Phil Wendel, founder, ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers (2023)

In September, the Tom Tom Founders Festival announced the winners of its 2015 Founding Cville award which highlights local artists, civic leaders and entrepreneurs “whose groundbreaking and original work has impacted Charlottesville and the world.” Charlottesville Tomorrow is republishing the profiles of the nine honorees.

Phil Wendel, founder, ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers

If you live in Charlottesville, you can’t go far without passing an Atlantic Coast Athletic Club. And if you’ve never heard of it, you probably have heard of it’s acronym ACAC. Now with over 60,000 members across Virginia and expanding to northern regions, ACAC is on a mission to keep entire populations healthy and fit. With an emphasis on prevention and a unique model of medical fitness, this is a health club for everyone and anyone that strives for a life without illness.

You can thank Phil Wendel, founder and CEO, for creating this solution. Ranked as one of the top companies to work for in Richmond, Va, Phil is keeping his 3,000 staff members in his 10 clubs engaged, motivated and passionate about keeping their clients in tiptop shape.

Founded in 1984, the first ACAC location (in a former Safeway) had two goals: 1. Be Clean and 2. Don’t close. Phil was already a successful entrepreneurs, having grown his first company, Lakeland Travel (now WorldStrides) from the basement of his home into a 100 employee engine that booked 50,000 annual youth trips to Washington DC and generated $50 million per year in revenue. A college baseball player and outdoor enthusiast, Phil wanted to invite the masses on his health kick bandwagon. He saw the gaping hole in the fitness industry: the millions of Americans that went to bed every night thinking, “I wish I was more active–I should do something about that”. And with that thought, Phil set out to “do something.”

Take us to the beginning. How did you start Lakeland Travel?

I was 23. I was married at the time, and I had my first daughter. My wife was working. The initial idea came from working summers as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, and I just couldn’t make ends meet. The first motivation for Lakeland Travel was when one of my co-teachers took a group of kids to Washington, DC in the spring, and asked me to go along as a chaperone. And at the end of that trip I said, “hmmm, why don’t we do this ourselves?” I had experience growing up in Washington and thought I could provide a more professional product.

I was also a basketball and baseball coach. In my third year of teaching, I encouraged other coaches in the school district, during spring or summer, to take a group of kids to DC and make a little extra money. Parents loved getting a respite from their preteens, kids had an educational experience, and the teachers were able to make a little bit of extra money taking the kids. Classic win-win.

When did you officially form the business?

After four years of teaching, I left. I was probably 25 or 26 at the time. I had made twice as much money taking kids to Washington, DC as I did as a teacher. I thought it was worth the risk.

Did you come from a business background?

I had no business interest whatsoever. My passions then were outdoor activities like baseball and football. I was also interested in history, government, and economics. I grew up in Northern Virginia – it’s a fun place to grow up, rich with history and politics.

Where was your first office?

In my basement in the Chicago suburbs [laughs]. And then we moved to a $100 per month shared space with a barber, and we were there for about a year and a half.

When you judge the success of the early years, what are the numbers that you think about?

(Video) A COVID-19 message from ACAC owner, Phil Wendel

Success came in the mid-70s after we had been in business for four or five years. The company was making money, the employees were really happy. I was able to pay them well, and we had about 95% retention of our customer base. Another win-win-win.

When did you decide to sell?

I had relocated from the Chicago suburbs to Charlottesville in 1979. I first looked at the option to sell in the early 90s. I said hey, maybe this company is actually worth something. I had no idea it had any value. I made the decision to sell in the late 90s. I was burned out, satisfied that I had accomplished something, and in order to take that company to the next step, we needed outside investors, and then I could also get a nice check. We were a $50 million revenue company. We had 100 employees and took 50,000 kids a year to Washington, DC.The deal closed in July 1, 1998.

That’s a lot of kids!

Well in 2013, WorldStrides takes about 90,000 kids. They’re Charlottesville-based. It’s probably one of the least known yet largest, most successful companies in town. They have offices in China, Florida, Salt Lake City…and they do a lot of music festivals. A lot of their growth has come through acquisitions.

