Sweat Rewards

by Tom Gresham

It's full steam ahead for the owner/general manager of Shelburne Athletic Club

Rayne Herzog has put all of his self-confessed "stubborn, type A" qualities into making the Shelburne Athletic Club a viable and still growing enterprise.

Street shoes are left at the front door of the Shelburne Athletic Club. Warm lights and warm colors greet visitors, and often, Muddy, a friendly Labrador retriever, greets them, too. Everything is exceptionally clean. The resulting atmosphere is unmistakably relaxed and welcoming. It is no accident, according to Rayne Herzog, the club's owner/manager.

"Health clubs can be intimidating places for people to go," says Herzog. "We want people to feel as comfortable and confident as possible coming here."

Outgoing and enthusiastic, Herzog has set the tone for the attitude at the club since it opened in 1998. His office sits toward the front door and features a prominent window that lets him monitor the exercise room with its sets of weights and exercise machines and lets members see him.

He eagerly socializes with members, striking up conversations and checking on their experience. He even goes so far as to sweat alongside them, teaching classes every week in spinning, kickboxing and circuit training.

Herzog believes the members appreciate having an active owner-operator; that it helps create the sense of the club as its own community.

"They know me and know they can go straight to me if they want to," he says. "If they have questions or problems or something, they can go to the heart, to the source, of the issue. That's pretty powerful for them."

Scott Delman, a member and friend of Herzog's, says Herzog is always "right there" at the club, making sure things are running right and club members have what they need. Delman, a business consultant, calls Herzog "an unstoppable entrepreneur." He says his friend drives his business with the force of his will.

"Rayne is really a high-energy person and very focused," Delman says. "He's just an incredibly determined guy."

These days, Herzog is focused on preparing for a move to a vast new facility on Harbor Road in Shelburne. The Shelburne Athletic Club at the Fieldhouse, expected to open May 2, will dwarf the current facility on U.S. 7. Herzog's partners in the venture are Gregg Beldock, Adam Brown, Dana Apgar and Matt Dawson, all of Charlotte.

The expanded facility will allow for more amenities for club members and make the club more of "a destination point," featuring a lounge with a fireplace and flat-panel TV, a café and wireless Internet access, says Herzog.

Heather Nichols (standing), a personal trainer at the club, works with Liz Jones, who also happens to be the mother of Rayne Herzog's fiancée.

The adjacent field house will be home to two Astroturf indoor fields that can host soccer, lacrosse and field hockey games and practices. The property will also include outdoor recreation fields the partners expect to be owned by the town of Shelburne.

"The town of Shelburne has been looking for a number of years for new outdoor recreation fields," says Herzog, "and we wanted to expand what we could offer. This project lets us grow together."

The plan is for the club to retain its welcoming environment in the larger space. For instance, Muddy, will still be a regular visitor; and the club will continue to make immaculate cleanliness a priority. Herzog has boasted that his is the cleanest health club in the industry worldwide.

"The key for us is to maintain the same warm, friendly type of environment we've had since we opened," he says.

Delman says Herzog is adept at making smart business choices. His respect of Herzog's management style prompted him to post an interview with Herzog in a newsletter on his website, watercoolerwizard.biz. He wrote in the introduction: "Rayne is an innovative, disciplined businessman with top leadership skills, a finely tuned staff and an acute knowledge of what his clientele want and will buy."

Born in West Palm Beach, Fla., Herzog has lived in Vermont for 27 years. He studied agriculture at the University of Vermont "I was thinking about going into forestry," he says rooming for a time with Gregg Beldock, one of his business partners.

After graduating in 1984, Herzog went to work in custom home construction. When the work slowed down in the mid-1990s, he explored other career opportunities. He would look no further than the Vermont Sun Sports and Fitness Club in Middlebury, where he was a member. He was hired as the club's general manager in 1995.

During his three years as GM, he learned to schedule classes, handle the finances and generally manage the day-to-day operations of the club. A longtime avid athlete, he reveled in the work.

"I really loved the atmosphere, and I wouldn't have to ever pound nails in 20-below temperatures," Herzog says. "I had a background in health and it just ended up being a nice fit right away. I just sort of fell into the role."

After a few years, Herzog began to develop plans for a new club with investors. He saw a large potential market for a club in the area of Charlotte, Shelburne and South Burlington. When he sent out 4,500 surveys in the Shelburne and Charlotte newspapers to possible members and received 1,000 responses, he knew there was serious interest. The club opened with 250 members.

Herzog was highly involved in the opening of the club beyond developing a business plan. He selected the location in Shelburne Commons, and used his construction background to do much of the design and renovation of the space, allowing for savings in construction fees, management and labor.

Herzog admits to having a stubborn, Type A personality that drives him to keep his hands in every aspect of the business. He says he occasionally demonstrates the characteristics of a workaholic.

An essential, often overlooked aspect of physical conditioning is rest, he says, adding that serious athletes too often over-train and wear out their bodies. Similarly, business owners must allow themselves time away from the job in order to maximize their performance. It can be difficult to let go, and Herzog confesses he particularly struggled with pacing himself in the club's early years.

"We're open 94 hours a week here, and I could make the case for being here that whole time," he says. "It's easy to get caught up in all the things to do."

Herzog says he has become less inclined to burn himself out in recent years, taking time to enjoy a personal life. Instead of teaching 12 classes a week, as he did in the club's infancy, he serves as an instructor for six classes a week. Most unusual for someone of his type is that Herzog also takes time for a nap every day and regularly meditates.

The key, he says, has been the growth of his relationship with his fiancée, Erin Jones. Jones was part of the club's ownership group in its early days, but then left Vermont briefly. After she returned, she and Herzog began dating. They live in a farmhouse in North Ferrisburgh with two dogs and two cats. Herzog says he is perpetually renovating the house, which was built in 1892.

He says the change in his lifestyle has been marked. "I feel like I have some balance in my life now. I'm really learning to take care of myself, and she's been instrumental in that."

Herzog embraced athletics very early in his life, playing a wide variety of sports. He continues to keep his athletic pursuits broad, though the triathlon has a particular appeal. He says sports provided a sanctuary from family crises when he was growing up. In competition, he felt independence and control.

Herzog's love of athletics helped spur the development of the club's racing series. The schedule, which starts each spring, includes about 14 races, including running events, triathlons and duathlons. Approximately 2,000 racers competed in the events last year. A portion of the revenue from the races is distributed to charities.

The Charlotte Covered Bridges Half Marathon attracted more than 300 racers last year. Remarkably, 60 Shelburne Athletic Club members volunteered to stage the event.

"It's really its own community of people," Herzog says. "You see a lot of what life is about here. You'll talk to someone who's excited because they've just gotten engaged, and then you hear another member has gotten cancer. People grow close. I like being in a place like that."


Rayne Herzog (left) cuts up with his partners outside the building that will soon be the Shelburne Athletic Club's new home: Gregg Beldock, Adam Brown, Dana Apgar and Matt Dawson, all of Charlotte.

Originally published in April 2005 Business People-Vermont