Experience the joy of wellbeing
Business View Magazine interviews Julia Sutton, President of Exhale Enterprises, for our focus on Innovation in the U.S. Health & Fitness Industry
When all is well within you, you’re empowered to take on whatever life sends your way. But these days, that’s easier said than done. So just how do you put yourself first? You make one simple choice: Exhale.
A unique blend of fitness and spa, Exhale is the total wellbeing experience you can escape to any time to center your body and mind. Whether you need to slip into an hour of calm or challenge yourself in a full-body sweat session, Exhale offers the perfect menu to get you recentered, rejuvenated, and reconnected. Exhale was established in 2001, with a vision to build wellbeing facilities where guests could come to transform, under the guidance of expert teachers and spa therapists.
Julia Sutton, President of Exhale Enterprises, is a passionate champion of the company and its wellbeing initiatives. She shares, “We loved the idea of the destination spa experience and incorporating that into the daily life of our guests. Exhale provides both state-of-the-art exercise class and fitness programming and cutting-edge spa therapies.”
Exhale Enterprises is headquartered in Miami, Florida and currently has 16 facilities throughout the continental U.S. and Bermuda. The firm has a dedicated team of 700 employees with many part-timers, including teachers, massage therapists, and guest experience associates. Not only does Exhale offer boutique fitness, spa, and retail all under one roof, they also provide members with digital wellbeing services.
Speaking to the 20th anniversary of the company in 2021, Sutton recalls, “As one of the founders, I have to be honest, it went very fast. What’s cool is that the overall mission and values have remained the same. Our goal from the beginning was to transform lives by providing both spa and fitness services and wellbeing. That’s never changed. We were able to expand the footprint over those 20 years and COVID expanded the digital footprint, for us, even more. So the vision and mission were able to live on.”
When it comes to recruiting, Exhale has always attracted good talent, in part because people really trust the brand from a consumer perspective and an associate perspective. “We have a pretty good track record with the culture of Exhale,” says Sutton, “treating everybody equally, no matter what role you have. And a lot of our associates are working on their own wellbeing journey while at Exhale, since classes for them are complimentary.”
When COVID came on the scene, there were lessons learned and technologies incorporated that will improve the way Exhale moves forward. While the company facilities were shut down for a couple of weeks, the team focused hard on creating safety protocols for both guests and team members. Fortunately, the company had created a digital platform that was put in place prior to the pandemic. Sutton reports, “We were very happy to keep our guest base engaged through digital programming. It grew 400 percent in March and April of 2020 and it’s become more steady. Now that all of our locations are reopened, we’ve found that people like the hybrid model – they like coming into the facility and experiencing the digital.”
It’s true, people have increasingly made wellbeing a priority and, according to Sutton, “With so many working remote they have more time to squeeze it in – whether it’s a meditation session, or a yoga session, or even one of our barre classes. I think that without having to commute, our guest base has been able to carve that time in there. The pandemic has brought us a lot of awareness that we all are responsible for our own health. And it matters – for ourselves and our loved ones. Hopefully, that’s a bit of a silver lining coming out of the pandemic. People joke about putting on 19 pounds during COVID, but hopefully having the digital aspect available helps people if they aren’t able to leave their home.”
Many of Exhale’s innovative programs are based on the science of movement and two of Exhale’s founders were responsible for that. Sutton acknowledges, “Fred Devito and Elisabeth Halfpapp really developed the whole movement programs; they both have exercise physiology backgrounds and have stayed up on that.” Exhale also has a teacher training team with innovation sessions, so the instructors are involved with program development, as well.
The company is very grateful to their partners at American Express – Exhale provides spa services in several of their Centurion lounges. “We also love working with all our hotel partners,” says Sutton. “Our hospitality partners love the Exhale brand as we both drive head in beds for their hotels, as well as bring in the community. Unlike a lot of spas that are in hotels just to serve the hotel guests. We continue to look for opportunities in the hospitality sector to expand the Exhale brand. A great example: we are in the Fairmont Princess in Bermuda and the facilities are absolutely beautiful. We cannot believe the large membership we have there. You’d think it would be mostly hotel guests, but that resort is a true hybrid. There are hotel guests, but we also attract a large portion of the Bermuda community. They come in to take our exercise classes and enjoy our spa services – we have a large number of spa members and fitness members at that location.”
