Personal trainer flexes entrepreneurial muscles Health club aimed at black women

Start-up companies

March 23, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Carroll Roberts is on a mission.

Mr. Roberts is a personal fitness trainer who says he is dedicated to improving the health of African-American women. That is why he has founded Signature Women's Weight Loss and Toning Studio, a health club geared toward black women.

He hopes to open the club by April 15.

The business venture is common sense, he says. While there are a variety of health clubs in Maryland including a few owned by blacks Mr. Roberts said many women have told him they feel uncomfortable at some clubs because the clientele tends to be mostly white or male.

"I'm not excluding whites at all," Mr. Roberts said. "But I've had black women tell me they wished there was a gym where they could go and congregate. My gym will be a place where they can work out and not feel uncomfortable because they are being checked out by men."

Black women have been his clientele since he became a personal trainer, and he has turned to them to help him raise the $35,000 he needed to open the 5,000-square-foot club at Savoy Plaza, 8511 Liberty Road. Mr. Roberts has sold shares in his company at $10 per share with 45 percent of his business being owned by his clients and 55 percent owned by him.

A certified personal trainer, Mr. Roberts began his career three years ago when he moved to Los Angeles and became interested in physical fitness. His apartment building had a workout center, and, Mr. Roberts said, many of the female tenants would observe him exercising and ask for pointers.

"It was me and another guy and the women were always asking us questions," Mr. Roberts said. "That gave me the idea I could be a personal trainer."

After a year, Mr. Roberts moved back to Baltimore where he went to work for a health club. He left after eight months because he found he was spending more time on other duties and not enough time training.

"When a person pays for personal training, they should get personal training," Mr. Roberts said. "They deserve to have that one-on-one, total focus."

Mr. Roberts next purchased some exercise equipment and moved it into a rented apartment. The apartment was converted into a studio gym, and Mr. Roberts slept in the bedroom.

His mini-gym soon caught the attention of his building manager, who offered to let him use a vacant fitness room. Mr. Roberts quickly built a steady base of customers all of them women.

"I've trained men in the past, but women seem to be better able to take the advice I give them as advice, not criticism," Mr. Roberts said. "Once you motivate women, they tend to stick with it."

His clients encouraged him to open a full-service gym, and Mr. Roberts said that with support from his pastor, the Rev. Kenneth Barney, and his friend, Adriane Harrell, he began scouting for locations.

Angela Newman has been one of Mr. Roberts' clients for three months and said he is a good trainer because he is "very concerned with what you are concerned about with your body."

She plans on joining the clubbecause of the fees a one-time initiation charge of $150 and $37 a month for three months, after which members pay for month-to-month membership and the comfort level of being able to work out with other black women.

"There's a certain comfort zone, a familiarity," Ms. Newman said. That's enough, just to be comfortable."

Mr. Roberts said the club will offer state-of-the-art equipment, a full-time masseuse and a weight loss clinic. The club will also offer alternative aerobics instruction funk aerobics and gospel aerobics classes will be taught.

Kevin DeShields, the club's aerobics supervisor, said the classes will be "unlike anything that has ever been offered in Baltimore."

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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