Smaller gyms aiming for niche clientele

David Adamson’s Fitness Together franchise on Bellwether Way, built around an instructor/client model, has proved so successful he plans on opening two more locations in Bellingham soon.

   Some things are in decline at gyms these days, like medicine balls and vibrator belts, the old motorized machines that shook the midsection.
   Something else members of larger gyms may be noticing, though, is a declining number of women.
   In the last half-decade, at least a half-dozen smaller health clubs, most noticeably Curves franchises, have opened around the county catering specifically to women, often pulling these clients away from larger, traditional gyms.    Meanwhile, other smaller facilities, tailored toward people who prefer a more private atmosphere and individual attention from trainers, have also entered the local fitness arena.
   “We absolutely do take away from the bigger gyms,” said Gina Fagan Kley, 52, a personal trainer and owner of the Ferndale Curves. “It kind of breaks my heart to hear and bothers me, but a lot of the younger women here say they’re sick of working out in the other clubs because they’re tired of being hit on and looked at inappropriately.”
   While all-women fitness centers provide a place where some members can feel more comfortable, away from the grunting, spandex and bulging muscles seen at some clubs, club owners say what the locations are really about is convenience.
   “First, it’s a 30-minute workout,” said Susan Kratochvil, 38, a personal trainer and owner of Express Fitness & Tan on Telegraph Road. “That’s really big, because everybody is under time constraints these days, and to get in and out and done with your workout in 30 minutes is fantastic with a lot of ladies because they’re busy with jobs and kids.”
   Leading the charge in the women-only workout facility is Curves. Locally, there are franchises in Bellingham, Ferndale, Lynden and Birch Bay/Blaine. Since its founding in 1992, more than 9,000 Curves franchises have opened around the world.
   Typically at Curves locations, and facilities that are patterned after them, women come in, meet with a trainer, learn about equipment, talk about their weight-loss, strength-training and health goals, and get set up on a training plan to help them reach those goals.
   When members come in for their workouts, they can usually start at any location on a 20-station circuit, consisting mostly of self-adjusting hydraulic machines. During the 30-minute workout that’s set to music, they will rotate between machines, with a trainer supervising their techniques and providing encouragement.
   Then, several times a month, trainers will follow up with members on how they’re proceeding in achieving their goals.
   Unlike many larger gyms, the individual time with personal trainers at Curves and other women-only facilities is not an additional cost of membership.
   The close quarters of the smaller facilities, typically only a few thousand square feet, also make for a more personal atmosphere where members can get to know each other and trainers. Most locations usually only have a few hundred members, too.
   “The thing we really strive for is personal attention,” said Kratochvil. “I know all my members by name and we all talk a lot. It’s very motivational and supportive.”
   Another smaller fitness center that’s enjoyed success is David Adamson’s Fitness Together franchise on Bellwether Way, which focuses solely on one-on-one training.
“I wanted my business to be about my clients and focus 100 percent on them and not on a large set of machines or a meat-market environment,” said Adamson, 36, a former high school athletic coach and athletic trainer for professional sports teams.
Like Curves and Express Fitness, he said, the majority of his clients are women.
   “Frankly, a lot of women are intimidated by going to a large facility,” he said. “He we can give them privacy and 100 percent of our attention.”
Like the women-only facilities, Fitness Together’s 11 personal trainers set goals with members. However, training sessions are even more personal.
   The location has three private workout rooms and trainers stay with clients for the hour-long sessions.
   “At larger gyms, a lot of time gets wasted waiting for equipment, caught up in conversation or gawking at guys or gals,” Adamson said.
   Also, he said, when people work out alone they can usually find ways to not work out as hard as they could.
   “When you have somebody cracking the whip, they can hold you accountable and keep you focused,” Adamson said.
   Fitness Together’s strategy has been so successful, Adamson said, his current location is no longer large enough to handle demand. Next month, he plans to open a location in Barkley Village and anticipates opening a Fairhaven franchise within the next two years.
   “Everyone needs to do something active, and the best way to do it to have someone hold you accountable. We do it on other aspects of our lives, with accountants, mechanics and spouses,” he said. “Professionals are out there to help you.”
   Officials at larger local health clubs say they’ve taken notice of the smaller fitness facilities and women-only facilities.
   Bellingham Health and Fitness is one larger gym that’s added a female-only workout section, to give clients more privacy, and others have added the timed, circuit-type workout routine.
   Despite the popularity of smaller clubs, larger established gyms still offer activities the new clubs don’t, like swimming pools, racquetball and basketball courts and cardio machines aplenty, and managers haven’t noticed a decrease in members.
Mike Locke, director of fitness and sports performance at the Bellingham Athletic Club, and Todd Sheehan, general manager at Bellingham Health and Fitness, both said the small clubs oftentimes are stepping stones to the bigger facilities.
   “Places like Curves, in part, have their place,” Sheehan said. “They do a really good job of putting out a clear marketing message of a 30-minute workout in a comfortable environment. They’re great for someone who has never been to a club before and needs to start a fitness program. The downside is once they’ve made some progress, most of the time, they’ll plateau because they need more variety and other options like extra cardio, weights and classes.”
   Meanwhile, officials at both types of establishments agree any healthy activity is good thing.
   “The more clubs there are, the better it is for everybody,” Sheehan said. “There’s plenty of business for everybody because not all the population is working out, as it should be. As a fitness community, the more our message gets out, the more people will hopefully get into doing a daily workout.”


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