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Workout clubs compete to be the low-cost leader

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 01. 2014 1:09AM
Kristen Faverty, from Manchester, takes a call on the treadmill at The Zoo Health Club, located on South Willow Street, in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- Jean Marshall pays 10 bucks a month to work out three times a week at Planet Fitness, loving the place except for her time on the glute press.

"It's so inexpensive," the retired Hesser College teacher said Friday at the former Coca-Cola bottling plant turned Planet Fitness on Eddy Road. "Normal regular people go here."

The Manchester woman fits right into the marketing plan for Planet Fitness: normal bodies rather than body builders.

January marks the biggest month for fitness centers to battle for new signups who are riding a guilt trip about gorging over the holidays - and who are lured in by cheap monthly fees.

"A lot of gyms are competing with prices and trying to offer a few more things," said Mike Carpentier, front desk and sales coordinator for Work Out World in Nashua.

People looking to shed a few pounds or shape up their abs should do their homework.

Insurance deals

Some health insurers offer financial incentives to work out at a fitness place.

Many fitness centers offer more than one monthly plan and also charge a joining fee and sometimes an annual fee.

At the Zoo Health Club in Manchester, a franchise that opened on South Willow Street last November, members pay $30 a month, but corporate discounts can cut that price in half. There also is a $39 enrollment fee.

"Everything is included with our membership," said Zoo co-owner Julian Percorino.

That includes day care and exercise classes.

Work Out World, which counts Nashua as its only Granite State location, has two plans: $2 down and $10 a month and a platinum one for $1 down and $20 a month.

"The difference between the gold and the platinum is the added benefits," Carpentier said.

The higher plan includes unlimited tanning, classes and babysitting as well as the option of using other WOW gyms.

No hidden fees

Carpentier said several years ago the chain eliminated its cancellation fee. Now, he said, "There's no commitment, so you can cancel whenever you feel."

Formed in Dover in 1992 and now headquartered in Newington, Planet Fitness has grown to 749 locations in 47 states with all but 45 owned by franchisees. New Hampshire alone hosts 16.

The chain offers two fee plans: either $10 or $19.99 a month plus an enrollment fee of $1 to $39, depending on the time of the year.

Members also pay an annual fee of between $10 and $39 depending on their membership type. The higher "black card membership" carries a year-long commitment but allows for a guest, entry to any club in the chain as well as various add-ons, including unlimited tanning.Planet Fitness members are "people who want to belong to a fitness club, work out and not pay too much because maybe they come once or twice a week," said McCall Gosselin, director of public affairs for Planet Fitness.

Playing the numbers

Paul Bosley, managing member of Florida-based who also finances health clubs through another business entity, said Planet Fitness sign up as many people as possible, banking on a lot of them not showing up often or at all.

"If everybody showed up, you couldn't park your car," said Bosley, whose website is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is a former partner in the Bally's Total Fitness chain.

He said people also shop around.

"I can tell you from owning clubs, members are not loyal," Bosley said. "They're going to go to a new place."

Gosselin said counting on no-shows is not part of its business plan.

A typical location has between 6,000 and 8,000 members, and a majority are open 24 hours a day.

Bosley said more centers offering rock-bottom monthly fees means "the middle market is getting murdered."

At the Planet Fitness on Manchester's West Side, Shannon Brunelle, a junior at Southern New Hampshire University, spends $19.99 a month working out there five days a week. She started with a membership in her hometown of Oxford, Mass.

"It can be crowded, but there's always something for me to do because it's a big gym," Brunelle said.

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