So you’re a health nut. When did that start?

It was unusual for somebody who went to college in the late ‘60s to stay active after college. I continued to play baseball and I started to run a bit. A friend of mine in the mid-70s introduced me to weight training. It all became a part of my lifestyle.

People were making fun of you in 1972 or 1973 if you were doing something physical. You might be 28 or 29 years old and they were saying to you, “come on man, that’s for high school kids or college kids.” There were others in the 30s and 40s, but our industry really didn’t start until the 70s, and even then it wasn’t very impressive.

Why do you think there was a resistance to physical activity?

Did we all have good experiences in high school PE or varsity sports or junior varsity sports in high school? And doctors ran cigarette ads! In the 60s and 70s, the concept of physical activity was alien to most Americans.

So we’ve evolved. Modern medicine is about staying active your entire life.

Tell me about the beginning of ACAC.

I opened the first club in 1984, at the corner of Hydraulic and 29. I think before we opened it, it was a Safeway. It was just a clean, nice place to work out. I thought that was something the community could use.

But today, ACAC is more than a gym, correct?

(Video) A holiday message from ACAC Founder & Owner, Phil Wendel

Yes – nowadays it’s evolved. ACAC is a medical fitness facility.

The epiphany came in the mid-1990s. The club had been open for 10 years, bleeding a lot of cash. In the mid-1990s I read an article that said 150 million adult Americans go to bed every night saying “I know fitness is important. I wish I did more or I wish I did something.”

We realized that no one in our industry was attracting older adults. No one in our industry had medical affiliations. Nobody had made it comfortable for someone over the age of 34 or 35 to go into a gym. That was my aha moment. What if I build a health club company that could appeal to people who are (a) already active, that the market was then attracting, and (b) the other 150 million adult Americans that no one was attracting?

I said, “I could do that.” That was really the genesis of the ACAC you see today. We now have about 60,000 members in our 10 clubs.

You’ve got UVA, and you’ve got one of the best places to live in America. I think Charlottesville is a startup haven for a lot of the tech companies.

Phil Wendel

Phil Wendel

Why you?

I guess the boredom set in when I thought we had the product down pat at Lakeland. From that point on I was looking for some sort of a challenge. I didn’t even know I was entrepreneurially-oriented. Then, when this opportunity came across my desk – building a club company that would serve (a) older adults, (b) people who were deconditioned, that was the inspiration. And if you’re doing your job right, you get good returns as an investor.

Do you think that’s a standard way that people see business?

Not necessarily. It probably varies by individual. Teaching is fun. Travel was fun. With ACAC – fitness is fun. Again, a win-win – the customer, the student, the person that works for you, the person that invests in the business. Everybody wins, if it’s done right.

It sounds like you had an established philosophy on management by the time you started ACAC. Did you continue to learn?

Absolutely. Every day. It’s funny, I was not a good student in high school or college. I have become more of a student in the second half of my life. I do a lot of business reading and a lot of observing others. When I built our first big ACAC, the one we put in Albemarle Square – it was a by-product of visiting over 200 different clubs in the country, and taking away best practices.

Is there anyone you look up to or have watched?

Sam Walton said he never had an original idea; he just spent four to five years going around the country looking at successes that other people had had, and replicating them. We did a lot of that in the early years with ACAC. Our industry shares a lot – when you’re involved with this industry, you know which are the good ones. You go see them and look at their best practices.

(Video) acac Fitness & Wellness Centers - for all ages!

Where is ACAC going?

We could double over the next 3-4 years because we’re so closely aligned with medical fitness. ACAC is now larger than Lakeland was when I sold it, both in terms of employees and in terms of revenue. We’ve had a lot of the best hospital companies in the world that have reached out to us over the last few years, looking for us to manage population health in their areas. That’s pretty exciting.

Medical expenses in the United States are more than double what they are any other place in the world. Our quality of care is excellent. But I think one of the ways you’ll see Affordable Care function in a positive way is encouraging population health.

