by Max Brantley
An e-mail from Pat Riley Jr. announces to club members the sale of the Little Rock Athletic Club and three other fitness clubs, effective today, to a group of executives from Stephens Inc., led by Brad Eichler. The sale includes the Little Rock Racquet Club, Downtown Athletic Club and North Little Rock Athletic Club.
Riley operated the clubs under his Riley Health and Fitness Centers Inc.
A call to LRAC confirms the new ownership. The business began 28 years ago, starting with purchase of an existing tennis center. Other clubs were added to the group subsequently. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
This letter from Frank Lawrence accompanied the e-mail. He'll be the new CEO of the operation.
The e-mail follows:
For the past 28 years,the central axis of my life has revolved around the creation, management and nurturance of the Little Rock Athletic Club,Little Rock Racquet Club,North Little Rock Athletic Club and Downtown Athletic Club. It has been an amazing journey filled with good fortune, wonderful relationships and great memories. But now,I have decided it is time for me to pass the baton to others who will care for these Clubs,their members and staff,in the same way I have.
Effective today, April 1,2013,the ownership of the four Clubs is changing hands. The new owners are primarily composed of a group of executives from Stephens Inc. including Brad Eichler (majority owner),Warren Stephens, Doug Martin, Noel Strauss and Jackson Farrow. Brad, Doug and Noel have been friends of mine for most of my life; we all grew up as competitive swimmers at the Little Rock Racquet Club. Doug's involvement is especially meaningful to me as his encouragement and belief in me was pivotal when I first floated the idea to create the LRAC almost thirty years ago.
Brad, Doug, Noel and Frank Lawrence (the new CEO) have all been members of the LRAC/LRRC for most of the time that I've been involved. Their great interest in taking the helm of these clubs emanates from their experience as members. Their goal is to operate the Clubs in the same tradition and with the same service culture that exists now. To that end,their intention and desire is to maintain all of the fantastic staff that are currently in place.
The new ownership also understands the historical importance of regular capital improvements as a vital part of our success and it is their plan to continue this practice. Last but not least,is the new owners' appreciation of these Clubs as a source of pride within the Little Rock/North Little Rock community. I believe that maintaining a local,active ownership is essential to carrying on the tradition of quality,service and reinvestment that you've come to expect.
New CEO and owner,Frank Lawrence (see accompanying letter from Frank) will provide on site and daily management for the new ownership group. While Frank is not a Stephen's employee,he too has enjoyed a successful career in the financial services industry. Additionally,Frank developed and co-owns two local CrossFit gyms (CrossFit Little Rock and West Little Rock CrossFit) which gives him direct experience managing in the health/fitness services field. Importantly,Frank also has a solid background,knowledge and interest in tennis. (He was a collegiate player at Hendrix.)
I have gotten to know Frank over the past few months and am convinced he is the right person to lead our organization. Frank,I've discovered,is a thoughtful listener who emphasizes team building and realizes that our ultimate success stems from serving our members. He knows that the Clubs are working well and his goal is to enhance and support our current systems rather than change them.
I will be on site throughout the initial transition and available as a consultant thereafter for as long as I am needed. My primary goal is to train Frank in all aspects of our operation so he has the information he needs to successfully lead this organization.
My involvement with these Clubs has been an all-consuming labor of love and represents the pinnacle of my business career. My stewardship would not be complete and I could not rest unless I believed the Clubs were being left in competent and caring hands. I do believe that is the case and it is my fervent hope that the Clubs will not only maintain their level of excellence but continuously improve under the guidance of Brad,Frank and their team.
As always,I appreciate everyone's support of and belief in these Clubs.