Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fitness a snap at little gyms

Convenience key as outlets proliferate

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THEY'RE a stripped-down version of a big-box fitness centre, and one could be coming to a neighbourhood near you.Snap Fitness, a Minnesota-based chain of small, no-frills fitness centres, is undergoing a growth spurt that will see at least nine new franchises open in Manitoba in the next two to three years.

Winnipeg video store owner/entrepreneur Bobby Weir plans to open six outlets within the next 12 months -- three in Winnipeg and one each in Winkler, Brandon and Selkirk. And Winnipeg real estate agent Wayne Sato and two partners, who already own one of the three outlets operating in Winnipeg, plan to open another this fall in another part of the city.

The average Snap Fitness outlet is only 2,500 to 3,000 square feet in size. It offers none of the extras you might expect to find in a big-box fitness centre, such as a swimming pool, a sauna, racquetball courts, a child-care centre, or a juice bar. Some don't even have showers.

Mainly, what it offers members is access to the cardio and exercise equipment they need for a good workout. A typical installation has five treadmills, five elliptical machines, two stationary bikes, some weight machines, some free weights and maybe a stepper or two, according to Darko Vasic, the company's director of development in Canada.

They also offer monthly memberships -- usually $40 to $45 for singles and $60 to $75 for couples, according to Vasic -- and convenience. Members can access their gym around the clock with a pass card.

The plan is to have a Snap Fitness gym in every key neighbourhood in the city -- in Winnipeg's case, nine.

"If you understand why the convenience-store concept works, you'll understand why the Snap Fitness concept works," Vasic said. "It's convenient, it's always open, and there are no long-term contracts. We're minutes away from their front door, so they can get in, work out and be back home within an hour."

The concept seems to be striking a chord, Vasic said. He said the three existing Winnipeg clubs -- one on St. Anne's Road, one on Pembina Highway and Sato's outlet on Roblin Boulevard -- have about 700 members each.

Snap Fitness says its members are typically between the ages of 35 and 55, have children, are fitness conscious, but don't have a lot of time to work out. The thing that seems to attract most of them is the flexible hours.

"We have people working out at two in the morning and five in the morning," Vasic said.

Convenience is what keeps Winnipegger Cam McIntyre coming back to Sato's club.

"It's right by my house, so I can stop in here every day on my way home from work.'

He doesn't care that it doesn't have all the amenities of a big-box fitness centre.

"I've been to them all and this suits me fine. Everything I need is here."

Winnipeg's first Snap Fitness, which was also the first in Canada, opened in 2007. Sato and his partners opened theirs in October 2008.

Vasic said its costs about $250,000 to open a franchise, and there are about 150 either open or in the planning stages in Canada.

Weir said two things he likes about the Snap Fitness business model is that the overhead is minimal and the concept works in both larger cities and smaller towns.

"They say any town with 2,500 people can make a go of it with this business model," he said, which is why he and his partners are opening outlets in Winkler and Selkirk and are also looking at Steinbach and Portage la Prairie.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2010 B5

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