The Jersey Strong we know today started with a t-shirt.
In 1992, Mary Roma decided to open a health club called Work Out World. It started small: Mary as the company’s only full time employee, her husband Stephen Sr. as a part time employee, and one location in Tinton Falls. In the beginning, the corporate office was just the two sitting across from each other at dueling desks.
“It was like a sitcom,” said Stephen Roma Jr., Jersey Strong’s current CEO, in a recent podcast.
Coming at the fitness industry with fresh eyes and only a little experience, the Romas learned the business together. Soon, it became clear to Stephen Sr. that Work Out World was going to be hugely successful; he sold his computer leasing company and joined the team full time as CEO. His suspicions were correct.
As the company’s health club locations multiplied, Mary and Stephen’s son, Stephen Roma Jr., decided that he would be going into the family business. He went to Westchester for kinesiology, following up with graduate school in Colorado, where he majored in sport and exercise psychology. He would eventually join the company as an on-the-ground salesman.
When he joined, marketing the brand was slightly more simple: the company would sit together in a conference room with a few key people and brainstorm ideas. They would read books on branding and business practices and have a roundtable discussion about them on Fridays. They would learn to go with their gut but question their ideas, researching tirelessly to make the brand better. (Work Out World’s ubiquitous monkeys came from one of these brainstorming sessions.) Back then, far-reaching marketing was a billboard business, so a lot of what those discussions would lead to was what WoW’s direct marketing messaging would be.
One summer, Stephen Jr. and his brother, who was also in the marketing world, were brainstorming taglines for the business to put up on those billboards. Together, they came up with what would be a brand-defining line: “Keeping Jersey Strong.” They liked it. They put it on their direct mail and billboards.
But the real light bulb went off when they started printing the slogan onto staff t-shirts. The shirt had a small WoW logo on it and “Jersey Strong” in bold letters. The response to it was visceral. Staff members weren’t just requesting them for work hours—they wanted to get one for their mom, or their uncle who lived out of state, or their daughters and sons and grandparents.
“There was that sense of pride,” said Stephen Jr. And as the company evolved, it became clear that a branding reboot, as risky as it may be, was what the company’s New Jersey locations needed. They wanted to get fresh eyes on the company, and had a sense that a rebrand would help.
So the Romas contacted an agency in Manhattan to help do the research. Spoiler alert: the Romas and their research agency landed on “Jersey Strong” for their reboot. It brought them back to their roots, helped them focus squarely on New Jersey-focused philanthropy, and was a reminder that New Jersey pride was at the heart of their company and their team.
Recently called “the most important independent health club in New Jersey” by HaloTalks’ Pete Moore, Jersey Strong and the Roma family watched the fitness industry go through a tremendous amount of change in the past few decades. But 30 years of serving New Jersey hasn’t been for nothing. For Jersey Strong, it’s success is rooted in inclusion: no matter if you’re looking for one on one training, group training, and group classes both large and small, there’s always an option for you. And the most important part: whether you’re new to New Jersey or a lifelong resident, everyone is welcome inside.
Hear more from Stephen Roma Jr. about the origins of Jersey Strong, how they did the rebrand, and how the company was built from the ground up on the HaloTalks podcast.
Interested in trying Jersey Strong on for size? Don’t hesitate to use one of our free 5-day passes and find out for yourself if Jersey Strong is right for you.