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Fitness clubs feed off competition

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Eric Schmoldt
March 8, 2015

Competition breeds success.

That saying has been used by athletes training for competition for years. It's also a fitting adage for local fitness clubs competing for their business.

Between the longtime mainstays, other local and specialized businesses hoping to grab their shares of the market and an influx of national chain brands, area exercisers have never had more options.

That's good news for consumers. If they can't find an option that fits their budget, schedule or preferred atmosphere, chances are they aren't looking hard enough.

But local fitness club owners and managers also argue that an increase in options and supply isn't exactly bad for business.

"Janesville's a great market, and the more fitness clubs that come to town, the better it is for everybody," said Andy Sieberer, general manager of Premier Tennis & Fitness in Janesville, as well as Four Lakes Athletic Club in Elkhorn. "There's not one club that's right for everybody.

"Some people need a 24/7 club. Some people need a place to work out. Some people need pools. It gives us an opportunity to really showcase what makes us different and what makes us really good at what we do."

The trick for each club is to determine which of those demographics to target, reach that audience and then retain those that become members.

"We have a motto, and that is no member left behind," said Andrew Bartman, area manager at Anytime Fitness, who oversees four Rock County locations. "We staff each gym with knowledgeable people who can give extensive help to each member.

"It's different for each member, but you want each individual to be successful."

That means not just simply keeping equipment up to date for those in the gym, but being on the ball when it comes to popular programming in the area and nationwide.

"Our biggest focus is getting results for the members," said Mark Groshan, owner of the Janesville Athletic Club. "We've got the most variety in town and the most tools to help the members get to their goals. Many people don't get to their goals because they just get bored and quit."

The approaches for each club in the competitive market vary.

Premier opened in 2013 and spent the first year attempting to establish its brand and prove its long-term viability to the community.

Sieberer says the membership is growing faster than ever, with approximately 500-600 members. Premier's aim is not to be a club of several thousand members but is striving for about 1,500, a reachable goal in the next two years.

The club built its base using month-to-month memberships and by attempting to show clients a tight-knit atmosphere.

"We're really more based on services; we're not a numbers club," Sieberer said. "We only offer month-to-month memberships for that reason. We want to make sure we earn people's business every day, instead of one time a year. We take a little bit of a different approach."

At Anytime Fitness, Bartman and his staff attempt to buck the stereotypes of nationwide chain clubs. Included in that group is Planet Fitness, which has one location on Milton Avenue.

Anytime's website indicates there are more than 2,100 franchises nationwide. Andrew Gundlach, who owns 25 such clubs in southern Wisconsin, added the two Janesville locations in August 2013. He updated one of them almost immediately with a $400,000 project.

Like many of the chain clubs, Anytime boasts 24-hour access for those on the go or who get their exercise at abnormal hours. But each gym has several full-time staffers, and the gym is staffed at least six hours every weekday.

"We definitely look to buck the stereotypes, because we try to be the friendliest gym in town and give people what they need," said Bartman, who has worked under Gundlach since 2012 and in Rock County since May of last year. "Anytime Fitness' corporate rules are broad. Beyond that, it's very localized. Our owner is one of the leading franchise owners ... so we have a really good local infrastructure.

"So we are able to dictate things based on what people in the area want, such as PRX training."

Groshan stressed the Athletic Club's commitment to provide the best amenities and programming possible.

In that regard, JAC has undergone recent transformations. Its downtown facility closed in February, at least partly due to anticipated parking issues. The primary facility on Black Bridge Road, which will mark its 30th anniversary this year, has undergone recent renovations.

"We're just finishing up the biggest renovation in the history of the club," Groshan said. "It's a big, open floor plan. Every area is bigger, so there's never any crowding. There's plenty of equipment and so many different areas of the club. When you come in, even if there are a lot of people in here, it doesn't seem like it."

Groshan said the club has also lowered membership rates to half of what they once were.

Its most-recent programming addition has been Alloy Team Training, one of the most-popular recent trends in group training.

"That's our biggest focus right now is team training and our group fitness classes," Groshan said. "We've been seeing a resurgence bringing them up to this club with a bigger studio."

Some local businesses, such as CrossFit Rendered or Punch Kettlebell Gym, offer more specialized training.

The battle is on for local clubs, and it's a tussle that includes amenities, member services, programming, cost and convenience.

"Just like people say," Groshan said, "competition makes you better."

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