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Jacksonville's gym wars

11:37 AM, Sep 11, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you like to work out and exercise, the Jacksonville Fitness market is about to become a lot more competitive.  A California heavyweight is coming to town.  LA Fitness plans to open at least four clubs by the end of the year.  The move is prompting some existing gyms to take notice and ramp up the promo machine.

LA Fitness is one of the biggest players in America's fitness industry.  It has more than 500 clubs in the United States and Canada. It is set to open four clubs in town by the end of the year including a huge brand new facility off Kernan and Atlantic that includes racquetball courts and an indoor swimming pool.

Local fitness clubs may be feeling the crunch of competition.  In August, Bailey's Powerhouse Gym lowered it's basic membership to just $10 month with no contract.  That attracted Gene and Mel Thomas to sign up.  "The $10 and the need for us to work out as well as the fact that it was here in the neighborhood  were big reasons for us to sign up."

The least expensive LA Fitness membership is $30 a month. $5 more if you want to reserve racquetball courts.  LA Fitness' Chief Real Estate Officer, Bill Horner, says it's all about what you get for your money.  "We're really trying to fill a value niche. When mentioning price point we have everything. I think it's more of the best value of the business."

Other clubs, like Just Fitness, which also has a $10 basic membership says it has the best value.  Co-Owner Jay Kaplan says LA Fitness serves a different market.  "Probably someone who likes to be at a country club. That's seemingly what that market is. Racquetball, swimming pools. I know there's a segment of people out there for us. We are a fitness center that provides results to everybody else."

Some Just Fitness customers say they won't jump ship.  "I like it here. I like the people, I like the price. It's convenient for work and home. I'm comfortable here," said Tracy Stebbins.

Same goes for Bailey's customers.  "No, I'm going to stay here," says Maeve Dever.  But there are those on the fence.  "I might consider it later because it's a little more convenient than this gym to my house," says another Bailey's gym member who identified herself as Peggy.  And still others who are giving LA Fitness a closer look. "Actually, I have been thinking about going over there. Just because they have a pool, sauna, brand new equipment and a brand new facility," said Isaiah Fields.

But with dozens and dozens of gyms in the Jacksonville area is there room for yet another player?  "Well, since only 20% of the people exercise that should you don't need a whole lot of change in attitudes to create a lot more demand," said Horner.

So let the Gym Wars begin as the Jacksonville gyms not only compete against each other but also against the California newcomer.  "I guess we're going to find out in November," says Michele Heatherly, Director of Marketing and Corporate Sales of Bailey's Powerhouse Gym.

Even though Baileys, Just Fitness and Planet Fitness all offer $10 a month no contract memberships there's also a maintenance fee and registration fee that drives up the cost.  The best bet is to call or visit the clubs and ask about the fine print.







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