Spokane Journal of Business

Petite gyms, burly growth

Rising number of small fitness clubs rely on personalized training, loyal followings

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-—Kevin Blocker
CoreFit Inc. owner Kurt Salquist leads a kettlebell workout at the fitness club east of downtown Spokane. Fitness club owners say smaller gyms, like CoreFit, are growing in popularity.
-Kevin Blocker
Courtney Moczulski works out at CrossFit Rewired, in North Spokane. That gym has moved twice in the past four years, having outgrown its previous locations each time.

“Yeah, Greg! Come on, you got that,” Courtney Moczulski barks at fellow CrossFit Rewired member Greg Safranek, who’s early in his workout and preparing to deadlift more than 400 pounds.

It’s Friday afternoon, and CrossFit Rewired gym owner Adam Ludlow also has joined in on this open gym session with four members of his club.

“I wanted to create an amazing community with world-class coaching,” Ludlow says of his fitness club.

Ludlow says he’s a part of a fitness trend that’s taking place here, and across the country, where former big-box gym trainers are leaving those gyms to start their own, smaller fitness clubs—taking with them some of their clients and recruiting others.

Meanwhile, in the background, Safranek grabs the bar of weights and throws them over his head in seemingly effortless fashion.

“Whoo hoo,” Moczulski yells.

“I love this place. I’ve been coming here a year. We’re members, but it feels more like a community with a strong family atmosphere,” says Safranek, during a brief break in his workout. “It’s also about living healthy; not the aesthetics,” he says.

Before opening CrossFit Rewind, Ludlow was a personal trainer at a Snap Fitness club near the Mead area. 

“What customers are discovering is that there’s a massive benefit in having their program and instruction written out for them and being able to do that in a smaller and intimate fashion,” he says. 

“We’re seeing a huge growth in people willing to pay more than the typical $20 membership at a globo (large franchise) gym.”

Evidence of that growth points to the fact that CrossFit Rewired has moved into its third location in less than four years of operating because Ludlow needs more space to accommodate more than 140 members. 

CrossFit Rewired has moved from a 2,200-square-foot building, located at 208 W. Francis in North Spokane, to 6,500 square feet of space at 7512 N. Division. 

CrossFit Rewired, with five employees, opened in November 2013 in less than 2,000 square feet of space in a building near the intersection of Lyons Avenue and Pittsburg Street, he says.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility that I know our members are going to like,” Ludlow says of the gym’s new home.

Monthly membership at CrossFit Rewired starts at $129, a price that’s comparable to other area fitness gyms trying to establish a sense of community.

Ludlow says CrossFit Rewired focuses on functional training with the goal of building physical strength, cardiovascular conditioning, and gymnastics to enhance balance and coordination.

At a deeper level, however, Ludlow says he believes he and his staff have tapped into areas of people’s lives that are otherwise void and neglected.

“Look at our society today,” Ludlow says. “The average person is out of shape and unhealthy, and we’ve also become more isolated and lonely.”

“I remember telling my staff at the start that if we set this up the right way, by giving people encouragement and support, then we can be really effective as a fitness club,” he says.

Darin Rell is the owner and operator of Specialty Training Inc., another of the area’s smaller fitness clubs, with one location in downtown Spokane and another in Spokane Valley.

Rell, who started Specialty Training in 2002, previously worked as an exercise specialist at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute. 

He formed the club originally to help rehabilitation patients to continue their physical therapy.

“We started in a small space on Second and Wall before moving to the Paulsen Center, and it’s just evolved from there,” he says.

Last year, Rell opened a second location at 11110 E. Empire in 5,000 square feet of space. Next month, he’s moving that fitness center to a 4,000-square-foot facility near the Spokane Valley YMCA, at 2421 N. Discovery Place.

“Though we’re losing a thousand square feet, the new location will be much better exposure for us,” Rell says. “We’re not looking to compete with the YMCA. If someone wants a treadmill workout through the winter, I won’t hesitate to recommend them to the Y.”

Rell says Specialty Fitness has 400 members.

“We’re not a high-volume club, and I think that’s what has helped make us attractive to our members,” he says.

Rell says fitness trends have changed considerably since he first entered the business.

“The trend for five or six years now has been toward the group workouts. A big part of that, as I saw, was fueled by Zumba. The group environment puts personal accountability among the members,” he says.

Near downtown Spokane, Therese Martinez is one of three fitness coaches at CoreFit Inc., located in 5,500-square feet of space at 225 S. Hatch. There, physical training methods include boxing, crossfit, and Spartan Race-style training.

CoreFit, now three years old, also offers boot camp workouts, personal training, and nutrition guidance for its members, she says.

Martinez, who’s been a fitness coach with CoreFit for almost three years, praises her boss, owner Kurt Salquist, for establishing what she calls a “top-flight club.”

“I’ve never experienced a gym like this before. There really is a mentality of, ‘we train you for life,’ ’’ she says. “Kurt is super creative, and I’ve never seen the same workout done more than once here.”

Martinez, who’s a registered dietician, says Salquist also has established a strong sense of family among the club’s members, who often participate in social events together outside of the gym. 

“There’s a 360-degree approach to health and wellness with the understanding of the complete person,” she says. “We work with members in areas ranging from nutritional services to help with stress and sleep management.”

Just under a mile west of CoreFit is SCE Fitness, which is located in 3,000 square feet of space at 104 W. Third. Fitness trainer and owner K.J. Davis opened SCE Fitness at the beginning of the year.

SCE Fitness offers group and personalized training in American Ninja- and Spartan-inspired workouts, which include obstacle training.

Davis started as a trainer at Oz Fitness and worked at CoreFit before starting concepts under SCE Fitness, which he says stands for strength, core, and endurance.

SCE Fitness member Sally Waltermire says, “I go where K.J. goes. He instills a sense of community loyalty and a positive attitude. He’s there to help you achieve those goals.”

Of the club’s members, she says, “The people here are very supportive, and overall, it’s a fun atmosphere.”

Back at CrossFit Rewired, Moczulski, currently an 18-year-old freshman at Washington State University, says she’s been a member of Ludlow’s club since high school.

Although she was the only woman in attendance during last Friday’s open gym session, Moczulski said she doesn’t feel uncomfortable working out with Ludlow, and club members Safranek, Adam Bozman, and T.J. Westre.

“This isn’t reflective of the club’s membership. The classes are 50-50 women and men,” she says. “But what I love about this club is that everybody is super encouraging.”

Adds Ludlow, “I think we’ve succeeded in our goal of making this one of the best hours of people’s day. It’s a place where they can come and grow.”

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