The idea behind Benefit Systems’ business concept is to give people options for their work-life balance by targeting their employers. “Employers are in competition for the best candidates in a hard-fought employment market where well-qualified employees are in short supply,” explains President and CEO Tom Józefacki. “We develop products that employers can use to make their job offers that bit more attractive.” As the saying goes “happy employees are productive employees,” so the benefit is also for the employer in this concept.
Benefit Systems has just celebrated its tenth anniversary having started from scratch with an innovative concept that has caught on strongly with its customers. Its main product is a health and fitness membership card that gives holders access to 4,000 sports facilities across Poland. The card entitles members to use fitness studios, swimming pools and sports centers or attend aerobics and yoga classes. The choice is extremely wide, and more than half a million people in Poland currently use the card.
“We started in the Czech Republic with the same scheme three years ago and have already signed up over 10,000 members,” explains Mr. Józefacki. “We work at both ends of the scheme. We negotiate with the facilities on the one hand to take part in the scheme and then sell membership to the companies. We focus on achieving a win-win situation that creates added value for the users and for the clubs.”
The sports card is not available to individuals and is always sponsored by the member’s employer. This stops Benefit Systems from being in competition with the sports facilities with which it partners. Client companies must therefore have at least ten full-time employees to take part in the scheme. The companies pay a monthly subscription which allows employees access to the services.
The idea has proved extremely successful. Since taking the company public in 2011, Benefit Systems has seen its share price triple.
Around the same time, the company began to invest in fitness clubs. “It is our money behind the clubs, but we do not operate them,” explains Mr. Józefacki. “As the owner, however, it is much easier to get them to sign up their services to our scheme.”
The company has also branched out into other leisure areas besides sport and fitness. About five years ago, it launched its own e-commerce platform offering a variety of leisure services including food, entertainment, cinema and travel. Users log on with their corporate ID and are able to access a wide variety of leisure activites that can be booked at a discounted price.
“Last year, we launched an e-learning service on the platform offering online language courses in English or German to reflect the diversity of things people like to do with their free time,” says Mr. Józefacki. “The idea is to give people the opportunity to create a good work-life balance and to make these activities available at an attractive price.”
Unsurprisingly, the early adopters of the scheme were big corporations like banks and insurance companies that have traditionally offered their employees generous perks in order to attract the best candidates for vacancies. Nowadays the client profile is far more diverse. “Our client list is made up of everything from schools and postal services to large and small companies,” says Mr. Józefacki. “We publish our own magazine focusing on human resources issues and employee motivation. We approach HR managers to sell them the benefits of the scheme and use the magazine as a helpful tool. We also target card users, as well, so that they can register with us.”
The scheme is still primarily focused on sports cards, which account for 90% of turnover, while other platforms account for the remaining 10%. This is certainly a reflection of the average age of card users. “The average age of employees in our incentives system is under 30,” says Mr. Józefacki. “These are mainly people who are not yet burdened with family life and have more time to themselves outside work to engage in sporting and leisure pursuits. That is why the facilities on offer tend to be targeted to a younger audience.”
Growth and demographic factors in Poland mean that there is a large number of well-educated young people now entering the workforce with quite different expectations of working life than their parents. Those growing up with the scheme will no doubt hope to benefit from tailored offers as they progress through life stages such as marrying and having a family.
As Benefits Systems begins to expand internationally, it will have to adapt its offer to 33more mature markets. “We have already started to move into neighbouring countries with a similar demographic to Poland such as Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria,” says Mr. Józefacki. “Ideally, we would like to move into Germany in the future, but the demographic there is somewhat older, so we will have to make some changes to our model.”
For the time being, Benefit Systems is building its membership model and expanding into countries with a similar profile to Poland. It now employs 500 people directly and a further 1,500 through its own sports clubs. The company is currently undergoing internal reorganization, which should be completed by March of this year.
Under the new structure, separate operating companies will be responsible for the different parts of the business. The business areas sports cards, e-commerce, fitness clubs and international expansion will all be organized into separate subsidiaries. “We are setting the scene for the next stage in our growth,” says Mr. Józefacki. “Our target for the future is to move into the mobile arena with our e-commerce platform.”