Increase in number of local fitness clubs brings prices down

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Gina Duwe
Sunday, June 2, 2013

— Competition from a growing number of fitness clubs and exercise classes is giving Janesville area residents more choices at lower costs.

For years, the YMCA of Northern Rock County and Janesville Athletic Club were the two main players in the local fitness landscape. Now, people looking to get active have an array of choices.

"I like that there's competition in Janesville. It lowers the prices," said Lisa Harrie, a fitness instructor who teaches classes at the Janesville Athletic Club and Punch Kettlebell Gym. "We're all in the same business. It's not a competition, we're not trying to steal someone away."

She said she's happy to see people joining clubs and getting active.

With the increased competition, residents are examining their options and their bank accounts.

What's available?

Janesville now is home to two national fitness chains: Anytime Fitness opened about five years ago and has since expanded to two locations, while Planet Fitness opened in mid-April. Both clubs provide 24-hour access.

In response to competition and the changing fitness landscape, the Janesville Athletic Club changed its membership options, allowing people to join only the downtown riverfront facility, now called the Janesville Athletic Club Express, at a reduced cost, owner Mark Groshan said.

For the nonprofit YMCA, construction is underway on the new Parker YMCA between Janesville and Milton. The $4.2 million facility will include outdoor playing fields, a 6,800-square-foot gymnasium, a 5,000-square-foot fitness area, multipurpose areas, aerobic rooms, a youth center and a child care area. It is scheduled to open in early November, said Tom Den Boer, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Northern Rock County.

Niche gyms have popped up, such as Punch Kettlebell Gym where people work out only during structured classes, or Fitness Together or SOL Fitness & Personal Training, which offer one-on-one training. Those who want to avoid a membership fee can pay as they go to Zumba classes at various locations or to lap swimming at the Marshall Middle School pool.

That doesn't include the city's trail system, which is free, and groups that get together for running or training, Harrie said.

"It doesn't matter what you do, just do something," she said.

Reasons for growth

Groshan said the growth in options is part of a national trend of people getting more active, and others agreed.

"I just think people in the United States are getting way more active," Harrie said. "Look at the change in gyms according to what people want."

Rock County for years has ranked at the bottom of the state's county health rankings conducted by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. This year, the ranking showed 24 percent of Rock County residents are physically inactive, while 31 percent of adults are obese.

"I think there's more of an awareness of how unhealthy we are," said Karen Cain, health officer of the Rock County Health Department. "We're trying to get more and more information out to the public and let them know the types of things they can do to improve their health and fitness."

More organizations are interested in improving residents' health, and the awareness about how unfit we are—and how easy it is to change some behaviors—has increased, she said.

More businesses promote fitness and healthy behaviors, said Cain and Jeff Brewer, owner of Janesville's Anytime Fitness clubs.

It's important for companies to keep their employees healthy to help keep insurance costs down. Brewer has been trying to start partnerships with employers to offer corporate discounts, he said.

Brewer said he saw an opening in the market for Anytime Fitness.

"We were the first club in town to offer 24-hour access," he said. "Now, everybody's kind of jumped on it. … Our whole thing is get in, get out, get on with your day. Because we're 24-hour access, we never get a real rush."

Dylan Goettsch, manager of the new Planet Fitness, agreed the area has a lot of gyms, but he said his business seeks to attract those "too scared to pay lots and lots of money" and those not using existing facilities. His memberships range from $10 to $20 a month.

Den Boer said he couldn't speak to the growth in for-profit fitness centers, noting their model is different than the YMCA. While the centers generally focus on fitness, that is only one of nine departments the Y offers.

"At the end of the day, we all offer the same treadmill. A treadmill's a treadmill," he said. "I think it really comes down to the quality of the experience a person has while they're at a particular facility."

Previously, people were fortunate to have an option between the Janesville Athletic Club and the YMCA, Den Boer said. But because the Y focuses on programming from youth to seniors, his organization only competed with the athletic club in the fitness department, he said.

It's been interesting to watch the other new clubs in town focusing on fitness, he said.

"I'm intrigued by what they saw to what wasn't being met for fitness," he said.

Competitive changes

Cain, Harrie and others said the competition has brought down the price of joining a gym.

Years ago, a single athletic club membership was $49 a month for access to both its clubs. Now, customers can join the Express club for $10 a month or $29 for the main athletic club.

Groshan said the Janesville Athletic Club's membership changes were part of a nationwide trend as clubs adopted more al la cart pricing.

The Y in downtown Janesville has not lowered rates in the recent past, Den Boer said, but has offered different pricing options. Youth memberships start at $10 a month, while adults start at $19. The nonprofit also offers financial aid and scholarships to qualifying participants.

"I would say the reduction in pricing seen in the marketplace is really the for-profit centers fighting over that price line," Den Boer said.

Goettsch said membership at Planet Fitness now exceeds 2,000 members and is growing, though not as fast as at other clubs. Summer is a slow time for gyms, he said.

Brewer admits the opening of Planet Fitness has hurt his Anytime Fitness.

"Planet Fitness' sole marketing concept is to go in communities that have Anytime Fitness," he said.

"It's become very competitive, and frankly, I just can't compete against the $10 a month Planet Fitness and now the athletic club … I couldn't keep my doors open at $10. Our clubs aren't that kind of volume," he said.

Without giving exact rates, he said his membership rates are about $1 a day.

To compete, he said, he offers friendlier, better customer service where members don't have to wait to use a machine. Janesville is a very price-sensitive town, he said, and while the opening will hurt him for awhile, he's determined "to stay the course."

Brewer is pretty sure opening his second Anytime Fitness just off Milton Avenue three years ago had an impact on the Janesville Athletic Club, which then started 24-hour access, he said.

"Almost right to the day," Brewer said.

Groshan said changes at the Janesville Athletic Club over the last few years, including increasing the variety of group classes, were made to "keep up with the trends nationwide."

"Everything happening here in Janesville also is happening in most other cities across the country," he said.

The increased competition hasn't pushed the Y to make changes because it already offered so many amenities, Den Boer said. The growth in clubs has actually helped the Y, which has seen a 25-percent net membership increase this year over last year, he said.

He thinks all the fitness buzz got more people thinking about joining a club.

"When there's more awareness of what's available in town, people become more fitness-minded and look at the options available," he said.

"It's been a very healthy benefit," he said.

Harrie said when it comes to getting people in the door, it's all about price and friends.

"Now is your chance to hook them, whether it be through classes, personal training," she said. "It's about who you are. It's great that all these gyms offer this. Really deep down, you're going to go where your friends are."

Last updated: 7:57 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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