At the present time, half of the Exhale portfolio is in hospitality venues, the other half is freestanding. Sutton adds, “The hoteliers love that we bring in people from the local community because it creates a really special energy in the hotel. Our Exhale members will finish up a class and then enjoy having lunch together in the restaurant. It’s a nice atmosphere. We see that in our freestanding locations, too. When you’re experiencing wellbeing it makes it a little bit easier because some days you don’t want to get out of bed, but then you think about meeting up with friends at Exhale and you look forward to it.”
One firm that Exhale has enjoyed a long-lasting relationship with is ReadyCare; Annbeth Eschbach and Julia Sutton used to work with them even before Exhale was founded. Today, ReadyCare provides all the locker room consumables for the entire group of Exhale’s facilities. Sutton notes, “What’s nice about ReadyCare is that they specialize in private label, as well. We developed a white tea product brand with them and they produce all those locker room consumables for us.”
With the demand rising in the wellbeing sector, Exhale has a lot of opportunities in the pipeline, where developers really want Exhale at their location. Some are private clubs, some are hotels, and the company is currently in discussions about expanding the footprint of Exhale. The virtual component is growing steadily and that hybrid model is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Even hotels are requesting digital programming in the rooms because many of their guests are planning to stay in their room to do their wellbeing, as opposed to in the past where they would go down to the fitness center. Sutton explains, “Of course, some are still doing that, but there is a select group of guests who really value having the programming in their hotel room. So our focus going forward will be on both aspects of the hybrid model.”
Looking ahead three to five years, Exhale is focused on growing as a leader in the wellbeing sector – innovating both on the spa and fitness spa aspects. “This will allow us to continue to live out the mission and vision of providing transformational experiences to our guests,” says Sutton. “The main focus going forward is… how can we transform as many lives as possible? In some ways that is continuing to drive the digital business, as well as expanding the physical footprint, so we can deliver wellbeing services to as many people as possible.”
AT A GLANCE
What: A full-service spa & fitness wellbeing company
Where: Headquarters in Miami, Florida
ReadyCare Industries – www.readycare.com
ReadyCare is a leading provider of personal care amenities, supplies & private label solutions to world-class hotels, spas, health clubs & golf clubs. For over 25 years, Denver-based ReadyCare has helped thousands of properties deliver great experiences by ensuring their personal care offering aligns with their brand & their customers.
MC Systems Ltd.
Jamaica’s technology management company
Business View Magazine interviews Dwayne Russell, GM of MC Systems Ltd., as part of our focus on best practices of Caribbean IT companies.
Back in 1973, well before computers were an essential component of every business, six individuals in Jamaica founded Management Control Systems (MC Systems) Ltd., and committed themselves to creating “the next big idea” in technology in order to solve critical business issues. They acquired the portfolio of an existing company, began to understand how software and hardware co-exist and how, together, they can be made to deliver value and generate efficiency for a company’s management. “That concept led to the name Management Control Systems because, back then, a computer was referred to as a system and it was more focused on internal controls,” recounts MC Systems’ General Manager, Dwayne Russell.
The company’s first invention was BizPay Central.com, the first payroll service of its type in Jamaica, which allowed for the entry of all relevant employee data, payroll processing, printing of pay-slips, and other essential reports. Since then, MC Systems has evolved from primarily processing payroll to providing leading-edge technology solutions for businesses in 17 countries in the English speaking Caribbean. In 1978, the company became a member of the JN Group, one of Jamaica’s pre-eminent and most recognizable brands, comprised of several world-leading entities that provide a wide array of financial, technology, creative, debt, property and fleet management services, among others.
