Healthy Growth

Dedham Health and Athletic Complex in Dedham, Mass.

By Emily Tipping


or more than 30 years, Lloyd and Roberta Gainsboro have been ahead of the curve—introducing innovations to the health club market long before they hit the mainstream. From their first self-serve tennis club, which opened in 1972, the Gainsboros have built up their business, and now own and operate the impressive, 240,000-square-foot Dedham Health and Athletic Complex, located on about eight acres in Dedham, Mass.

The facility includes a 25,000-square-foot fitness center, 11 indoor tennis courts, basketball and racquetball courts, multiple swimming pools, a climbing wall, boxing studio and more. But that's just the beginning. The site also features medical offices, from primary care to MRI—offering a full array of wellness options to members and the community at large.

According to Lloyd Gainsboro, the facility is made up of four main areas: adult fitness and recreation, family fitness and fun, medical services, and summer program and camp.

The Gainsboros' first tennis club, Econo Tennis in Walpole, Mass., led to other clubs in Massachusetts, and eventually, Dedham. During Jimmy Carter's administration, Gainsboro said, they saw the writing on the wall. They broke up their partnership, and decided to concentrate full-time on the Dedham facility.

At that point, they began focusing on five-year plans, building and expanding—and often innovating in ways that might now be considered ahead of their time. For example, the Dedham facility began partnering with the medical community in the late '80s—beating a trend that is just now beginning to be celebrated widely.

"We continued to build and continued to add, and in 1988-89, Roberta decided that the medical system at the time wasn't working, as it's not now, and that we should become part of the medical community," Gainsboro said. They introduced a physical therapy component, and then in 1996, added an entire medical community, remodeled the building and added 12,000 to 14,000 square feet of office space, including space for MRI, primary care physicians, an orthopaedic surgeon and more.

And they continue to expand and improve their facility, including a recent remodel of about 3,000 square feet of fitness space. One of the tough choices in this area, Gainsboro said, was the flooring.

"Fitness flooring is one of the hardest areas to manage," he said. "If you use carpet, people sweat on it, and unless you clean it every night, I hate to think what's in it. If you go with basic black or a hard rubber floor, everything shows. So, we've looked at using combinations."

In the end, they chose to use wooden laminate and carpet tiles in cardio areas and walkways because it's easy to clean and easy to replace. But they still needed a flooring solution to go under the heavy weight equipment.

"You've got a concrete floor and you can damage it. You also want something easy to clean and take care of—something colorful with some life to it," Gainsboro said.

A conference they attended introduced them to SofSurfaces' DuraFLEX interlocking pavers. "We were impressed with it because you could drop heavy weights on it and not damage it. It had a variance of colors and a great warranty," Gainsboro said, adding that since the installation, they've been pleased with their choice, and with the service they've received from the manufacturer.

Ultimately to find success in the health club market, Gainsboro said you can't just expand for expansion's sake. "You have to decide what you want to be," he said. "You should be trying to maximize your present facilities to be sure each one is running smart—it's intelligent, it's profitable, it's clean. And you have to look at who you want to come in."

For Dedham, delivering exercise as medicine has been a key approach. Their $60 in 60 program encourages local physicians to refer patients to the facility. Around 1,000 participants take part in the program each year.

As part of their focus on health, Dedham requires all of its trainers to have a degree in exercise physiology or better. "That's what the medical community accepts," Gainsboro said. Clients who come in for physical therapy can use the gym at no charge if they come in early for their treatment. "Our physical therapists show people how to do that, and it gives much better outcomes."

Gainsboro attributes Dedham's success to continual planning and razor focus. "We've been around for 36 years," he said, "and one of the reasons is because we try to stay focused, to have a five-year plan and continue to evolve with the marketplace."


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