In one of the more memorable scenes from the Hollywood film-farce “Dodgeball,” Lance Armstrong casually consoles Vince Vaughn assuring him, “I’m sure you must have a good reason to quit”. The story hails the “Average Joe” gym as a place where everyone can feel comfortable and actually fit in without fear and intimidation from muscle-heads, egomaniacs, or singles-bar refugees
But now the concept of the mainstream exercise profitable gym environment is real. Far from struggling financially, they are rather taking the country by storm and running the competition right out of town! Not just imaginary gyms like “Globo Gym” from a screenwriter’s imagination, but solid well known organizations like Golds, and even the YMCA and the JCC are being bested at their own game. Who is working this Main-street magic in small towns and metro cities alike all across America? There are a few players, but without a doubt the king of the hill is Planet Fitness. They have been derided for their pizza night and bagel morning, both staples at the health club. Planet has the dubious distinction of being labeled as one of the “softest” centers in America, right after Slimmons, Richard Simmons personal aerobic studio. In spite of this the runaway business model is making real headway, with more than 400 successful locations and literally more opening every day, this organization clearly has something great to offer.
What makes these new-age middle-of-the-road upstarts tick? What are they doing to separate themselves from other gyms? First, there is the slogan, “The Judgment Free Zone,” but empty slogans are, well, just that. Closer inspection reveals the reality that this is truly a concept-driven institution built from the ground up. The equipment is more user friendly with easy to interpret illustrations installed directly on every station. The paltry rates, typically between $10.-$20. Per month carry no long term contract for a basic membership, so literally anyone can afford to belong. Full-body high-tech circuit training is aerobically customized for the beginner, but resists plateau problems by using traditional cable/weight stack resistance machines (unlike a big national women-only franchised studio with a similar concept). A virtual sea of aerobics machines greets the would-be better-toned constituent. Clean well appointed locker rooms have replaced the mold and athletes foot cocktail found at many large not-for-profit organizations.