Heart to Heart with CEO Rick Berks

February is a month focused on the heart; it includes American Heart Month and Valentine’s Day. So we found it fitting to have a heart-to-heart with the man behind the Youfit brand — our CEO and owner, Rick Berks. Luckily for us, Rick has led an extraordinary life and has acquired some valuable wisdom (as well as some unexpected hobbies) along the way.

Growing up in a solidly working-class section of South Florida, Rick’s life was less than luxurious. However, he never saw it as a struggle. As a child, Rick explains, he never even realized his family was blue collar, because that’s all he knew. And that experience served him well. He learned to respect hard work, and he developed personality traits that would carry him through life — his remarkable persistence and tenacity.

Rick always led a fit lifestyle, so the transition from gym member to gym owner came naturally to him. He was a member of Gold’s Gym in the late 80s — a time when bodybuilders utilized minimal equipment and most “normal” people weren’t interested in working out. However, times were changing. The movie “Pumping Iron,” a bodybuilding documentary released in 1977, had sparked popular interest in fitness. More and more people were incorporating regular exercise into their lifestyles. Rick recognized the opportunity and took full advantage of the revolution.

First, he made the decision in 1991 to license and operate a Gold’s Gym franchise. He bought used equipment from a closed Gold’s Gym in Memphis and had three semi-trucks bring the machines to South Florida to be reupholstered and reconditioned. Not only did he successfully operate the gym and establish a new fitness community but he also created a new red, black and purple color scheme, winning him the Gold’s national interior design award. His Gold’s, like him, stood out from the rest.

In 1993, Rick decided to open Planet Fitness. The new model was an effort to provide a fitness hub for the rest of the population — for everyday people. Adorably, the name came from his daughter’s school project, “Fitness Planet.” After opening and successfully operating several locations for years, Rick sold the trademark to the current ownership company, keeping ownership of several gyms in South Florida.

Then, on April 1, 2008, Rick opened the first Youfit Health Club in St. Petersburg, Florida. Business took off, and Rick’s existing Planet Fitness clubs were turned into Youfit Health Clubs. Regular people and fitness enthusiasts alike love the low-cost, member-friendly atmosphere and simple structure of Youfit. Now, Rick is the owner of over 100 Youfit locations and plans to continue expanding the brand within the coming years.

Aside from running a successful business, Rick enjoys spending his time pursuing excellence and success in another area — the grand circuit of harness racing. Currently, his four-year-old horse is a world record holder and is one of the top four-year-olds in the country. His two-year-old won the Breeders Crown and the Governors Cup and was named the Two-Year-Old Pacer of the Year. Rick also enjoys golfing at a course in Boca Raton, a location he says is ideal because it is close enough to the ocean to have a cool breeze. Even with his hobbies, Rick always finds the time to work out. When he is traveling, he makes sure his hotel has a gym. He points out that “a healthy lifestyle is obviously not only eating right and exercising, but consistency.”

Though it does have a happy ending, Rick’s journey in the gym industry was far from easy. He sometimes compares the industry to a big street fight. Rick explains that he was often pressed to step down by his competitors, because Youfit presented a challenge to their idea of a gym industry geared toward big muscles and big payments. “I was threatened several times. It’s true. On a couple different occasions! It was that bad, but that’s how business was back then. [Competitors] would sit there and see my commercials and go, ‘He’s going out of business, that’s never going to work,’ [but then] they went out of business. A few years later they called me and offered me all of their gyms combined.”

As Rick explains, “the key to success is persistence; it’s not smarts or talent. There are a lot of talented people who aren’t successful and a lot of smart people who aren’t successful. There were plenty of times when business wasn’t all good, and that’s where the persistence came in.” Though the path to his success may not have been easy, or even clear, failure was never an option, and Rick pursued his dream to the end. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”