Fitness Business

JOHNSTOWN – When John Hogan first saw the Pylo Soft Box equipment at the Fulton County YMCA, he said he knew his days of lifting weights were over.

“I’ve always been as stiff as a board. I primarily used to lift heavy weights but I’ve found that slowed me down more than anything,” Hogan, a 2014 graduate of Gloversville High School, said. “So, I ditched the weights and started doing body weight stuff, and I feel better than ever.”

What are the boxes for? Jumping.

“We do jumps on them; we do jumps over them; you know, we can really use them for a bunch of different things, but primarily we jump on them,” Hogan said.

Sheldon Howard, the wellness and group exercise director at the Fulton County YMCA, said he knew the box equipment was going to be popular with YMCA members when Hogan started using them.

“The first day we had the equipment in a couple of them showed up. Then you see them on their phones with the texting back and forth and a half hour later another five or six showed up,” Howard said.

The Pylo Soft Box equipment is only one small part of the $550,000 renovation recently completed at the Fulton County YMCA. The investment has significantly upgraded the YMCA’s gym as well as expanded its daycare and preschool facilities.

The investment also represents a risk. The city of Johnstown Planning Board is currently reviewing a proposed 3,000 square foot expansion of the Johnstown Mall, which if approved would be used to house a Planet Fitness corporate franchise gym less than two miles away from the Fulton County YMCA. Planet Fitness, based in New Hampshire, is known for operating a relatively low-cost gyms that typically have a $10 a month membership fee.

The nearest Planet Fitness to Fulton County is on Route 30 in Amsterdam about four miles drive from the Amsterdam YMCA, 58 N Pawling St, Hagaman, which recently announced it was closing.

Upgrade importance

Fulton County YMCA CEO Steve Serge said his organization began planning the renovation project more than a year ago, well in advance of the proposed Planet Fitness in Johnstown.

“We have been in our [Harrison Street location] for about eight years now and it is necessary to regularly upgrade and modify your facility,” Serge said. “The equipment in the fitness center gets a tremendous amount of use, so we wanted to replace well-used equipment and we also wanted to break into the newest trends in functional fitness.”

Serge said about 45 percent of the $550,000 project has been paid for by large donations from several organizations including Stewarts Shops, NBT Bank and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“We’re continuing to raise money for it, but until we are successful in raising all of the necessary funds we are doing a short-term financing arrangement to be able to have all of these things in existence while we raise the money,” Serge said.

The Fulton County YMCA recently sent out emails to members telling them that membership rates, which are $45 a month for adults, would remain frozen for three years for members who maintained their membership through the month of September and for new members who joined in September.

“We don’t know what the future holds for 2016 or 2017. It may be necessary to adjust our rates for people who are new to the YMCA, but everyone who is currently enrolled at the YMCA will have a price freeze,” Serge said.

The Fulton County YMCA has gambled on growth before and won big. It cost more than $7.5 million to build its Harrison Street facility, which opened in 2008 after the YMCA closed its Johnstown branch and converted its Gloversville branch to a low-income housing facility. Serge said since the move, the YMCA’s membership has swelled to between 6,000 and 7,000 members.

“Before we moved here, in the old buildings we had 1,200 or so members in Gloversville and we had maybe 300 or 400 members in Johnstown,” he said. “We had a total of maybe 1,500 members between the two facilities previously, so we have more than three times as many members here as our old facilities and about half of all of our members are kids. So, we have more members who are kids in the YMCA today than we had total members years before we came to our new YMCA.”

Crystal Wager, who co-owns Fit Happens a privately owned 10,000 square foot gym in Gloversville with her husband Earl Wager, said she believes her business, which has about 1,200 members, probably gained some members when the YMCA closed its fitness center in Gloversville and probably lost some members when the YMCA opened up its Harrison Street facility. She said she expects something similar will happen if and when a Planet Fitness opens in Johnstown.

“Our hope is definitely that they don’t come in but we have to keep doing what we’re doing and hoping our members will stay,” she said. “Obviously with something new, people are going to check it out. We’ll probably lose a few members but hopefully we’ll keep enough to keep going.”

New equipment

Wager said Fit Happens recently received a $25,000 grant from the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, which they plan to use to purchase new equipment.

“We want to make some improvements to our facility. We’re only a small business, we’re not a chain like Planet and we don’t have the [charitable] support like the YMCA, so it takes us a little bit longer to do things,” she said. “Our plan is to slowly start renovating things.”

Wager said her business will probably contribute another $7,000 to the grant in order to purchase new treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent bike and other cardio’ equipment.

“We’ll probably purchase between eight and 11 pieces of new equipment,” she said.

Howard, a 30-year veteran of the fitness industry, said equipment upgrades are vitally important for gyms to keep up with the fitness demands of members. He said many of the new items at the YMCA, including its new deadlift platform, its warrior ropes, a jungle gym apparatus and many new smaller pieces of equipment -like sandbags, core bags, tires and kettlebells – are all aimed at the new “functional fitness” trend.

“Conventional weight training has a lot of benefits, but sometimes the great advantages are also disadvantages. The fact that you can isolate a muscle with conventional weight training, can also lead to a muscular imbalance or a flexibility imbalance,” Howard said. “So we can now integrate sand bags, smash balls, warrior ropes, kettlebells and use the entire kinetic chain.”