Feature Article - November 2005
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Fit Facilities

Mixing old and new ideas to fulfill fresh niches

By Kyle Ryan

Fitplex South Loop

One of the newer clubs in Chicago, Fitplex South Loop opened in May just south of downtown. The area has experienced a resurgence over the past couple of years, according to Scott Lewandowski, director of health and fitness for Fitness Formula, the company that owns Fitplex.

"If you drive down Michigan Avenue, and you look to the south, you'll count at least eight cranes," he says, adding that members from one of the company's other downtown clubs had begun moving to the area. "It was highly underserved," he says.

As designers planned the new club, Fitplex wanted to take some of the best elements from its five other clubs and incorporate them into the South Loop facility, from yoga rooms with individual temperature controls to amenities like a spa, juice bar and tanning salon. Those last few may seem extraneous, but Lewandowski considers them integral.

"Fitness has many different definitions," he says. "There's people that are looking to maybe increase performance—maybe they're an athlete. There are some people that are looking to lose weight. There are some people that are looking to tone. There are some people that are looking just to feel better, and there are those people that are looking to relax. So you want to create a one-stop shop. Everything that gives you that sense of feeling better, you want to have that in your club, because, if you don't, members are paying for it elsewhere."

Fitness Formula uses the new South Loop club as a sort of testing ground for new equipment, such as cardio machines with built-in TVs. If they work well, the company may use them in other facilities. Also unique to the South Loop club is the Spinning studio's large, interactive screen that sits behind the instructor. It has a cable connection, so the club plans to use the studio as a multipurpose room for hosting events like Super Bowl parties.

As every club manager knows, top-notch equipment and amenities only help retain members to a certain extent; programming can be the most critical part of a club's business. Fitplex South Loop has a relatively extensive programming schedule: cardio kickboxing, Spinning, yoga, Pilates, abs classes and more. Its marathon-training and boot camp programs tend to be the most popular. When members join the Fitplex South Loop, they also automatically enter a program that uses customized, preprinted workouts to guide them through exercise routines.

"It's customized because we take your strengths, your abilities, your goals and use our equipment to plug into a Web-based program that then prints out workouts every time you come in," Lewandowski says. "This is free, so they can have as many workouts as they [want] completed in a week as long as they throw one out and get another. It's great."

The program works on both health and business levels. First, it helps integrate new members into using equipment that could otherwise be intimidating. Second, it feeds them into other, more advanced programs like personal training and Pilates—that, obviously, creates more business revenue.

Fitplex also has found some success by specializing programming for age groups, particularly Baby Boomers and children. For the Boomers, there's Club Gold, which tailors wellness-focused exercise routines for people in their mid-40s or older. There are also popular kids' programs run by a company called CAMPUS (Celebrating Artistry Musicality Physicality United Successfully) that go beyond physical health to cultivate kids' creativity and individuality. Another popular one has been the club's 12-week Ultimate Fitness and Nutrition Program, which is designed to foster behavioral and lifestyle changes through nutritional education. The company mostly sticks to tried-and-true programming, which Lewandowski says accounts for part of their success.

"[It's] what has stood the test of time," he says. "Definitely a yoga studio, a spin studio, as many studios that [you] could have for additional classes and personal training. [It's] making sure that you establish all of these services that have been around for years and have made clubs successful, then [figuring out] what is underserved."