Right now if you’re a medical school student, you’re taught how to fix sick people. I think we’ll see a big change with a focus on prevention. I think as a fitness company, we are probably the best in the country – I really believe that – at managing population health. We have 22,000 local members, which is unheard of for a club company in a city of this size. And a lot of that has been our ability to attract what our industry calls the deconditioned – the 150 million I spoke of earlier.

What makes ACAC unique?

It’s not just to be there for people who are already fit – but rather to attract a lot of the other Americans who aren’t doing the right things with their bodies. Why not serve people who want us but are afraid of us?

What’s your definition of founding?

With both Lakeland and ACAC, we looked at things differently. Perhaps that’s a founding concept. With student travel, we tried to make an experience that was fun and educational concurrently. I don’t know if you want to call that a founding, but you can. I think it’s doing something slightly different in an industry that already exists, that hasn’t done it before.

Who is someone in Charlottesville you admire?

There are a ton of people I think of who have done absolutely great things. Coran Capshaw has been phenomenal for the community. John Grisham, though you probably wouldn’t call him an entrepreneur. Howie Long. I know all of these people a little bit – not a lot. I admire what they’ve done.

Do you think Charlottesville is good at incubating?

Yes it is. You’ve got UVA, and you’ve got one of the best places to live in America. I think Charlottesville is a startup haven for a lot of the tech companies. But I’m not tech savvy– a lot of folks have done extremely well in that area. SNL does a great job locally. There’s just a ton of good stuff going on here.

PRA – Pharmaceutical Research Associates – I know I missed on that one. They were a tenant of mine, when I owned a building on Seminole Trail. And they said, “would you mind lowering our rent and we’ll give you 20% equity in the company?” And I said, “I’m not willing to do that.” I should have! [laughs] Missed opportunity. [Editor’s note: PRA currently has 11,000 employees and a valuation of $2.3 Billion]

In the early 80s or late 70s – if my daughters wanted to come back and live in Charlottesville, there were no jobs for them. They could maybe work for their dad, who had a couple of successful companies, or they could work for UVA, but as a city we weren’t very employer-friendly. I think that’s changed radically. I think there’s an awful lot of good jobs to be had.

(Video) Get Moving at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers

Any areas of improvement for Charlottesville?

There’s a no-growth attitude of a lot of people. When they moved here in 1980, they said “this is a great place to live, and I don’t want anyone else to come here.” But we don’t want to restrict the number of people we can have. I think it’s a lot better community today because there are great job opportunities. I’ve liked the growth.

How do you define success?

The fitness industry is notorious for having low-paying jobs. ACAC probably pays nationally in the top one-tenth of one percent. We created job worth for exercise physiology grads from UVA as trainers – that I define as success. Being able to pay more hourly to front desk people that render exceptional levels of customer service – that I define as a success.

When we became profitable, we started offering insurance benefits and 401Ks. We’ve created career paths in fitness. And concurrent with that, retention rates of members were and continue to be high. I’d say that’s pretty successful.

Is failure a word you think about?

Oh I’ve blown a few in my life! [laughs] With Lakeland, one time we thought we could print some t-shirts. Doesn’t every 13 year old kid want a t-shirt? So we bought 10,000 t-shirts and tried to sell them to our kids on tour. That idea went in our white-elephant room, so, yeah, I’ve had a few of those.

Lee Iacocca, the CEO who was very successful in turning Chrysler around, had a great line – “You don’t want to depend too much on your bean counters, because they want to get up to 99.9% certainty.”

When I get up to 80% certainty that some decision is the right thing to do – it’s time to push the go button. So that isn’t to say we haven’t started things within the clubs that haven’t worked. But concurrent with that, for me it’s been a lot of gut instinct.

I talked about those two aha moments – one was doing educational travel professionally, and the other was doing fitness for anyone other than fit 18-34 year olds. I saw those as rather easy challenges. I had a high level of certainty that I could accomplish those things. 100%? No. But enough that it was worth taking a run at it.

