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A sports institution for over 40 years

A multidisciplinary sports centre at the cutting edge of technology

Collage of Élaine & and her business Sporthèque

In 1981, Gatineau’s first sports centre opened. Tim Lake, who came up with the Sporthèque idea, had the vision and audacity to respond to the huge sporting craze that took hold of the late 1970s. Thanks to its strong membership, this innovative centre’s facilities expanded gradually, and it was these years of expansion that allowed the site to offer a diverse array of sports of all kinds and welcome families and seniors. Today, Sporthèque is a Gatineau institution, and a second location will open its doors in early 2023. Élaine Dupras, general manager and associate for over 30 years, shared more with us about Sporthèque and the key to its longevity. 

Rogers Business: Tell us about your business (brief history, number of employees, number of years in business, etc.). 

Élaine Dupras: Sporthèque was created in 1981 and featured only a few tennis courts and a small gymnasium. Since then, the centre has undergone more than a dozen expansions, now boasting more than 90,000 square feet, 350 weekly class hours and nearly 150 employees (specialized, contract and full-time trainers). The offering of sports also grew to include yoga, swimming, CrossFit and more. Installing the pool was a turning point for us; its avant-garde design at the time, with its basin specifically created for aquafit, helped us ​​conquer a whole new client base. When I arrived, the challenge was connecting with the family and senior sectors of the market. This innovative pool was key to expanding our target clientele. 

Rogers Business: How did the idea to start your business come about? 

Élaine Dupras: Tim Lake, the centre’s originator, had this idea in the late 1970s while the frenzy for sports centres was tearing across the Outaouais region, particularly in Ottawa. Demand was stronger than supply. No centre in the area offered this kind of service, so the time was ripe to open one that did. The appeal of ​fitness​​gymnastics​, notably aerobics, and the success generated by Jane Fonda also contributed to the reputation of our sports centre. 

Rogers Business: Was there someone or something that inspired you start this business? 

Élaine Dupras: I think Tim Lake and Larry Green have inspired many people within the business, including me, especially since I began working here. Larry Green, who was the general manager for many years before becoming a shareholder, knew how to breathe the innovative and collaborative spirit into the centre that persists to this day. Thanks to this, I was able to integrate my health expertise into the world of sports. ​The pool​​Open-mindedness​ was crucial to the success and longevity of Sporthèque. 

Rogers Business: What was the most important lesson you learned from opening your business? 

Élaine Dupras: Each of us has our own skill set, and everyone can express their ideas. As for me, my nursing experience and diploma in management helped me come up with the idea for the pool and swimming classes for families and the elderly. That was a major turning point in our centre’s history. Each person’s experience and every idea should be considered. Support and learning are vital in our business. 

Rogers Business: Who or what was your biggest source of support when you started? 

Élaine Dupras: Larry Green, who left his position seven years ago, was a huge source of support to me when I started at the centre over 30 years ago. He was a good listener and acknowledged my experience and unusual professional profile. The team I work with every day is also incredibly important; I’ve been able to achieve great things with them. 

Rogers Business: What’s your vision for the future of your business? 

Élaine Dupras: Sporthèque’s current facility is at full capacity, in terms of not only courts and activity offerings but also space for our members. We will be opening a second location very soon with new programs like aerial yoga, table Pilates and more. We’ve also acquired new, very high-end equipment from Italy for our future fitness room. This new 25,000 sq. ft. space will be at the cutting edge of technology and one of a kind in Gatineau. The idea will be to franchise the concept and export it elsewhere. 

Rogers Business: What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business? 

Élaine Dupras: Before diving into entrepreneurship, I would advise you to surround yourself with the right people. Don’t go about it alone; you must look for help. There are many easily accessible network, training, program and organization platforms to help you get started. Don’t be afraid surround yourself with the best and with people who complement your abilities. You also need to break out of your comfort zone and trust your entourage. Lastly, working with your weaknesses is like swimming upstream; work with your strengths instead to keep making progress. 

Rogers Business: If your business has a “secret ingredient,” what is it? 

Élaine Dupras: Fun, not only among our teams and with our partners but also with our clients. Sharing this fun is key to good customer service. We listen to our clients every day and strive to improve their experience at our sports centre. 

Rogers Business: What else should we know about your business? 

Élaine Dupras: Our client retention rate exceeds 85%. The centre is like one big village where everyone knows each other. For nearly 30 years, I’ve seen the young children of families grow up and continue to visit us. It’s gratifying to see, and it motivates us to do our best every day in all the services we offer.