New Zealand's oldest commercial gym is still going strong in Lower Hutt, having moved with fitness trends through the decades from free weights to jazzercise to zumba.
Membership has doubled in the past two years at Jenkins Gym, founded in 1927 by Alf Jenkins and owned by Gavin Marshall since 1989. When Marshall bought the gym from his father, who had run it for 20 years himself, the business was based mostly around weights.
"Twenty years ago all we had was barbells, skipping ropes, boxing bags, dumbells - there was no such thing as treadmills. These days gyms have a lot of cardio equipment such as exercise bikes, treadmills, cross trainers," Marshall said.
During the time the Lower Hutt father of three has owned Jenkins Gym, he has invested around half a million dollars into new equipment. In the last year alone around $100,000 has been spent on a group training machine for small groups to work out on together and a further $60,000 will be spent on new spinning exercycles next year.
He travels to a fitness convention in Sydney annually with staff members to see the latest fitness trends. This year it was group fitness in small teams, so Jenkins Gym now runs 45-minute group classes using the Life Fitness Synergy 360 X-Fit machine. It is a format members find supportive and motivational, training twice a week for five weeks.
"When group fitness first came along it had a big explosion and brought a lot of people in to the facilities. We saw it in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We started it in 1991 when we put in a new group fitness room in doing Jazzergetics, then Jazzaerobics came along, then Power which is a weights programme. This year we launch KiMax which is boxing with four people around a stand-up bag. It is a good stress relief, hitting the bag for 45 minutes."
Jenkins had been one of the 14,000 gyms around the world to license Les Mills classes but three months ago received a letter from the chain saying it no longer wished to allow the gym to run its classes. Marshall has arranged to swap the classes out for Radical Fitness programmes from Argentina, used in 8000 gyms globally.
"It's still the same thing: a barbell curl is a barbell curl and a bench press is a bench press. It is just a different name. In business you've always got to have a plan B. We have been talking to Radical Fitness for a couple of years. Their licensing costs are half the price of Les Mills."
The gym industry is competitive. There are now around 18 gyms in the Hutt Valley, in a market Jenkins once had to itself. During the global financial crisis membership slipped but it recently rose from 1249 members to 2500 after the pricing structure was overhauled.
Jenkins used to charge members around $23 a week, operating a steam room and spa pool. In April 2010 that was dropped to $9.90 and the spa pool and steam room facilities removed.
People were attracted to the low cost and the fact extras such as spinning classes and a morning childcare service were included at no additional charge. "We still have full facilities but we don't have all those luxuries. Less than 2 per cent of members used the steam room. Members love not just that we've dropped the price but that we keep investing in the gym."
Marshall also owns the New Zealand franchise for weight loss centres Healthy Inspirations. It has two branches, with a third due to open in Wellington early next year. He hopes to have another 15 within five years.
For Jenkins Gym, his goal is to get another 1000 members in the next year and start upgrading its weight machines.
"I love catching up with people and seeing them get results. There is nothing better than a member saying they have lost weight and want to thank our team because they can now kick a ball around with their grandkids."
- © Fairfax NZ News