March 2012

Fitness ClubsNew Year’s and New Gym Memberships: it might be an exercise in futility,
but it’s still exercise – and that’s what counts for fitness centers. It’s that hot affair that rekindles anew at the turn of each year — an annual ritual
of resolutions and body pledges which is the Black Friday for the fitness industry, and the one that keeps its doors open all year.

But for many new gym patrons, the relationship cools and becomes regrettable by tax time. This fickleness accounts for the notoriously high turnover rates in the fitness industry. According to the International, Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, about 1 million people join gyms in January, but the retention rate is only about 75%. Worse still, among the retained clientele, only 20% actually use their memberships on an active basis. This amounts to an annual $12 billion in money for an unused commodity.

The industry response has been to make fitness experiences new and fresh, highlighting interactive fitness strategies above the same old workout. Some do this by focusing on personal training sessions which are personalized and adaptable, and some by incorporating sports into the fitness routine.

And in Lawrence, new fitness clubs are popping up that follow this trend. The following three are confident that they are bringing more than a run of the (tread)mill workout that will keep the flame alive for their Lawrence patrons through the thick and the thin.


In a 5000 square foot space, a mostly female class has put on their gloves for a fight with a bag. The bags hang in a square area from the ceiling, and the class punches, weaves, and runs around them according to the instructor’s directions. Each participant can modify the moves to his or her level, but after only a few minutes, everyone is sweating heavily.

Title Boxing, headquartered out of Kansas City, is the largest manufacturer of boxing equipment in the world. In 2008, they began the boxing clubs franchise, now with 21 clubs open throughout Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Illinois. Jim Thomas, franchise owner, opened up the Lawrence club in November 2011. “I was a club member in Olathe, and I really believed that this kind of club would gain traction in Lawrence. We did marketing research and demographic studies before we came into the market. Lawrence is a very healthy town – there are a lot of runners and bikers and athletes — and this workout really integrates well into all kinds of activities. All sports start with thefeet, and that’s where boxing can really help a person improve in any sport, with footwork.”

The club has a few treadmills and free weights,
but the majority of the space is dedicated to the center heavy bag station, where 32 weekly classes take
place.A small boxing ring accommodates private training sessions. A 12-month contract is required for the monthly memberships, and there are currently 162 members. But Thomas envisions an eventual membership of 800 to
1000. When asked what will carry Title Boxing through the gimmicks and fads of fitness, Thomas replies, “How long has there been boxing? Some of the best athletes from the early 1900’s till now have been boxers — Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Manny Pacquiao. They’re lean and strong, and that’s what people want. Boxing isn’t
going anywhere.”Fitness Clubs


The “underground” in Underground Lab Fitness’ name is appropriate. Situated among warehouses
in a no-through side street on the east side of Lawrence, UGL does have the feel of black market. Nondescript loading dock doors shield the facilities, and nothing but a large trailer with buff looking characters (with chains?) give away what goes on inside.

But once inside the door, there was no need for a stealth password to get to the boss. Fernando Rodriguez doesn’t wear dark sunglasses and doesn’t have bodyguards. Originally from Mexico City, the fitness buff started into a life of sports from the time he was 6 months old and eventually swam
for the Mexican Olympic swim team. After a move to the US at age 15, Rodriguez played football from high school into college and eventually became a personal trainer at Lawrence Athletic Club. In mid-2010, he started UGL with 30 clients, with personally designed fitness programs and “boot camps.”

“This is not a gym – it’s a fitness studio where you pay for our bootcamp programs and
training sessions, and the use of the facilities come free with that. We do fitness in conventional
and unconventional ways. The reason our clients come is not to use the gym and work out
alone — it’s to do group training and private sessions with trainers.”

Apparently that philosophy is working, because with only word of mouth marketing, UGL has grown their clientele to 140, with a 100% retention rate. They were operating in the black after 9 months
of business and are now looking to expand their space to the warehouse next door.

“I haven’t spent any money on marketing so far. We’ve been under the radar, but now that systems and programs are in place, it’s time to go out and be a competitive fitness studio. I’m motivated and hungry, so to speak – and I think the formula I have right now – and all of us as a team working hard and loving what we do — is what will keep us here for many years to come.”


“We’re not just a gym — we’re a philosophy,” says Scott Elliott,
co-owner of The Summit, the first downtown Lawrence fitness facility. That philosophy is all about attaining balance through nutrition, supplements, and training — incorporating exercise science to build body symmetry. That, and using the iPad.

The just opened fitness facility sitting on the ground floor of the new building at 901 New Hampshire is sleek with technology. State of the art Precor equipment with individual 15” television screens and gyroscope stabilizers, docking stations for members’ personal bikes to use in computer simulated paths, saunas that use skin-sensing waves to create heat centered around people — and the aforementioned iPad to track
workouts and email them to clients — these are a few
of the shiny new toys at The Summit.

But strangely enough, Elliott seems just as excited about the tractor tires lying on the outside courtyard pavement that US Bank workers will be able to peek down on from next door. “I can’t wait till the spring when we can get people out there flipping those tractor tires and pulling 1/2 ton
trucks down the alley,” he exults.

It’s all a part of the hybrid facility that is half gym — The Summit — and half personal training — Next Level. While Next Level, owned by Chad and Laura Richards, has existed since 2005 in North Lawrence, the move to downtown and the addition of the gym facility is new.The new downtown businesses are co-owned by Elliott and the Richards’, and will expand their workforce from 10 trainers to 15-20 staff total. The clientele will be mutually exclusive, paying for personal training at Next Level separately from the monthly contract memberships at The Summit.

As to why their gym is going to last beyond the initial infatuation with iPads and the boulder wall, Liam Kirby, sales manager of The Summit answers, “We already have a proven track record with Next Level and its clients. And we’re not trying to overdo it – a lot of new gyms will overestimate their population — we’re just trying to settle our place in the community and take it from there.”

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