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He combines a health agenda with a huge sense of fun to bring hundreds of members through the doors every week, boosting club retention and Net Promoter Score in the process. Rockstar instructor Suli Tuitaupe speaks to Kate Cracknell.
A stalwart of the Les Mills club in Christchurch, New Zealand, since 2002, Suli Tuitaupe is not your typical group fitness instructor. In part inspired by his own fitness journey – which saw him lose 35kg in body weight over the space of two years in the late 90s, dropping from 125kg to 90kg – he’s a firm believer in the wider health and wellbeing agenda, not only inside the studio but also beyond.
In addition to his role at the front of many a packed group fitness class, Suli puts his degrees in public health, physical activity promotion and nursing to good use spearheading fitness projects in the local community. “I aim to use my skills as a fitness trainer, nurse and health educator to promote illness prevention over illness cure and empower communities,” he explains.
This may all seem a world away from the group fitness studio, but in fact Suli brings this same passion into his classes, seeing them as a way to practise what he preaches.
“I’m passionate about physical activity and exercise as the key to health, wellness and happiness,” he says, “so I remind members that health is a ‘taongā’ – a ‘treasure’ in Te Reo Māori – that they need to protect. I challenge them to think about what they can do to enhance their lives for the better.”
But if that all sounds rather serious for a group fitness environment, fear not. In the classes themselves, Suli is all about high-energy entertainment.
“His classes are literally a party with friends, and this is often at 6am!” confirms Les Mills International Training Director Maureen Baker.
“It has to be FUN!” says Suli. “I love connecting my members to the workout, the music, the sense of community with each other, putting a smile on their faces. I create a party atmosphere and I love themed classes, so I give each class I teach a party name: Party PUMP Tuesday, Wicked Wednesday RPM, Church of Attack Sunday. I teach Christmas classes too, to share some cheer with those who may not have anyone to share the day with.”
He continues: “It doesn’t matter if you’re a hardcore regular or a new member: my commitment is that you will be acknowledged, whether there’s one person or 111 people in the room, and I’ll aim to deliver your best workout yet. I want my members walking out feeling satisfied, buzzing and ready to face the day ahead.”
A quick overview of member comments on Facebook shows this is precisely the impact Suli has:
“This guy... absolute legend! Always loaded full of happiness, love, energy and passion.”
“Best surprise ever when I discovered it was you taking the class!”
“So I have finally found a gym that offers BODYPUMP in Colorado. It’s definitely not the same, but it makes me think of you! Miss you Suli!”
“Suli Tuitaupe and Karen Grant, giving members what they like since forever. When you know your golden couple is back on timetable… your weekend complete.”
“A fantastic and unique trainer who makes everyone feel strong and welcome. Tonight I felt I was part of a big extended family when a couple of people in the class, who I don’t know and have never spoken to, wished me safe travels and an enjoyable holiday. I love my Les Mills family and I love Party Pump!”
As well as delighting members, Suli’s inimitable style has also left a lasting impression on his colleagues.
“He’s like a Pied Piper: it doesn’t matter which class he’s on, it’s a sell-out. And the reason why is that he truly cares and connects in the most genuine way,” adds Maureen Baker.
“He literally knows everyone’s name, and if he has a new person in class, he makes sure he knows them before they leave. And it’s not just their name. He knows and remembers stuff about them and their families: what they do, what they like, what challenges they have. If he knows someone is struggling to get to class, he’ll often go and pick them up.”
For Suli, looking at a long-term connection is key for inspiring member loyalty.
“It’s about building a lifelong relationship with people,” he explains. “A couple of years ago, I was walking down a street in another city when I noticed someone from a class from years back. I asked how she was and we had a chat. She wrote in to Les Mills Christchurch, impressed that I knew her name and was genuinely interested in how she was doing in her life.”
Suli is also very aware of what his club expects from him: “Delivering the best classes every time, creating ‘fitness magic’ opportunities, inspiring members to fall in love with the workout and keep coming back, selling the benefits of exercising together, promoting a healthy way of life – and ultimately, packing the room!”
And in this he is incredibly successful, as club manager Nic Theaker confirms: “Suli teaches TONE twice a week. The target for his Saturday class is 40, but on average he gets 110 participants. The second class is new on a Thursday night. We set the target for a new class around 20 depending on the timeslot. Suli’s first four classes averaged 52 people, which is outstanding!
“Meanwhile, in RPM, we have a capacity of 40 bikes. Suli always has a waiting list of up to 10 people wanting to get into his class.
“He plays a key role in our Christchurch team, which was ranked highest performing group fitness department in the Les Mills NZ group of clubs in our latest customer survey with a satisfaction rating of 92 per cent.
“In fact, in our regular member satisfaction surveys, a large proportion of the positive group fitness comments are around Suli and his motivation skills. He has the ability to get people excited about the gym, making exercise feel achievable and fun and creating a culture of enjoyment so people can maintain health long term. This is huge for our members and lies at the heart of the large following he’s built over the years.”
But, modest to the last, Suli maintains that this is all just part of the job that he loves.
“Our members pay for us to give them an experience, so I want them to give them their money’s worth and more,” he concludes. “We live in a competitive environment and I want them to choose us – Les Mills Christchurch – as their place of physical activity, happiness and wellbeing.”