New fitness centers leaving older image from earlier days for cash

Alexander Hall

NewsNetNebraska

America has been changing over the last 50 years. A different lifestyle has evolved and with the changing landscape, fitness centers exploded into the culture. But, gone are the days where the term gym conjured up images of men like Arnold Schwarzenegger and in are the days of the average Joe. Now fitness centers are changing their image again to accommodate and attract members while waging quiet wars against one another.

The U.S. has more than 300 million in population and according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  more than one third are overweight. And it’s not leveling off nor is it slowing down. As the country grows, our waist sizes grow too.

There have also been a number of new fitness facilities popping up throughout the country. Fitness facilities trace back to the 1860s with the start of the YMCA, which focuses on community, family health and wellness.

Fitness centers, gyms as we know them today, received their big boost in the mid 1960’s in California. Gold’s gym founded by Joe Gold, started in Venice Beach, Los Angeles and grew into a chain of gyms that focused on getting “BIG.” The only perks at the time were weights and a contracted membership. Places like muscle beach and the pump became common place.

Eventually other entrepreneurs caught on and began creating their own chains and the gym craze really took off in the 1980s with the appearance of L.A. Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness.

With competition from larger facilities hurting local sales, local Snap Fitness management is developing strategies to boost membership and keep prices affordable.

With competition from larger facilities hurting smaller and local gym sales, local Snap Fitness management in Lincoln Neb. is developing strategies to boost membership and keep prices affordable.

Fast forward 30 years and the look of gyms are radically changing.  “We’re trying to one up each other just depending on what’s going on,” said Nikki Stebbins, a manager for Snap Fitness. Stebbins has been working at Snap Fitness for more than three years.

Snap Fitness is the world’s fastest growing fitness franchise with more than 2,200 locations.  Snap is structured on the idea of having a personal and local gym that’s down the street from the customer and open anytime, 24 hours a day. Their style of “Fast, Convenient, Affordable” is so effective that an average of 20 new clubs pop up every month.

Snap offers contract or no contract, weights, cardio and tanning for a monthly price of around $40.  “Everyone claims to be cheap, everyone claims they have a good deal,” said Stebbins. And, she says she sees the new competition, Aspen Fitness, taking Snaps members.

Aspen Fitness is a much smaller chain that operates in large complexes.  With a handful of locations spread out over five states, one would believe they would be no match for Snap.

“You control it, there’s no contract,” said Albert Scroggins, who said Aspen has been destroying the competition.  Scroggins is the general manager of Aspen Athletics in Lincoln, Neb.  He credits the fast success of Aspen to a smart management team and great member benefits.

Nikki Stebbins, handles all the membership applications for Snap Fitness.

Nikki Stebbins, handles all the membership applications for Snap Fitness.

Aspen facilities are two stories high and house hundreds of machines. And it’s not just the amount of equipment that is taking members from other gyms like Snap and the YMCA,  it’s the perks.

Members of Aspen Athletic Clubs have access to equipment, tanning, dry saunas, classes like kick boxing and aerobics, lockers, private workout rooms and even daycare. But that’s not why Aspen is such a hit with the locals.

A member can have access to all the facilities for less than $40 a month. The only drawback is that instead of 24 hours, Aspen closes every night by 11 o’clock.

But now that Aspen has been around for  a year, some gyms are finding members changing their minds. “It’s leveling off and we’re starting to see members trickling back,” said Megan Hampton, owner of Lincoln’s south Snap Fitness.

The local Lincoln Aspen Athletic Clubs have been experiencing high volumes of membership thanks to larger facilities and low prices. The South Lincoln facility had a full parking lot on an early Thursday afternoon.

The local Lincoln Aspen Athletic Clubs have been experiencing high volumes of membership thanks to larger facilities and low prices. The South Lincoln facility had a full parking lot on an early Thursday afternoon.

Hampton has been the owner of two Snap Fitness facilities for nearly six months and a personal trainer for more than four years. In the past three years the ownership of the facilities has changed three times.

She said with such large facilities like those Aspen operates, crowding becomes common and space becomes a big issue. Hampton is also promoting new ads to bring in customers and changing fees, hoping to boost sales.

But the biggest change in the past 30 years has been the rise of female membership. The clientele of gyms are nearly equal between men and women. Clubs like Aspen are catering to this evolving demographic. “Aspen has a female area where girls go work out separated from guys,” said Stebbins, who also says it helps if they’re self-confident or intimidated.

One thing is certain, if gyms continue to supply extensive perks on a competition based platform, we may see people working out more and spending less.

 

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