Health and Fitness Column

New gyms making it hard for their competitors

By John Taylor | Feb 11, 2014
Photo by: File John Taylor

Chris and Tangi Brown of Hendersonville opened “Flex 4 Fitness,” a new state-of-the-art workout facility on Four Seasons Boulevard. The Browns spent nearly $500,000 on free weights, cardiovascular equipment, and group exercise gear to fill their 8,000 square-foot facility. However, unlike some newer, non-corporate fitness centers, the Browns only purchased equipment models that have come into the marketplace in the last 12 months.
The latest models of exercise equipment have smartphone features that can track and log workouts, including caloric expenditures, and can assign music based on your preferences on workout effort levels.  
Flex 4, which has enrolled 800 members since its opening in June 2013, also has 28 high-definition TVs, including some that are installed into the gym’s floor-to-ceiling mirrors that cover the facility.
“We have a patent on the recessed mirror design for the TVs,” Chris Brown told GoUpstate.com, meaning that Flex 4 can offer an amenity that no other fitness center in the United States can have, unless they lease the design from the Browns.
Flex 4 also offers members a full-service hair salon called “Shear Madness” that is run by Tangi Brown, who is a licensed hairstylist and also a certified trainer. Additionally, members can participate in martial arts classes in jiu jitsu, kung fu, kenpo, karate and weapons led by Grandmaster Brian Adams. Gym members can also shop at the facility’s smoothie bar, which offers 20 different options which include protein, fat burner, and energy boaster supplements.
The Browns, who formally owned “Church Street Supplements” in Hendersonville, plan to reopen the sports nutrition store next month under the name “Flex 4 Nutrition.”  
Memberships at Flex 4 start at $29.99 per month with discount memberships available for students, police, firefighters and EMS personnel.
By offering all of these services and amenities at a reasonable monthly cost, Flex 4 is making it difficult for other mom-and-pop gyms to compete. Of course the corporate gyms like “24 Hour Fitness” and “Bally’s” will always bring in new equipment every three-to-five years, private facilities are notorious for holding on to equipment until it breaks down beyond repair.
This is why members at non-corporate gyms will often see equipment that was built before the band “Nirvana” first performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” still taking up space on the workout floor.
Granted, gyms are a business, and if fitness center owners see their members as revenue, perhaps they don’t see the need to go into debt by reinvesting in the latest equipment. However, they should also realize that consumers now have many more options when it comes to selecting fitness centers, and when a prospective member is shopping around for gyms, amenities like sky-high mirrors, flat-screen TV’s, and new equipment with technology features will make the difference between a sign-up and a lost customer.
This is when you’ll generally hear these non-corporate gyms give the sales pitch, “If you go to one of those corporate gyms, you are just a number. Those facilities have over 5,000 members, but we have 1,500. You’ll get to know everyone at the front desk, and our customers are friendly.”
Let’s get real. Except for saying hello and goodbye, how often do fitness center members really talk to the gym staff? Furthermore, the person you are talking to at the gym is generally the friend or family member you came in with … unless you are a guy hitting on the girls working out, which if we were to be honest, has a low success rate anyway.
However, the good news for the consumer is that the average price for a gym membership in the United States in now $34 per month, down from $44 per month in 2000. This is mainly due to the number of gyms per square mile increasing since the beginning of the new century.
According to a 2011 Department of Health and Human Services Study, there are now 12.4 fitness center facilities per one million people in the United States, with Austin, Texas leading the way with 38.8 facilities per one million Americans living nearby. In the year 2000, there was one 3.5 fitness centers per one million people, and Portland, Oregon led the U.S. with 28.6 facilities per one million people.
With more choices in exercise facilities, prices on gym memberships have come down. This new phenomenon has even led “Bally’s” to start offering $9.99 memberships to attract new clientele.
This leads me to believe the days of the $40 per month gym membership are going to end soon, and for the budget conscious, you may be able to get a sweet deal at a new gym with desirable amenities for under $20 per month.
Yay, consumerism.

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