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Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

Behind the Merger: East Celebrity Elite

As the divide between small and large gyms grows wider, it’s not uncommon for gyms to merge in an attempt to pump up profits and competitive power. On the surface, the reasons to merge seem clear—building a larger membership base or having the means to form a stronger coaching staff. But dig deeper and you’ll find that a number of other motivating factors are often at play, from strengthening the local cheer community to wanting to benefit the athletes. For our “Behind the Merger” series, we caught up with three gym owners who opted to merge and discovered the real deal behind making the challenging yet rewarding move to become one. See the first in our series below!

 

Merger #1: East Elite + Celebrity Cheer = East Celebrity Elite

Location: Tewksbury, MA

Reason for merging: Remaining profitable in a challenging economy

Combined number of athletes: 400+

Cheryl Pasinato, former owner of East Elite, discusses her gym’s 2009 merger with Celebrity Cheer and the payback of moving forward.

CP: Why did you decide to merge?
Pasinato: It was a mutual merger [between East Elite and Celebrity Cheer]. I knew them for a while; we were two of the biggest gyms numbers-wise in the area. But when the economy took a downturn, we both started to lose kids.

CP: What was the motivator, aside from the economy, to merge with Celebrity Cheer?
Pasinato: To stay competitive nationally, we felt we needed to do something. It was to position our gym as a bigger, non-local program competing at the national level. We also had a philosophy to offer our kids the best coaches and the best staff. With diminishing numbers, we didn’t think we could do this on our own; we felt we had to merge.

CP: Describe the landscape before merging.
Pasinato: We were 8-10 miles away from each other and, if a kid didn’t make it at one of our gyms, they would go to the other one. People [parents and kids] started to create competition between us. We were the worst rivals ever. Our staff didn’t get along; we were really competitive with each other. Essentially we merged with people we didn’t even speak with—but we did it for the business and the kids.

CP: The merger must have been challenging. How did you make it work?
Pasinato: We both had strong staffs with different philosophies and strengths. But we felt we could learn from each other. We also felt we could use each other’s strengths to come up with the ideal program. For instance, tumbling coaches are hard to come by, so combining our coaching staff would benefit our kids. It was a better talent pool.

CP: What else made the merger challenging?
Pasinato: Selling it to the parents. For the most part, everyone was excited after we made the announcement, but we had been rivals for all these years who wanted to beat each other. After a couple months, there were indeed issues, but mostly with the parents (loyalty-type issues on little things).

CP: How so?
Pasinato: It was pride-based—things that kept the parents separate like colors and competition. We had pride in our [respective] identities and names and our colors, but this went away after the first year because the kids had a really good year.

CP: What was the key to making it work?
Pasinato: Compromise. There was a facility issue: [Celebrity Cheer’s] was cheaper and more centrally located. We felt bad for the kids leaving their gym behind, but we had to compromise. We did things to help the kids feel comfortable, such as using their [East Elite] colors. We talked to the older kids and told them we needed their support to make this work and for them to be examples to the younger kids. We merged right after tryouts and kept all the teams separate except the minis and Junior 5 teams. After the second year, we merged everyone.

CP: Any other examples of how you compromised?
Pasinato: We were more conservative about attendance; they weren’t. Together we adopted a [joint] policy that was less conservative but one that motivated everyone to come to practice.

CP: What was most surprising to you after the merger?
Pasinato: What surprised me most was how the four of us [the original gym owners] got along. We all had these ideas about each other; that we were so different. But as we came together, we realized we were more similar [in our business and coaching attitudes]. We all had the same goals too: providing a better experience, fostering growth and more profit, making [cheer] a career.

CP: How has the merger made you more competitive?
Pasinato: We have a lot of different levels now—division and age groups at every single level. We are giving kids the opportunity to progress using their skills and offering them more opportunities.

CP: What is your advice for other gyms considering a merger?
Pasinato: I think you have to consider the reasons why. If it’s financial, that’s good; if it’s for a better name, that’s not a good reason. The name doesn’t necessarily bring the kids. A good reason is to be competitive and have more resources, such as revenue and cash flow.

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Keeping It Classy (On Social Media)

Social media and its various tools—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—provide a wonderful opportunity for gyms to interact online, but the very nature of the beast can sometimes put a gym’s reputation at risk. One derogatory remark on Twitter, and 1,000 re-tweets later, your popularity could hit rock bottom.

