Health club industry is in tiptop shape

New Ellicott City gym rides wave of enthusiasm for Howard workout sites

Howard Business

April 17, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Even before Quest Fitness in Ellicott City opened in February, the club had nearly 1,470 members -- about 500 more than gym owner Bernie Caplan was projecting.

"It has very good demographics, good population density, average household incomes are good and there are few fitness centers," Caplan said of his market, adding that a steady stream of residents is signing up to join the gym.

The immediate popularity of Quest Fitness, which has about 1,800 members, illustrates on a local level how the health club industry is quickly growing across the country.

In 1982, there were 6,211 health clubs in the United States, according to American Business Information Inc. That number more than doubled to 15,382 health clubs in January 2000.

"It's a very young industry, so we're seeing a great amount of growth," said Maeve McCaffrey, spokeswoman for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, or IHRSA.

McCaffrey said health club membership has become more mainstream, especially after the release of a 1996 surgeon general's report that said physical activity improves health.

"This is something that's being embraced by the medical community as well as people who are just trying to preach fitness," she said.

The upshot is the health club business is really pumping up. The number of health club members grew from about 21 million in 1989 to about 30 million in 1999, according to IHRSA. And the association estimates that total revenue for the health club industry in 1999 was about $10.6 billion.

In Howard County, proof of the industry's growth is in Quest Fitness and other local health clubs.

The Columbia Association owns three fitness centers, and there are seven other health clubs in Howard County, according to the county telephone directory.

The Columbia Association has about 66,560 members, though those members have access to other recreation facilities. So some members may not work out at the gyms.

There are about 8,250 members at the other seven health clubs in Howard County, according to rough membership estimates provided by the clubs. But that number may be misleading because some people belong to more than one gym and some may belong to a Howard County gym even though they live outside of the county.

Caplan, an engineer by education, got into the fitness business in the 1970s, when he was an unsatisfied member of a Baltimore health club and decided to take matters into his own hands.

For some time, Caplan, who also owns a Quest Fitness in Lutherville and Abingdon, hoped to expand his business into Howard County. He wanted to steer clear of the Columbia area, though, because of the Columbia Association's clubs there.

On Feb. 15, Caplan opened the 20,000-square-foot Ellicott City club. With about 100 pieces of strength training equipment and 50 pieces of aerobic equipment, the gym cost about $1.6 million to open, Caplan said.

Memberships run between $44 and $54 a month, and Caplan was projecting the club would open with around 970 members.

Colosseum Gym and Fitness in Columbia has gone through five expansions since it opened in 1993, growing from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. That gym has about 1,000 members, said owner Drew Sandberg.

Synergy -- The Future of Fitness for Women recently went through its second expansion. The 800-member women's fitness center in Columbia added 25 pieces of equipment and grew to 10,000 square feet in March.

The Columbia Association spent $6.5 million in 1990 to renovate the Supreme Sports Club because of its popularity, said Rob Goldman, director of the association's sport and fitness division.

The association also opened a third fitness center, the Columbia Gym, in 1998 because clients weren't satisfied with crowded conditions at its two other gyms, Goldman said. In its first month, the 110,000-square-foot Columbia Gym had more than 30,000 visits by members, he said.

The fastest growing group of health club members in the country from 1987 to 1997 were those over the age of 55, according to IHRSA. In 1987, 38 percent of health club members were older than 35, according to IHRSA. Now, 52 percent of them fall into that age bracket.

Mac Moore, 75, began working out after a heart attack about six years ago. Though his exercise routine was intermittent for a few years, Moore joined Quest Fitness when it opened in February and has been working out ever since.

"The doctor recommended that I take up a good exercise program, and here I am," said Moore, while lifting weights earlier this month. "I can feel the difference already."

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