“It’s a complete reconfiguration of what fitness should be,” said Lowell, who owns a number of local Gold’s Gym franchises with her husband, Jeremy. “We’re trying to create more social environments with really cool couches, a fireplace and a stage for performances.”
The 22,500-square-foot Elite Training Center opened earlier this month with a boxing ring, jungle gyms, aerial yoga and bubble soccer, where participants compete wearing translucent bubble suits. There will also be dance parties and regular open mic nights.
The idea, Lowell said, is to draw members by marketing the gym as a social hangout more than as a place to stop in for 30 minutes on the elliptical.
Membership, which is capped at 2,000, costs about $50 a month.
Lowell, 55, began working in the fitness industry in the early 1980s, first for Nike as an assistant to the company’s lobbyist on Capitol Hill and later as an aerobics instructor at Iron Works Gym in Lake Ridge. In the mid-1990s, she and her husband became partners in a local Gold’s gym franchise and opened their first facility in Lake Ridge in 1996. Today, they co-own 10 gyms with three other partners.
It was about seven years ago that Lowell began to notice niche studios becoming popular. For $20 a class, or perhaps $150 a month, customers could join facilities that specialized in yoga, indoor cycling or mixed martial arts. It was a new approach to fitness that challenged the traditional model that chains like as Gold’s Gym had long relied on.
“We started looking real deep at what was going on in the industry, and why people were seeing more value in small niche clubs than they are in large, multipurpose facilities,” Lowell said. “What were we — the large, multipurpose facilities — missing?”
The answer, she realized after traveling to yoga music festivals and visiting a number of studios, was that people were increasingly looking for group classes and new activities. The program she came up at Gold’s combines nearly a dozen fitness fads, ranging from pole dancing to mixed martial arts.
“We decided this new club was going to be a carnival of fitness,” she said. “It’s as much about music and socializing as it is about exercise.”
The Woodbridge facility is about half the size of a typical Gold’s Gym, which is generally about 50,000 square feet, Lowell said. There is no swimming pool or basketball court, which also help cut down on costs, she said.
In all, it cost about $2 million to get the gym off the ground — $1.4 million to build the facility, the rest to cover equipment and flooring costs. Even so, Lowell said that is considerably less than the $2.5 million to $5 million price tag for traditional Gold’s facilities.
“This isn’t your typical $39-a-month-club with the same old offerings,” she said. “We’re doing something completely new.”