Phil Wendel, founder, ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers (1)
Founding Cville culminated in an award ceremony at the Tom Tom Founders Festival Fall Block Party
Festival director Paul Beyer (at right) announces 2015 Founding Cville award winners at the Ix Art Park – Sept. 25, 2015


(Video) Allie Craytor and Phil Wendel with Subi and Roo

More local news


Who founded acac? ›

You can thank Phil Wendel, founder and CEO, for creating this solution. Ranked as one of the top companies to work for in Richmond, Va, Phil is keeping his 3,000 staff members in his 10 clubs engaged, motivated and passionate about keeping their clients in tiptop shape.

Who owns acac in Charlottesville? ›

acac's Roots

Always interested in sports and fitness, acac owner Phil Wendel first joined a fitness club when health spas became popular in the early 1970s. By his count, Phil has had lifetime memberships to more than 20 fitness clubs. Like many others, he joined club after club.

What does acac stand for? ›

Acetylacetonate (acac), a ligand in coordination chemistry derived from acetylacetone.

Who is the CEO of ACAC? ›

Chris Craytor is CEO of acac Fitness & Wellness Centers, a regional club chain which serves 65,000 members in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and CEO of Welld Health.

What conference is Jay County in? ›

While all of its charter schools are and were located in Allen County, it also has member schools from Adams, Jay, and Wells counties. The ACAC, along with the Porter County Conference, are the only two county conferences left in existence.
Allen County Athletic Conference.
1 more row

What is the charge of acac? ›

Acetylacetonate ion is a negatively charged chemical species derived from acetylacetone. The formal charge on this anion is -1. This anion can act as a bidentate ligand for complex formation in coordination chemistry.

What does a G mean acting? ›

A/g - Acting. A&E - Accident and Emergency. AAAGP - Australian Association of Academic General Practice.

What does CAC stand for in public health? ›

The coronary artery calcium (CAC) score measures the amount of calcified plaque you have in those arteries, which is important because coronary plaque is the main underlying cause of — or precursor to — atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) events such as heart attacks and strokes.

Who is the CEO of Tampico? ›

Jenny Haas - Chief Executive Officer - Tampico Beverages | LinkedIn.

What does conference mean in high school football? ›

An athletic conference is a collection of sports teams, playing competitively against each other in a sports league. In many cases conferences are subdivided into smaller divisions, with the best teams competing at successively higher levels.

Who is in the Pocket athletic conference? ›

Current members (13)
School School Corp.MascotDivision
Mount Vernon MSD Mount VernonWildcatsLarge
North Posey MSD North PoseyVikingsSmall
Pike Central Pike CountyChargersSmall
Princeton Community North GibsonTigersLarge
9 more rows

What teams are in the Greater Metro conference? ›

Representatives from Brookfield Central, Brookfield East, Divine Savior Holy Angels, Hamilton Sussex, Marquette University High School, Menomonee Falls, Wauwatosa East, West Allis Central and West Allis Nathan Hale came together to form one of the most successful conferences in Wisconsin.

What is acetylacetone used for? ›

Other uses of Acetylacetone are as a metal deactivator for gasoline and lubricants, solvent for Cellulose Acetate, extraction solvent for mineral processing, a stabilizer for PVC & Polyesters, Fragrances, Biomolecules, Agriculture, and Dyes & Pigments. Under proper storage conditions, the shelf life is 12 months.

What is acac give its full name and structure? ›

It is a colorless liquid that is a precursor to acetylacetonate anion (commonly abbreviated acac), a bidentate ligand. It is also a building block for the synthesis of heterocyclic compounds.
Preferred IUPAC name Pentane-2,4-dione
Other names Hacac 2,4-pentanedione
CAS Number123-54-6
38 more rows

How many electrons does acac donate? ›

Both compounds, however, avoid electronic unsaturation by forming a dimer with the γ-carbon atom of the acac acting as a two-electron donor to the adjacent metal center. Thus, the acac ligand is a five-electron ligand in these compounds.

What does AOI mean in hospital? ›

The Adverse Outcome Index (AOI) Report is designed to measure the volume and magnitude of ten adverse events that may occur during the delivery process and could potentially expose an obstetrical team to malpractice liability.

What does BD mean in medical terms? ›

BD. Twice daily (medication frequency)

Does AC mean before meals? ›

a.c.: Abbreviation on a prescription meaning before meals; from the Latin "ante cibum", before meals. This is one of a number of abbreviations of Latin terms that have traditionally been used in writing prescriptions.

