to deal with prejudice.”

So what advice does Emma have for businesswomen wanting to reach their full potential? “Generally speaking, women are more likely to personalise business relationships,” she observes.

“When I began running a gym five years ago I developed friendly relationships with the staff. That made it very hard when I later had to make tough business decisions around staffing and people management.

“So the advice I’d give to other women is that while it’s fine to form relationships, when it’s required you need to put the personal element to one side and make decisions based on what is right for the business.”

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