“Over the years, the company has always introduced new technology to either improve efficiencies or create new business lines,” Russell says. “We spent a lot of time looking at challenges within the country and within companies and we brought technology partners to the table and created IT value added solutions to solve problems.” MC Systems is a company of firsts with technology advances including: an internet-based money transfer system; an online payroll processing application; electronic phone card top up; cash deposits, cash recycling and card-less cash deposits at the ATMs; mobile POS application; and a Payroll Loan App. Based in Kingston, MC Systems has around 130 employees – a mixture of permanent workers and subcontractors, who serve the company’s clientele. “We’ve spent years understanding the financial industry, so we have a lot of insurance companies, commercial banks, billing societies, etc. as customers,” Russell explains. “The banks are key partners; a lot of what we build is banking services and making payments easier – converting from cash to electronic payment. We provide them with technologies for payments and transactions or for compliance reports, etc. We also deliver services to government – mostly hardware and software and a little customized development. The majority of our customers are in the financial industry and government.”
In terms of the competition, Russell says that MC Systems competes favorably against other technology companies and sometimes even against the Big Four auditing firms: Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, particularly in the realm of technology consulting. “What makes us different, I think, is that we are more focused on continuous improvement and enhancement,” he avers. “A lot of time is spent on research and introducing new technology within the business community. That ensures that we remain relevant with the capacity to respond to the changing needs of our customers. That has been what has allowed us to be around for over 40 years. We continue to grow, focusing on that part of technology support. We’re a pioneer type of a company. A lot of time is spent understanding new technology and how it can be applied within business communities across the Caribbean. That’s the main difference. However it’s not just a matter of introducing technology – you have to have an understanding of the industry, and the customers, and their customers in order to ensure that an investment in technology creates value. That is our focus.”
Because of that focus, many of MC System’s clients are obtained through word-of-mouth. “Referrals are the number one thing,” Russell states. “We have customer stories, so whenever we work on specific engagements, what we’ll find is that customers will refer us because challenges tend to be similar in industries. We get customers that way, plus we’ve been around for awhile so a lot of specialized IT managers are aware of our offerings. We’re also partners with global leaders in the tech space – Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard – and through those partnerships, we’re also able to generate new customers.”
The one true thing about technology is that it’s constantly changing, and Russell notes that, going forward, more and more companies will be less likely to invest in new hardware, and more likely to shift to cloud computing. “That means that a lot more emphasis is now required on connectivity – the internet is far more important to the running of businesses,” he maintains. That paradigm shift offers a more affordable operating model for businesses, while, at the same time, presenting new challenges. “Because your business information is not internal anymore, there’s a lot of focus on security. There’s also a gap in terms of governance because there are not a lot of people who totally understand how a lot of these new technologies work. Based on what we know is coming, our role is to help companies to navigate what they call their digital transformation; to help them to understand how to protect their data, protect their IT, and protect the risks associated with introducing the new technologies.”
Another one of MC System’s goals is to create more jobs for people in the technology space, so that a new cohort of trained workers can help increase the level of technological services exported from the Caribbean community, because, right now, the region imports a lot more technology services than it exports. “Five years down the line, we expect MC Systems to grow in size to offer more opportunities for young people and to start to create a sizeable pipeline for export of services on the tech side,” Russell shares. “The region will start to become one of the places where larger global companies will look to for technological expertise. Right now a lot of that expertise is being sourced outside of the region. One of the things that we’re trying to do is to establish a relationship with Heart Trust NTA (the leading provider of Technical Vocational Education and Training in Jamaica) to see where their students can repair some of the equipment that’s here to earn some money to pay for their programs. If we can leverage our partnerships and get more equipment within the country for repairs, then we would be able to offer more jobs for these young people. Our focus is about development of capabilities so that technology can become a key part of our earnings from export.”
In the end, Russell says that the narrative of MC Systems is straightforward: “We’re pioneers. That’s important. Our experience is also important, as is our expertise. We’re a strong technology company within the region that can assist businesses to navigate the very complex world of how to apply digital technology and create value. That’s the story.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Management Control Systems Ltd.
WHAT: An IT service management company
WHERE: Kingston, Jamaica