Whether you are looking to beef up your brawn, whittle down your waist or take up the war against cellulite Salt Lake's fitness factories have got a deal for you.
Never before have Salt Lakers in search of "the body beautiful" been offered so many ways to get it for so little cash.The proliferation of spas, clubs and aerobic centers in the valley has made jungle law supreme. The fit survive. The rest go out of business.
In order to survive, fitness businesses have been forced to slash overhead, drop prices and expand their offerings.
The keen competition gives valley residents amenities and prices few cities can match. It also gives the toe of the free enterprise boot to those who can't cut it. Competition booted Racqueteer Sport & Fitness Center out of business last week. The Racqueteer, 615 E. 98th South, offered aerobic classes, karate, wallyball, racquetball, indoor track, weight-training, saunas and whirlpools. But its extensive offering couldn't offset the wrong location and increased competition in its neighborhood.
Racqueteer officials told the 500 members Tuesday that the club would be closing April 30.
"If they had just been six blocks east and put a pool in" they might have made it, said Brent Cook, marketing director for Sports Mall. The Sports Mall managed Racqueteer until recently.
The wrong location even a few blocks wrong can shut a fitness business down, Cook said. He cited some downtown aerobic centers that haven't been able to locate in those scant few blocks that comprise the hub of the city's business life, choosing to set up shop on the fringe instead. Those few blocks' difference between the center and the fringe may spell their doom, Cook said.
The power of subtleties such as a missing pool or a slightly-wrong address spotlight the desperate nature of the fitness competition in the Salt Lake Valley these days.
Most of the business managers interviewed by the Deseret News agreed that that competition has gone from aggressive to cut-throat in the last two years.
Holiday Spa gets some credit for that. The spa, cynically called "the glitter palace" by some of its competitors, is 4,000-square-feet of shiny equipment, mirrors, smoked glass and broad splashes of "high-energy colors" spa employees say have been scientifically proven to enhance a patron's workout.
The spa offers unisex and coed workout floors, aerobic classes, an indoor track, swimming pool and several saunas, whirlpools and steam rooms. The offerings are garnished with neon, soft-rock music and multi-colored lights that pulsate to the beat of the music.
And the spa's owners aren't losing sleep over its location. Poised at the tip of bustling Fort Union Family Center on 72nd South and square in the lap of I-215's various exits and entrances off 13th East, it captures the eyes of tens of thousands of commuters criss-crossing in front of it. Catching all those eyes has paid off. The spa has attracted nearly 15,000 members during its two years in the valley, according to Gary Graydon, vice president and general manager of the club.
But success doesn't surprise him. Holiday Spa is owned by Health and Tennis Corp. of America, which has launched over 300 similar clubs and spas. Health and Tennis, in turn, is owned by Bally Manufacturing Corp. Bally bills itself as the world's leader in gaming operations and equipment manufacturing. It touts a net worth of $564 million.
When Bally comes to town, Bally expects to succeed.
Holiday's success helped put the Racqueteer out of business, Cook said. It also pulled a few members away from the elite Sports Mall.
Bill Jensen, district manager of Utah's six Spa Fitness outlets, unabashedly admits that Holiday has forced his spas to lower their prices. But he's not worried. Spa Fitness doesn't have the debt service Holiday Spa has on its new multi-million dollar building, he said. With a fraction of Holiday Spa's overhead, Spa Fitness can slash prices much further if it has to.
While Deseret Gym didn't peg Holiday Spa specifically, gym manager, Leon Heaps, said competition forced Deseret Gym to expand its offerings four months ago and eliminate the fee it charged for nautilus equipment.
The current passion for coed weight training and aerobic machines prompted the gym to set aside a large room for weight and aerobic equipment. It carpeted and painted the room in its own version of high-energy colors, piped in music and increased its equipment inventory by 60 percent adding stationary bikes, rowing machines, treadmills, stairs and the entire Sprint circuit of weight machines.
Staying on top of a trend is part of staying in business.
"You have to stay with the modern day trends," Heaps said. "You can't stand still because you see yourself losing customers."
"If wallyball comes along, you had better be ready to put together a program for wallyball," Cook said. "You have to be willing to change with the market place, because it does change."
Jensen estimates that more than 100 small fitness shops have come and gone in the Salt Lake Valley since 1979 or changed hands several times.
The difference between a flash-in-the-pan success and a tenacious presence in the marketplace is low overhead, he said. Spa Fitness will be around forever because they have paid off all of their buildings and do most of their advertising, maintenance and training in-house, he said. Overhead has been slashed to a minimum.
"Our prices can go a lot lower than they are now if that's necessary and we could still survive forever. It's tough to blow us out of business," Jensen said.
To date, Spa Fitness has expanded at least one facility each year. Jensen just added 4,000 square feet to the Orem club. The company runs between 350 to 1,000 workouts a day at each of its facilities. The combined number of workouts at all six locations make Spa Fitness a stronger presence in the marketplace than Holiday Spa, which runs about 2,000 workouts a day at Fort Union location.
