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Planet Fitness lures atypical users with low prices, free pizza once a month

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Monday, February 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

Anyone from workers who don't leave their job until 2 a.m. to the stay-at-home parent with rare moments to get to a gym may find Planet Fitness, a fitness club open 24 hours a day every day, a convenient solution.

Joining the southwest location at 6360 W. Jefferson Blvd., which opened last September, is the newest local Planet Fitness at 4530 Maplecrest Road in Stellhorn Village.

As of Wednesday, the 25,000-square-foot club has claimed more than 2,700 members since opening Jan. 12, averaging more than 100 new members each day. Management projects 8,000 members by mid-April.

While memberships without a contract are as low as $10 a month, Planet Fitness co-owner, Ron Huling, said the “astonishing growth” of the franchise isn't just the low price, but the “culture we have marketed … which has created a gym for people who don't go to gyms. We don't cater to body builders or the 'spandex crowd.' We are a gym where you can bring Mom or Grandma.”

A $10 monthly membership includes use of more than 100 pieces of cardio equipment and allows one free guest per visit. A $19.99 monthly membership includes free use of a HydroMassage bed, unlimited guest privileges and unlimited tanning. Annual memberships also are available.

Rob Blackburn, a first-time member of Planet Fitness and middle-aged Fort Wayne resident, said he joined when he heard there would be a club on the north side of town and “because of the 'judgment-free zone' part of it.” He added, “I had every excuse in the book not to go. It was also part of a New Year's resolution.”

The club targets the 89 percent of the public who don't frequent gyms, Huling said, adding that “other gyms will fight over the other 11 percent.” Armed with a “Lunk Alarm,” Planet Fitness staff members sound a siren when a member breaks club rules either by grunting or dropping weights during a workout.

The heaviest dumbbells are only 60 pounds and free Tootsie Rolls are at the counter to “convince people this is not a sentence,” Huling said. The first Monday of the month is Free Pizza Night and the second Tuesday of the month is Free Bagel Morning.

“We invented low-price fitness, and everyone laughed at our prices until two years ago,” said Huling, who has been with the club for seven years and in the gym business since the early '70s. There were four locations when the business franchised in 2003, but now more than 600 clubs exist nationwide.

Huling reported potential plans to add up to two more locations in Fort Wayne, including the Dupont and Lima roads area. Most locations are staffed with 10-14 employees, with at least one staff member present at all hours.

Planet Fitness also is a gym sponsor for “The Biggest Loser,” a weight-loss reality show on NBC.