We were pleased to speak with Dave Robinson, Jr., co-owner and manager of Always Fit Athletic Club in Woodsville, New Hampshire. Always Fit is a family owned fitness center serving communities in Vermont and New Hampshire. The center offers a wide variety of quality, modern gym equipment; courts for racquetball, wallyball, basketball and other court sports; personal training services; group classes; a sauna and will soon have tanning and hydro massage services available. Always Fit is owned and operated by the Robinson family who also own the Nootka Lodge and All Seasons Motel, as well as other businesses and real estate ventures. Always Fit was previously operated as the Railyard Racquetball and Health Club before the Robinsons purchased it. Always Fit is located at 181 Central Street in the center of Woodsville. You can contact them by phone at 603-747-8006, by email at email@example.com or visit them online at www.alwaysfitathletic.com.
How did you get involved in the Fitness industry?
I hold a bachelor’s degree in physical education and have a business minor. While working on my master’s degree in business I became involved in the family business and realized I was not going to need the degree but found these higher level classes very valuable. I taught physical education for two years and coached boys varsity soccer for nine seasons. Following the end of my second year teaching, the manager at the Nootka Lodge left. I decided to leave my teaching position and became the new manager of the Nootka Lodge. I held that positon for about five years before we purchased Always Fit. The previous owners of the property, the Saffos, approached my parents many years ago about purchasing the business but ultimately we decided it was not the right time for us. In early 2014, the Saffos contacted us again. We went through negotiations and decided to buy the business in May of that year.
Is the entire family involved in the business?
We purchased this business as a family. Along with myself, my brother Don, my wife Ashlee, and my parents David and Mary Anne are all owners. Primarily, my brother Don and I manage the business on a day-to-day basis. However, my parents’ guidance has been very important; with over 40 years running multiple businesses there is much to be learned from their vast experience. Each of us plays an important role. Ashlee is key to our marketing. She is a graphic designer at Dartmouth College and rebranded the entire business including our logo, sign, newspaper advertisements, t-shirts and other marketing materials. Branding is so important because people remember you when you have a brand.
How does the current club differ from its predecessor?
We overhauled the entire place. Members were very patient and appreciated the changes because we did it the right way. We did market research at different fitness centers around northern New England. The fitness industry has evolved a lot over time and we wanted to get a firsthand look at how to improve a small-town fitness center. We started with the cardio equipment, which is utilized the most. We purchased items our members hadn’t necessarily seen before, such as our summit trainer and step mills. Then, we moved on to our selectorized circuit and installed 15 new pieces of Cybex equipment. There was an old Nautilus circuit here before, which did not have the adjustments people needed. Lastly, we upgraded our weight room equipment. One of our most popular changes was converting one of the racquetball courts into a classroom space. We retrofitted it by installing soundproofing with the help of a company who works on large stadiums. It looks really chic and our members love it. We purchased ten spin bikes, a commercial speaker system and an assortment of individual functional fitness equipment for the classroom. We also put in air conditioning, which the club didn’t have previously. As a result, we experienced as much growth in the summer as the winter, which is typically the busiest time of year for the fitness industry. We’ve utilized the space efficiently, using almost every square inch. Our goal is to keep growing to the point where we have to expand. It’s been very exciting. Once the energy came back, we saw increased membership due in large part to word-of-mouth. One of our future goals is to offer 24-hour access and install a key card system, which our customers are excited about.
Can you tell us a little bit about your staff?
We couldn’t do this without our staff, instructors and trainers. We currently have six employees including one full-time employee and another who is close to full-time. We also have about a dozen trainers and instructors including four personal trainers, a Zumba instructor, a Country Heat dance instructor, a yoga instructor, spin instructors and others. All of our trainers and instructors are independent contractors but to us they feel like staff members. I think everyone views customers and staff here as a second family.
What kind of customers do you attract? Who uses the facility?
We attract customers from New Hampshire and Vermont. We hit a good demographic and are centrally located for a population base of about 20,000 people. We have members from Haverhill, Wells River, Ryegate, Groton, Piermont, Orford, Bath, Lisbon, Warren, Benton, Bradford, Newbury, Barnet, Corinth, Orange, Fairlee…even as far away as Chelsea. We also have members who live elsewhere but work locally and come in on their lunch hour or after work. We have customers from every age demographic and every socio-economic group; it is a very eclectic customer base. We want everyone to feel welcome.
We restructured the pricing and offer a variety of discounts for members. We have a senior discount, special needs discount, military/first responder discount, young adult discount, junior discount (for those under 18), family discounts and domestic couple discount and several seasonal discounts. While our base rate is around $55 per month, many members are paying $40 or less per month by taking advantage of one of our discounts. We did this to help families and individuals in our area more easily afford their membership. The energy here is fantastic and people really enjoy the atmosphere. The socialization here is so important to people; there are often not a lot of opportunities for that in a small town. Fitness goes beyond the physical health of a person, it is important for stress relief and mental health as well.