The best solution for keeping your social media reputation in check? Implementing a social media policy. Cheryl Pasinato, owner of Tewskbury, MA-based East Celebrity Elite, says that having such a policy in place has been a key factor in managing her gym’s social media activity. “It’s a golden opportunity to represent your gym in a positive manner,” says Pasinato. “Social media is a superb way to market your activities and generate revenue, but a policy helps regulate your online presence.”

Lizzy Stice, a hip-hop coach at Springfield, OR-based Emerald All Star Cheer, agrees. “It’s important for gyms to have a policy for their teachers, students and parents because people can easily throw stuff out there in social media and provide a false reality of the gym—good or bad!” cautions Stice.

If you’re considering introducing a social media policy for the 2013-2014 season, here are some tips to Tweet by:

Keep it short and sweet. A social media policy doesn’t have to be too long or elaborate. For example, the social media policy at East Celebrity Elite is all of 450 words long. It lays out the importance of social media tools in establishing the gym’s image, as well as some do’s and don’ts for all stakeholders—owners, coaches, athletes and parents. Even at a succinct 176 words, the social media policy of Dover-NH based Prime Time All Stars gets across the same message. Most gym owners will put the policy in their handbook, and some may even post it on their website. The key? Making sure all the members of your gym are aware of it through any channels necessary.

Make it meaningful to your gym. What you put in the policy will largely depend on your gym’s experiences and social media requirements. Both Prime Time All Stars and East Celebrity Elite emphasize the importance of putting out a positive image of the gym and not posting anything negative. For example, one pointer in East Celebrity Elite’s policy reads: There will be no negative comments on any forms of social media regarding any athletes, coaches, staff or other programs allowed. Please only post positive comments.

Other pointers include using appropriate language and not posting inappropriate pictures. Alison Reynolds, head coach at Tri-State Cheer All Stars (Havertown, PA), says they have an uncomplicated theory behind their policy. “It’s pretty simple—if you wouldn’t say it to or share it with a child, don’t post it,” says Reynolds. “Our gym owner always says, ‘It’s all about perception.'”

Spell it out using examples. While crafting your social media policy and laying out rules, it might be a good idea to explain every rule with an example. This makes the rules crystal clear to the readers. For instance, here’s the pointer about inappropriate pictures in the East Celebrity Elite policy: No inappropriate pictures posted. If you are engaging in something illegal or inappropriate, please do not share with everyone in social media. For e.g., pictures of underage athletes drinking at a party even though not in ECE clothing.

Personal page protocol: Sometimes members of a gym might be tempted to share a personal tidbit on the team page, but Stice cautions that “too many things can be taken the wrong way over social media, so unless it’s something really positive—like the birth of a baby—they shouldn’t really post it.” This concern can even translate to employees’ personal pages, according to Pasinato. “How a staff member represents themselves on their personal page ultimately has a bearing on the gym’s reputation, so we encourage them to post appropriate content on their personal profiles and pages, too,” she says.

Put emphasis on professionalism. Pasinato says she is very particular about keeping online interactions between members of her gym strictly professional. “We don’t encourage coaches to ‘friend’ athletes on their personal profiles,” she says. “Moreover, some of the coaches are really young and would not be comfortable sharing details about their personal life with the kids.” For ECE, all interaction between coaches and athletes is restricted to the team Facebook page; in fact, even parents aren’t allowed on the team page. “We have a separate page for parents, which we update with team news from time to time,” she adds.

Know the ramifications of pushing the limits. Despite publicizing your social media policy, sometimes there will be cases of misconduct. At Emerald All Star Cheer, the consequences can be serious. “Our policy is that if anything is seen as inappropriate or negative towards the gym, there will be a sit-down conversation with the gym owners and the defaulters,” says Stice. “There is always potential they can be let go.” At ECE, in case of an inappropriate comment on an athlete’s or parent’s part, they generally ask them to take down the post and have a conversation about the incident. “If it happens again, we ask them to leave,” adds Pasinato.

Stay vigilant. While social media is great for your gym’s publicity, you’ve got to be vigilant about what’s happening on your gym’s collective presence—which Stice says can be a pretty intensive endeavor. “I am constantly checking in on our team’s Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, team website and YouTube videos,” she confides. “This can be exhausting, but pays off in the long run because I make sure that everything we do is cohesive and is how we want to be represented.”

-Dinsa Sachan