24-hour fitness facilities offer their members accessibility, convenience

By Katherine Klingseis, katherine.klingseis@iowastatedaily.com

As their free time diminishes, many people are forced to seek out unique ways to fit their exercise time into their daily routine. It is especially challenging for people who are busy during normal gym hours. In order to serve these people’s needs, business owners are opening up 24-hour fitness facilities all across the country.

24-hour fitness facilities burst onto the scene in the 1980s. One of the oldest 24-hour fitness franchises is conveniently called 24 Hour Fitness. The club began in 1983 in San Leandro, Calif. Since then, the company has become the world’s largest privately owned and operated fitness center chain.

Anytime Fitness joined 24 Hour Fitness in the fitness business market in 2002. The company opened up its first gym in Cambridge, Minn. Currently, Anytime Fitness has more than 1,000 locations across America.

“The philosophy of Anytime Fitness corporate is that they have taken all the fluff out of [working out], the things people don’t use as much: the pool, the racquets, the basketball, the track,” said Roger Aaron, owner of nine Anytime Fitness locations, including three in Ames.

Aaron, a former district manager for Walmart, opened up his first two Anytime Fitness locations — one in Boone and another in Nebraska — about five years ago.

“The one in Nebraska is in a town I have lived in,” Aaron said. “Driving through the community of Boone, looking at what was there, looking at how the community was served, [I thought] that there was a niche for us; a 24-hour fitness center.”

Shortly after opening his first two locations, Aaron decided to set up a location in Ames. He decided to place his first location in the Northern Lights Plaza. In opening his other two locations, Aaron wanted to strategically place the gyms around Ames.

“We wanted to try to take care of different sides of the community,” Aaron said. “Typically, [experts] say that the industry average is that people will only drive up to three miles to work out, so I wanted to put them on opposite sides.”

However, Anytime Fitness is not the only fitness franchise in Ames. Ames Racquet and Fitness Center, for example, has been serving the community since 1977, and has three locations. The center began offering its members 24-hour access to its west location in 2009.

“We are getting more and more members all of the time, [and] they have different jobs, different hours, different lifestyles, and they can’t afford to exercise from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight,” said Adam Henderson, club manager at the west location.

In order to receive 24-hour access, Ames Racquet and Fitness Center members must pay an additional price. Currently about a couple dozen people take advantage of the offer.

“I think the more that we help people to understand that [24-hour access] is there, the more they will utilize it,” Henderson said.

In order to ensure the safety of their members, Anytime Fitness and Ames Racquet and Fitness Center both have state-of-the-art security systems. The doors to the facilities are locked, and can only be opened by the swipe of a key.

At Anytime Fitness, there are electronic devices near the doors that beep whenever more than one person enters at the same time.

“Say that you’re coming in here late at night and you hear a beep, then you grab a panic button and press it and it calls the police department,” Aaron said.

Anytime Fitness and Ames Racquet and Fitness Center both have cameras situated around their facilities. These cameras are used not only to ensure the safety of their members, but also to help the gyms see if their members are bringing in guests.

“It’s mostly dealing with liability issues,” Henderson said. “It’s not so much ‘somebody’s in here and they’re not supposed to be,’ but it’s ‘hey, if something does happen, what are we supposed to do at that time if you don’t have insurance and we don’t have insurance.'”

Ultimately, Aaron and Henderson agree their 24-hour fitness facilities operate in order to help their members achieve their goals. With 24-hour access, the facilities offer their members freedom to exercise on their own time.

“We’re affordable. We’re accessible. We have 24-hour availability,” Aaron said. “We’ve just made it convenient for people.”

People across the country are taking advantage of the convenience these 24-hour fitness facilities offer. Aaron and Henderson both believe 24-hour fitness facilities will continue to grow and expand.

“I believe that [the 24-hour fitness market] will get bigger,” Henderson said. “It will grow because we’re not slowing down as people. We are progressing, speeding up.”

(Posted originally on Iowastatedaily.com on Jan. 19, 2011)

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