When he signed up for his first challenge in January of 2016, Joel Kaplan had no idea just how much his life was about to change. Though his first 10-Week Challenge was certainly a success, it wasn’t the weight loss that drew him in. It wasn’t the energy he felt from his new healthy lifestyle, though that was a plus. It was, in fact, something that seems to ring true to most members within THE MAX Challenge… the PEOPLE.
By the time he completed his third challenge, Kaplan had lost over 50 pounds and several inches, felt great and more importantly, he loved the program. It was August of 2016 when the owners approached him and asked him to become an instructor; he was all over it. He immediately attended bootcamp and realized that it was ownership that piqued his interest. “As a member, I always liked group fitness and having the classes planned out for me,” he says, “but I had never experienced the camaraderie or made life-long friendships in the past. This, combined with the results, is what hooked me and caused me to crave a deeper involvement.”
As a longtime resident of Howell, a town centrally located in the Garden State, Kaplan originally searched for a location in southern New Jersey. He chose this area to be closer to Pennington, where he works full-time as the Director of Support for software company, Areté, which provides supply chain and demand planning tools for the bottling industry. He has now been a part of the small, privately owned company for over 20 years, and, as he states, “this is where I am if I’m not ‘MAXing’.” After an unlucky run with securing viable real estate in various towns in South Jersey, Kaplan learned that the Fairless Hills location was up for resale. “It was simple. A turnkey location with an established member-base in a prime location that continues to grow and is close to Pennington? It was a no-brainer!” says Kaplan.
On May 1, 2018 along with his business partner / brother-in-law, Mark Green, Kaplan officially took over THE MAX Challenge of Fairless Hills, PA. Initially, Kaplan taught the 7:00 am class, but has since filled that role with a newly-trained instructor. “I still teach occasionally,” says Kaplan, “It’s a great way for me to stay connected with the members.” Now, however, with a staff that includes 8 instructors, 5 coaches, 2 MELs (member experience leader) who also coach, and his Center Manager/Instructor, Kim Lowery, the class rotation runs like a well-oiled machine. You won’t find any cookie-cutter classes at his location though. Kaplan and his team implement an approach that ensures each class is unique to the personality and individual energy of the instructor.
The first year of ownership was not without struggle, primarily of a personal nature. It was during that first year that Kaplan lost both his mom and stepdad. Though it was a trying time, the Kaplans chose to make lemonade out of their proverbial lemons, buying and renovating the home that he grew up in. The purchase granted Joel and his wife, Sarah, the opportunity to honor the memory of his late parents and rear their daughters Meghan, 19, and Jamie, 15, in a place so close to his heart.
When asked to elaborate on his favorite part of his journey as an entrepreneur with THE MAX Challenge, he says without hesitation, “Helping people! I never get tired of hearing the members’ stories, how they worried and doubted themselves in the beginning, but with our encouragement they embrace it and come out on the other side only 10 weeks later, happier and healthier. Hands down the BEST part of this is seeing how we’ve affected the lives of our members. My favorite part of each challenge is the end. Seeing the before & after photos and hearing the testimonials is so rewarding, and we make a big deal out of it at our center. We want our members to celebrate and know that we will continue to support them on this journey.”
THE MAX Challenge of Fairless Hills has many things to celebrate. In April of 2019 they raised over $16,000 for the Special Olympics of Bucks County. “To quote our CEO, Bryan Klein, ‘The goal you set is the goal you get,” Kaplan explained. “We originally had set a goal of $7,500, but then on my weekly secret Facebook group Live session one week, I spontaneously increased our goal to $15,000. Everyone thought I was nuts! They thought I lost my mind right up until we surpassed our goal by over a thousand dollars. But the best part is that one of our member’s sons is a Special Olympic Athlete, and now he works out at our center every night. It’s so awesome to see him working out. Such a bonus on top of the great work that was done that day.”
As of July 1, 2019, Kaplan’s location boasts 361 members with an impressive 80% legacy conversion rate. “I’m proud of our numbers, but the best part is the impact we have on the lives of our members… you don’t get that at a software company!”