Why is CAC so important? ›

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is an important metric to track. It is valuable for measuring the effectiveness of your customer acquisition strategy and adjusting it over time. It is also a meaningful metric for potential investors, allowing them to gauge the scalability of your business.

What is the goal of CAC? ›

The primary goal of a CAC is to minimize the level of trauma experienced by child victims, improve prosecutions and provide efficient and thorough provision of necessary services to the child victim and the child's family.

What is the importance of CAC in the health care environment? ›

Computer assisted coding (CAC) has the ability to accurately generate medical codes directly from clinical documentation. With computer assisted coding, healthcare organizations can become more compliant with payer and quality reporting requirements, while also improving their bottom line.

What is acac hockey? ›

Elite Prospects - Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC)

Is acac a strong field ligand? ›

An easy way to identify this: The ligands in which the donor atom is Nitrogen and carbon is a strong field ligand and the ligand in which the donor atom is a halogen or oxygen is a weak field ligand. So in acac the donating atoms are Oxygen making it a weak field whereas in NH3 the donating is N making it strong field.

What is short for Columbia University? ›

Columbia University (also known as Columbia, and officially as Columbia University in the City of New York) is a private Ivy League research university in New York City.
Columbia University.
Coat of arms
Latin: Universitas Columbiae
Academic staff4,370
Students33,413 (Fall 2019)
Undergraduates6,398 (Fall 2019)
20 more rows

What is the abbreviation for Santa Clara University? ›

SCU maintains its Catholic and Jesuit affiliation and supports numerous initiatives intended to further its religious mission.

How much does ACHA hockey cost? ›

In fact, ACHA programs are not funded through the school's athletic budgets, but rather are subsidized by funds from student services and player fees that average close to $2,000 per player per season.

How many years can you play ACHA hockey? ›

Eligibility is limited to six years. Fee includes ACHA membership, AHCA membership and all USA Hockey team and player membership.

Do you get paid to play in the NAHL? ›

What do NAHL teams pay for? NAHL teams pay for all players' ice time (practices and games), as well as all travel costs incurred while traveling for games and tournaments, including meals and hotels.

Is acac high or low spin? ›

In terms of electronic structure, Mn(acac)3 is high spin. Its distorted octahedral structure reflects geometric distortions due to the Jahn–Teller effect. The two most common structures for this complex include one with tetragonal elongation and one with tetragonal compression.

What is called ligand? ›

A ligand is an ion or molecule, which donates a pair of electrons to the central metal atom or ion to form a coordination complex. The word ligand is from Latin, which means “tie or bind”. Ligands can be anions, cations, and neutral molecules.

Is acac chelating? ›

AcAc was employed as a chelating agent in order to form stable sols. The sol particle size depends on the concentration of AcAc.

Why is Columbia University so special? ›

Its reputation is predicated upon its commitment to research and innovation. The school boasts more Nobel Prize laureates than any other American university (84 to be exact). In addition, four U.S. presidents, 90+ Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 46 Olympians all called Columbia home at one point.

Is Columbia a Ivy school? ›

There are eight total colleges that are considered to be Ivy League. These schools are Brown, Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale, and Columbia universities and the University of Pennsylvania.

Why do they call it Columbia? ›

The name Columbia, derived from explorer Christopher Columbus, was used during the American Revolution era as a patriotic reference for the United States (In 1871, the Territory of Columbia officially was renamed District of Columbia.)

Is Santa Clara hard to get into? ›

Average GPA: 3.69

The average GPA at Santa Clara University is 3.69. This makes Santa Clara University Strongly Competitive for GPAs. (Most schools use a weighted GPA out of 4.0, though some report an unweighted GPA. With a GPA of 3.69, Santa Clara University requires you to be above average in your high school class.

Is Santa Clara religious? ›

Santa Clara is a Jesuit, Catholic university that welcomes and celebrates the religious diversity of its students.

Is Santa Clara University better than Princeton? ›

Number 7 ranked Santa Clara University ranks above 13th ranked Princeton.


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