A new entry in the workout wars

/ Source: Wichita Business Journal

Local business owner Jerry Stine has signed an agreement to open a Wichita franchise of Ladies Workout Express.

The gym — Ladies Workout Express — is a chain owned by Lady of America Corp., based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is scheduled to open in May. It is a similar concept to Curves for Women, which provides 30-minute circuit training workouts for its members.

With 10 locations in the Wichita area and 7,000 worldwide, Curves stands to be a strong competitor to Ladies Workout Express, especially considering the new facility will be located less than 2.5 miles from one of the Curves gyms.

But Stine says he plans to make his club stand out by offering extras that Curves doesn't have.

And, Stine says, he has the backing of a growing company. The privately held Lady of America has about 1,000 locations worldwide and plans to more than double by 2005.

Stine, a former Wichita State University baseball player who also owns a local franchise of national company Budget Blinds, says he can tell by Curves' success that there's a market for his new gym.

"I think it's another alternative for women," Stine says. "They want to feel comfortable working out."

Simple, quick workout
Stine will have four employees at the club and will lease and buy workout equipment from the corporate office. He plans to open three more gyms in Wichita in the next year.

Ladies Workout Express gyms in the United States average 500-700 members per location. Stine says the key to his success is showing how Ladies Workout Express is different from other competitors, especially Curves.

He'll do that, he says, by offering tanning beds and a kids' play area. Nicole Heavin, spokeswoman for Curves, says the corporate office discourages local franchise owners from providing those benefits at their clubs.

"That's not what Curves is all about," Heavin says. "We pretty much offer the simplistic circuit, and it's proven that that works."

Those differences will be the big determinant, Stine says, but it won't be easy to compete.

"I can tell you we have our work cut out for us," he says. "It's going to be tough to do, but business is tough, period."

Ladies Workout Express also will have to compete against local mainstays, such as Genesis Health Clubs and the YMCA.

Dennis Schoenebeck, general executive of the Greater Wichita YMCA, says his gyms offer so much more than exercise, including children and adult sports leagues, that he doesn't see the new club as a major competitor. Besides, he says, there's plenty of room in Wichita for another exercise facility.

"Quite honestly, 80 percent of the population is inactive, so I think there's plenty of opportunity," Schoenebeck says.

Women-only workout gyms aren't a new phenomenon, says Michael Rogers, exercise physiologist and associate professor at Wichita State University. With more of an emphasis on being fit and strong now, their popularity has increased.

"I think there certainly is a large segment of the female population that feels uncomfortable in a lot of gym facilities," Rogers says. "It gives a lot more social aspect to the workout."