Round-the-clock small gyms building their muscle in area
Shelley Zanon hasn’t needed to work out after 10 p.m. at her 24-hour fitness club, but she’s glad she has that option if her busy schedule requires it.
Zanon recently dropped her membership at a larger club and joined Anytime Fitness in Brookfield, one of an exploding number of round-the-clock small gyms opening across the country.
In Waukesha County alone, Anytime and its main competitor, Snap Fitness, have opened 11 new clubs in the past few years, with at least nine more planned.
Both national firms believe there is enough membership demand to allow franchisees to open new clubs three or four miles from existing ones.
The main draws are convenience and affordability.
“We are open more hours so everybody’s not trying to come in after work right before we close or there’s not a line forming outside the door in the morning,” said Mason Becker, who operates Snap Fitness locations in Oconomowoc and Waukesha.
“It’s very rare that a person would have to wait for a piece of equipment,” Becker said.
The 24-hour chains offer weight and cardio machines, treadmills and the like. There are no pools, saunas, basketball, tennis or racquetball courts or children’s play rooms that are found in the two-story health centers with 30,000 to 50,000 square feet. Most 24-hour clubs are about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.
The new Anytime Fitness location in Brookfield has two showers. But most Snap Fitness locations have no showers. Both firms have bathrooms and changing rooms.
“We’re designed for the quick, in-and-out workout,” Becker said.
Jen Fredrich, manager of Curves in Oconomowoc, said she has lost a few members who moved to Becker’s Snap location because of the extended hours. Curves is open until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and has limited weekend hours.
“They can go at 8 or 9 p.m. when their kids are sleeping in bed and their husbands are home from work,” Fredrich said.
But Curves has not found the 24-hour chains to be much competition because Curves is only for women and offers a very different workout: a 30-minute circuit on hydraulic resistance machines and cardio platforms. The monthly price is about the same as Snap: $34.
Snap offers month-to-month memberships; Anytime requires a one-year contract.
Curves, according to its Web site, is the largest fitness chain, with 10,000 locations in 44 countries.
Snap Fitness, in contrast, says it has sold nearly 1,200 franchise locations, with about half open and operating. Anytime Fitness says it has about 1,000 locations sold.
The general managers at Bally’s in Brookfield and West Wood Health & Fitness Center in Pewaukee said they also have not been squeezed by the new 24-hour clubs. Nor have they felt pressured to open earlier than their 5 a.m. start or close later than 10 p.m.
“We’re business as usual,” Bally’s general manager Mike Sklander said.
Mark Tessar, general manager at West Wood, said he can see how extended hours would benefit second-shift workers.
Becker said that although most of his 500 Snap Fitness members in Oconomowoc exercise during the 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. window offered at other clubs, some do come after midnight after working at the Target and Roundy’s distribution plants.
“We get people in at 2 a.m. and then at 4:30,” Becker said.
The clubs, however, are not staffed around the clock. After day and evening hours, members enter with a key card. Surveillance cameras monitor the doors and workout areas, and phone and emergency buttons that ring to local police are available.
Randy Felber, who last month opened the first 24-hour gym in Brookfield in the Ruby Isle Shopping Center, said security has not been a problem at other clubs.
At least one Brookfield plan commissioner, however, was worried about setting a precedent by allowing a non-staffed, 24-hour business. A few gas stations and grocery stores are open 24 hours but are staffed.
Several plan commissioners also said such centers shouldn’t be adjacent to residential neighborhoods, because of the all-hours traffic. Ruby Isle is a large retail center that includes a Pick 'n Save.
Becker said there have been no major problems other than a few thefts and members trying to sneak their friends into the gym.
Zanon, a Menomonee Falls resident who recently joined Anytime Fitness in Brookfield, said she has belonged to numerous small and large gyms and found many of the larger centers intimidating and impersonal.
“I just dreaded going in there,” she said. “I prefer the 24-hour clubs. They just have much less of the chaos and the distractions of a larger club.”
Felber said of the larger gyms: “You almost feel like you have to be physically fit before you walk in the door.”
Felber and his wife chose to buy an Anytime Fitness franchise after deciding to change their own lifestyles to lose weight and become more healthy and fit.
Randy so far has lost 32 pounds; Donna, 15.
“We work out with the other members,” Donna Felber said. “We felt we could be doing something good and helping people.”
They said they know all of their members by name.
“At least half our members never belonged to any club before,” Randy Felber said.
Room for growth
The Felbers say they are not concerned that the industry is overbuilding 24-hour clubs. They say statistics show only about 15% of Americans belong to any fitness club, so they believe there is growth potential.
Scott Maederer, 54, of Brookfield said Anytime Fitness is the first club he has joined. After some heart problems, he is trying to work out daily.
When the weather improves he can walk to the club, which is six blocks from his house.
“When I come home from work, I can wait to go work out,” he said. “I don’t have to be done by 9 p.m. I can start at 9. You can make it fit your needs.”