But Holiday Spa has just begun to fight. Health and Tennis plans to build five spas along the Wasatch Front: two more in the Salt Lake area, one in Ogden and one in Orem.
The company is already negotiating with Clark Financial Corp. to put one in Sugarhouse, Graydon said. The third will be built in West Valley City.
Survival also depends on carving out one's niche in the marketplace and understanding the idiosyncrasies of that niche. Competition in the health club industry is not unilateral. The businesses are not all trying to draw in the same people. The Sports Mall, for example, does not consider Holiday Spa to be competition, because the Sports Mall caters to the well heeled while Holiday Spa has driven prices down to meet the fiscal constraints of virtually everyone.
The Sports Mall offers eight indoor tennis courts, four outdoor tennis courts, an outdoor pool, a regulation basketball court, free babysitting, the services of several sports pros and a battery of classes, programs and competitions for families and children.
None of those are offered by Holiday Spa.
Holiday Spa asks about $18 a month for use of its facilities. Sports Mall wants a one-time fee of $1,200 for a family plus $64 a month for use of all facilities.
Deseret Gym management also considers itself unusual in the marketplace. In operation since 1911, they don't look upon competition as a threat to survival. They see it as an impetus to change.
For $55 a month, the gym draws families that can't afford the country club aura of the Sports Mall. The gym's summer swim programs for children fill to capacity each year.
The mammoth facility (152,000 square feet) offers programs and amenities (including masseuses and barbers) found nowhere else in the city.
Some competitors grumble that the gym's non-profit, tax-exempt status gives it an unfair competitive edge. But Heaps points to Deseret Gym programs not offered by for-profit clubs, such as those for the handicapped or underprivileged youth, and emphasizes the gym's service to the community.
While the competition among gyms is hot, the competition among aerobic dance studios sizzles particularly in the downtown area. At least one of the wars the customer scramble between Body Tech and Fitness Tech began in the divorce court. Body Tech was opened in 1980 by husband and wife Tim and CarrieBissell. The first shop opened on Ninth East and 39th South. In 1983, they opened a downtown studio, promptly seizing the downtown aerobic dance market.
Then in 1985, Tim and Carrie got a divorce.
They split the shops. Carrie, who changed her last name to Nielson, took the downtown business. Bissell took the Ninth East business. He operated his business as a franchise of hers. It was Nielson who decided how the programs at both shops were run. Later, she opened a Holladay shop; he opened a West Valley shop. For a few years, the shops honored each other's coupons and generally conducted themselves as different outlets of the same business.
"It was a typical divorce relationship not a business relationship, a divorce relationship," he said.
In January, Bissell changed the name of his shops to Fitness Tech and moved in on Nielson's market. When Nielson moved her downtown Body Tech to a new location, Tim rented her old one. He sent fliers to her customers and honored her coupons. He currently accepts passes from any aerobic dance studio. Nielsen, however, does not accept Bissell's passes.
Bissell denies that he is after Nielson's business specifically. "It's not a primary target, but she is one of the exercise business owners. Any of the existing exercise clientele in the whole city is a potential customer of ours."
Bissell said the name change was prompted by the sharp differences in exercise philosophy between him and Nielson.
The Deseret News tried several times, but was unable to reach Nielsen for comment.
While Body Tech specializes in driving, hard-core workouts, Fitness Tech offers low-impact beginning and intermediate classes.
"I want to offer a less intense experience geared toward more of the general public," Bissell said. He believes that's what most downtown office workers want.
The Salt Lake Fitness Center agrees. It, too, is after a piece of the downtown aerobic pie.
The fitness center opened six months before Bissell's shop did because it's owners also saw a need for low-impact aerobics in the downtown area. The philosophy of the two shops throws them in direct competition, while Body Tech a block down the street from the fitness center fights to keep its customers from the two others.
Salt Lake Fitness Center has broadened its appeal with aerobic machines and the universal weight training system. Unlike Body Tech or Fitness Tech, the Salt Lake Fitness Center seeks contractual members like Spa Fitness and Holiday Spa does.
The center has 500 members and vows to cap at 1,500. "That's to preserve the quality of the club," said owner Leland Swaner, Jr.
In a business where few make a profit in the early years, Swaner said his business broke even last month. "I expect us to be in a profit profile this time next year."
Swaner has selected a location that puts him on the edge of the business community but within easy reach of the residential community. He hopes to hold his own against Fitness Tech and Body Tech by drawing in housewives and college students who won't have to fight for downtown parking.
Salt Lake City is already crowded with spas, clubs, gyms and studios. Jensen said last time he checked the figures, Salt Lake City had more spas and gyms per capita than any other city in the United States.
"There are more health businesses per capita in this market than any market I've ever been in," Cook said.
It's going to get worse.
Spa Fitness has plans to expand some of its Salt Lake shops. Holiday Spa won't give the address of its Sugarhouse venture, but says it's a sure bet. Sports Mall is planning its third outlet near Alta View Hospital.
And with the opening of every new club, the competition gets tighter.