BRIGANTINE – Prior to Tony Saxby and his fiancee, Trisha Muni, purchasing the only major fitness center on the island about six weeks ago, the best compliment anyone could pay the facility was to say it had character.
Contrary to the cookie-cutter franchises whose ads are a ubiquitous presence on TV – with smiling faces running in place or pumping iron on gleaming machines – Brigantine's gym was more rustic, bare bones and, quite frankly, bland. It might have reminded folks of a space where fictitious fighter Rocky Balboa worked out under the watchful eye of trainer Mickey Goldmill.
What the young couple appears to have in mind for their new purchase is a cross between the two. They are calling their work-in-progress Wolf Fitness, whose name, says Muni, is both a tilt to the aggressive wild canine and an acronym for Work Out Live Fierce. The cross-concept is also fitting since Saxby's first brick-and-mortar business was dubbed Hybrid Fitness.
“I worked at a YMCA when I was 18, and started as a floor coach just helping people use the equipment,” Saxby said. “Over the course of a couple of years I became a certified personal trainer, and eventually became special-needs certified. Things sort of morphed from me doing one-on-one personal training to really wanting to teach a class and impact more than one person at a timed. So I started a boot camp and grew it from five people to about 200 in a few months, and then got it to the point where I'd rent out a football field to accommodate certain classes.”
Another hybrid concept came into play when Saxby's entrepreneurial spirit meshed with his giving nature, one he says he got from his mother, and partially born from having been in the Boy Scouts.
“My mom owned her own nursing company and I kind of got my entrepreneurial drive from her,” Saxby said, “so I left the Y and started my own space. For about two and a half years I ran Hybrid Fitness, which is still there (in North Wales, PA). It was an old cigar shop that took me about three months to renovate 2,500 square feet of space. I remember being thrilled to get my first member, and slowly more and more people started to matriculate in, some of whom I still train today. Word of mouth was my only source of advertising – that and parking my bright orange Jeep Wrangler out front with 'Hybrid Fitness' written on the side. I ended up getting a couple hundred members within about six months time. It was long day, but I loved helping people.”
Running a gym the correct way takes long hours of commitment, something both Saxby and Muni say they are willing to make. They plan to staff the facility from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, but also provide a key card for members who want to work out late at night or in the early-morning hours – a feature that did not exist at the gym previously.
“We want to keep staff on the premises as much as possible, and if I see someone who needs help or seems a little lost, I'll be out from behind this desk to say 'Let me help you out,'” Saxby said. “We'll still have personal trainers available for those who would like them, but I want to help people as much as I can myself. Sometimes all it takes is a little undivided attention to prevent someone from having a bad initial workout, from feeling lost or giving up, and it takes me zero effort to go over and make some suggestions."
"I guess it's the former Boy Scout in me,” he added. “They taught you that if you're in a position to help somebody who needs help, it's what you're supposed to do. And as part of our logo, we're using the words 'committment, honor, integrity and community.' Without any of those things, a business can't work.”
Membership pricing will be comparable to what it had been previously, except rather than run strategic specials based on time of the year, a fixed membership fee of $35 per month will be in place. Membership will include a different daily workout routine and regular classes such as spin, palates and zumba. There will also be a special rate for all first-responders and veterans of $150 for the year up front, or $12.50 on a month to month basis.
“We're bringing the same business model from (Hybrid) to here,” Saxby said. “We want to keep the pricing affordable but also pack the space with as many amenities as we can. Personally, I'm someone who doesn't want to drive off the island for anything, so I want this gym to be all-inclusive. I'd rather spend a couple more bucks at Ace or Acme than drive to Home Depot or ShopRite, even if it's a little cheaper. I've been to Ernest & Son (butcher shop) about five times this past week. I'm totally behind supporting the local economy.”
The gym's daily workouts are designed to be navigated at one's own pace.
“We're providing daily maximum-interval-training workouts as part of the membership, and we're here to walk you through whatever today's workout is,” he said. “They're high-intensity workouts but you do them at your own level of comfort. It's not timed, it's just getting through the whole thing, and we're here to make sure that your form is correct, that you're not going to do anything that will hurt yourself, and that you're having a good time while doing it.”
The varied daily routines are unlike anything else offered in Brigantine, Saxby said.
“There's not a functional, high-intensity training space in this area, and personally that's the kind of training I love to put clients through,” he said. “So if I can put members through it and kind of open their eyes to a different type of training, they're going to see benefits through the roof – body transformation, weight loss, things that you can incorporate into your everyday life. If your body is happier, relaxed and at peace, you're going to feel those effects in all aspects of your daily life.”
Among the new equipment will be an Infinity Rope – a suspended rope on a single loop designed to increase resistance the faster someone tries to pull it. Plans also include making a horseshoe-shaped bar out of the current countertop at the gym's entrance, and serving juices, protein shakes and nutritional supplements. The couple is also considering selling refrigerated pre-cooked meals from a company called Primal Foods for people on the go who want quick but healthy meals.
New flatscreen TVs on either side of the cardio room are also forthcoming, with varied programming.
“On one side we'll have a movie that runs off Netflix – the same moving running continuously and changed week to week – and on the other side we'll have news, sports or current events going,” Saxby said. “Having a movie on can be a welcome distraction when you're doing cardio.”
Little changes can make a big difference too, said Muni.
“We've taken measures to bring in more sunlight, and have been cleaning non-stop,” she said, “so now the place is bright, clean and pretty. Your business should reflect the same high standards you hold for yourself.”
Muni and Saxby also purchased a home on the island about six weeks after their gym purchase.
“We're not going anywhere,” Muni said. “We're fully committed to this space. We're looking forward to being here for a very long time. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”