Health and fitness industry booming in Basalt
When Colorado 24/7 Fitness in Basalt closed its doors with about 48 hours notice Feb. 7, more than 400 members were left scrambling to find a new place to get their fitness kicks.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to look very far since the midvalley has a plethora of options. Basalt has another large gym in operation, two CrossFit centers and numerous boutique workout studios, personal trainers and Pilates studios.
And while one door has closed, another is set to open. Longtime Aspen gym owner and operator Jean-Robert Barbette is preparing to open a 7,000-square-foot gym in Willits Town Center in mid-May. He said he is excited about opening a new gym with new equipment in a new building. He had planned the move well before Colorado 24/7’s abrupt departure.
“If we want to grow, we have to move downvalley,” he said. He will continue to operate the Aspen gym as well, but times are changing. Sixty-two percent of his clients now live in places downvalley from Aspen.
“The middle class is moving away,” he said.
While he was working toward expansion into the midvalley, the closure of Colorado 24/7 worked to his good fortune. Barbette said he had 12 people reserve space at his new gym online just on the day the other gym closed. As of Feb. 10, he had filled nearly all the 200 spaces being offered at $75 per month for gym access and unlimited classes.
Barbette bought his space in Willits Town Center so he isn’t at the mercy of a landlord and figuring out how to pay escalating rents. He intends to limit memberships to between 700 and 800 in Basalt.
“I don’t want to pack the place,” he said.
Customers also can pay for a package that allows them to work out in Basalt and Aspen.
Colorado 24/7 closed after the heating system broke. The landlord said it was the gym owner’s responsibility to fix it. The gym owner said that was financially prohibitive.
Ryan Harrington was among the customers who became a workout refugee due to the closure. He had been a member of the gym in that location for 11 years through multiple owners. The attraction was an affordable price, fun people to work out with in classes and good trainers, he said.
He also has a punch pass for classes at a competing gym in Basalt, TAC Fitness, so he had alternatives to pursue. Harrington said he is examining long-term options — looking at the variety of classes being offered, the availability of classes due to crowding and the price. He is resigned to paying more than he did at Colorado 24/7 and its predecessors, where his rate was $55 per month with unlimited access to classes.
“I don’t think there are enough affordable options,” Harrington said.
Amanda Wagner, president and CEO of TAC Fitness, said although there are numerous businesses related to health and fitness in the midvalley, there is room for them all.
“I’d like to say the market is saturated, but there’s plenty of room for competition,” Wagner said.
TAC Fitness’ membership has grown 10% to 20% annually since the gym part of the operation opened in 2013, she said.
With swelling populations in Carbondale, Basalt and points in between plus thousands more commuters driving by on weekdays, she feels the market is barely tapped. The number of members at her gym and other health and fitness businesses is just a fraction of the overall population, she noted. Businesses need to find ways to attract the people who would like to workout but haven’t pulled the trigger, for whatever reason.
Wagner said there is a growing body of knowledge that exercise helps people live longer at a higher quality of life — and more people are realizing it and acting. In addition, aging baby boomers realize they cannot just “work themselves into shape” during ski season anymore. They need to keep up their fitness level at an indoor facility.
TAC Fitness has about 1,200 members in its 6,500-square-foot facility. She believes the facility has capacity for as many as 2,000 members.
One key to staying in business is rolling with the changes. As more people have joined, Wagner has added more equipment capable of a wider variety of functions, more classes and more trainers. She also added a small group performance center that has been popular.
“I pay attention to the trends. I pay attention to the research. I pay attention to our own members,” she said.
She also has secured her business future by purchasing her space.
Wagner stressed she welcomes competition and believes it’s healthy for the health and fitness industry to offer so many options in the midvalley. Her focus, she said, is to “run my business as well as I can.”
While larger establishments such as TAC Fitness and Jean-Robert’s Gym pull in the biggest crowds, multiple niche options exist. Shawn Hunsberger, owner of Elevation Fitness, is the model of adaptability. He entered the fitness business locally in 2002 — first in small-group training, then as a personal trainer and then as the owner of a full-service gym that was located where TAC Fitness now calls home.
He paid $7,744 per month in rent for the large space and felt like he was always struggling to survive. The gym closed in 2013. Since then he has rebuilt a small-group studio and crafted a “strong and stable” program that has attracted dedicated customers.
He noted that nine fitness businesses pop up in a Google search for fitness in Basalt. There also are multiple Pilates and yoga studios.
“It seems a bit saturated,” Hunsberger said.
He’s seen a lot of places come and go. A lot of times, it comes down to a high price per square foot that the businesses are paying. It is tough to get enough customers at the price necessary to offset the prohibitive rent.
“There’s just not enough people to sustain that,” he said.
Hunsberger said he was fortunate enough to find a 1,500-square-foot space on Park Avenue in the Willits Design Center at a rate that is sustainable. He focuses on small groups, limiting class sizes to eight people so the trainer can give them attention. He remains as passionate as ever. “I want to help out to keep people healthy,” he said.
Margaret Hjerleid is another veteran of the local fitness business who used adaptability to her advantage. She opened Just Breathe Pilates Ortho-Bionomy in October 2018 after working at Studio 360 in Willits for 11 years. She had a great experience there but saw an opportunity for working with her client base. She bought a 609-square-foot space in the Willits Medical Center building and has a growing business.
“For me, if you have a special niche, you can do very well,” Hjerleid said.
She has a different take on saturation of health and fitness businesses in the midvalley. Pilates is a foundation that focuses on how you organize and move your body.
“Pilates is not meant to be your end-all,” she said.
So instead of being possessive of her clients, she encourages them to go try other fitness businesses for workouts. She refers numerous clients to personal trainer Kate Lokken at TAC Fitness, for example.
Hjerleid said she focused for years on honing her Pilates service “and getting it right to me.”
“Do what you love to do and do it really well,” she said.
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Nearly 100 locally-owned businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have been awarded grants from a pool of $1.2 million in relief funds from Pitkin County.